Nebraska tourism industry members honored the hard work and dedication of their peers at the Celebrate Nebraska Awards Banquet on Wednesday night at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center in Nebraska City. The event closed out the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference organized by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and hosted by Nebraska City Chamber of Commerce. General Manager/CEO of the Nebraska Rural Radio Association, Craig Larson, with help from Governor Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Tourism Executive Director John Ricks, announced the following 2018 Nebraska Tourism Industry Award winners.
The winner of the Outstanding Agritourism & Ecotourism Entity Award was given to the Lancaster Event Center in Lincoln. The Lancaster Event Center has largely influenced Nebraska’s agritourism by being uniquely suited for agricultural, animal, motorsports, tradeshows and youth events that don’t fit other local or regional venues. This venue draws large national events, including America’s 2nd largest indoor farm show, 2nd largest indoor tractor pull, over 120 equine shows and the National High School Finals Rodeo. The Lancaster Event Center recently won the bid to host the 2020 and 2021 National High School Finals Rodeo which will bring an estimated 50,000 visitors to Lincoln who will stay multiple days and have a positive economic impact. In 2017, the Lancaster Event Center held 320+ national, regional and local events that brought in 500,000+ unique visitors. Overall they bring in an estimated 40 million dollars economic impact yearly from outside of Lancaster County.
Other winners included:
The Outstanding Tourism Attraction Award was given to the Oregon Trail Ballpark – Home of the Western Nebraska Pioneers in Gering. In 2016, the city of Gering embarked on a major expansion project to add a new ballfield to the Oregon Trail Park. The goal was to improve the youth athletic facilities for local resident families and to increase opportunities for attracting tournaments and events with economic impact throughout Gering and the region. May 29, 2018 was the opening event at the Oregon Trail Ballpark Complex, the first home game of Gering’s Western Nebraska Pioneers and the beginning of new growth in Gering’s sports-recreation-tourism markets. Success started immediately with a strong community-wide support and an average of 936 people in attendance per game. Thirty percent of ticket buyers were from outside the Gering-Scottsbluff area and when they came they spent tourism dollars for tickets, food, fuel, lodging, souvenirs, retail expenditures and more. In its inaugural year, the Oregon Trail Ballpark has successfully met their goals and brought over 30,000 visitors to Nebraska.
The 2018 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to Pat Coldiron of Seward (pictured above). Pat is the current owner and operator of the Liberty House Bed and Breakfast in Seward, a historic 129 year old home with an attached antique store and gift shop. She began her tourism career as the Administrative Assistant at the Seward Chamber of Commerce, advancing eventually to the position of Chamber Executive. She promoted tourism while serving as the Seward Chamber of Commerce Executive Director for decades and upon retiring, she continues to participate in the tourism industry. Pat continues to guide and direct the local Seward County Tourism Committee, owns and operates “Tall Grass Prairie Tours,” has served on the Seward Fourth of July Celebration Committee, served as the co-chair of the Holiday Christmas Festival in Seward, personally took on the task of revamping the Seward County tourism brochure and much more. Pat has dedicated over 30 years to promoting and growing the tourism industry in her state and community.“Pat Coldiron’s enthusiasm for Nebraska tourism is infectious and contagious. She is a huge asset not only to the Seward community but the state’s tourism industry as a whole,” said John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism Commission executive director. “She has gone the extra mile to bring tourism members of her community together and Seward County is better because of it.
”The Friend of Tourism Award went to the Omaha World-Herald and the Nebraska Community Foundation for the Better Half Series. Omaha World-Herald writers Sarah Baker Hansen and Matt Hansen in collaboration with the Nebraska Community Foundation traveled throughout the state of Nebraska, writing about the amazing discoveries they found along the way. Their articles were published in the Omaha World-Herald and eventually were made into a book in 2017. The Nebraska Community Foundation provided support for this collection of stories that celebrates the intriguing, fascinating and often surprising treasures that make Nebraska such a special place.
The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations up to 9,999 went to the 97th Annual Nebraska’s Big Rodeo in Burwell, Nebraska. Nebraska’s Big Rodeo began in 1921, and 97 years later is attracting sell-out crowds of nearly 20 thousand rodeo fans to the Burwell area. After upgrades to the rodeo arena, extensive and additional promotion of the event and increased customer service, the 2018 Nebraska’ Big Rodeo was the largest one yet. Every hotel, bed and breakfast and guest house were full from Burwell to Ord and several surrounding counties. The rodeo attracts visitors to the area who would not otherwise come and business reported increases of 3 percent to 25 percent over last year.
The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations 10,000 or greater was awarded to Cruise Nite in Kearney. Every year, during the third week of July, visitors from all over Nebraska and adjoining states flock to Central Avenue in Kearney for Cruise Nite. Visitors experience six full days of activities, including 500 vehicles lining the streets of downtown Kearney, a parade with cars from every decade, drag races and more. The event is an economic boom for the city, bringing the entire community together and supporting local attractions and businesses. This year’s event saw record amounts of participants and spectators with an estimated 38,000 people.
The Outstanding Marketing Campaign Award for communities with populations up to 9,999 went to Knox County Visitors Committee. The Knox County Visitors Committee put together a marketing campaign utilizing a video that highlights tourism destinations in their community. The video reached 160,259 people on Facebook, driving views on KnoxCountyNebraska.com up 293 percent. Knox County also showcased the video at the 2018 Nebraska State Fair and saw a 202 percent increase in website views. Through social media, T.V. advertising and further creative advertising and collaboration with out-of-state markets, Knox County was able to effectively spotlight tourism in their area.
The Outstanding Marketing Campaign Award for communities with populations 10,000 or greater was awarded to the North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau for the Group Tour Viewmaster Campaign. The North Platte / Lincoln County Visitors Bureau sent group tour operators a mailing that coincided with their current marketing campaign featuring the new Buffalo Bill. The mailing was stamped with Buffalo Bill’s “Buffalo of Approval” and inside the box contained a vintage North Platte postcard and a viewmaster, a device used for viewing images, complete with a reel of images on film featuring North Platte attractions. The campaign was intended to show operators in a unique way, what North Platte and Lincoln County have to offer. Positive responses were received from the mailing and with the booking of a group tour, this single marketing campaign has already returned more than 7 dollars for every dollar spent. Marketing to2018 group tour operators is a long-term proposition and the economic impact of this campaign will continue far into the future as relationships continue to build.
Information provided by the Nebraska Tourism Commission.