A bump in Nebraska tourism in the last fiscal year resulted in the largest lodging tax collection in the state’s history; over $5.6 million.
State Tourism Director John Ricks says the high numbers are likely due to many different factors, the most obvious of which would be last year’s total eclipse of the sun.
Ricks says that while the impact of the eclipse on tourism was substantial, the event had another, arguably more significant function; giving thousands of out-of-towners a chance to experience Nebraska as a vacation destination. He explains that of the tourists who visited Nebraska for the eclipse, three-quarters of those where what he calls “non-visitors”; someone who doesn’t think of Nebraska as a vacation getaway and don’t frequent the state.
“They’ve maybe been to the state, they’ve been through the state (or) they’ve visited somebody here,” says Ricks, “but its really not on their radar as a vacation destination.”
It’s Ricks hope that these “non-visitors” will come back and continue to spend money in the state.
“We did the research.” he says. “Forty percent of them told us that they’d be back in one or two years and another 45% said they’d be back in 3 to 5.”
Ricks adds that while events like the eclipse and the annual Sandhill crane migration obviously heightened the numbers, but a recent effort to market to Nebraska’s neighbors also contributed.
“This is the second year in a row that we’ve directed our marketing dollars to out of state markets that we hadn’t been in too frequently in the past.” says Ricks.
He says Denver, Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City, Des Moines, Sioux Falls and more were targeted by tourism advertisers in the last fiscal year. It’s Ricks belief that efforts to build Nebraska’s reputation as vacation destination now will pay off down the line in stable tourism numbers.