LINCOLN — Who knew?
Nebraska has all the top things that potential tourists say they want in a vacation spot — natural beauty, places to relax and recharge, and the chance to experience something new and different.
“We have it, we just need to get people to believe it,” said Kathy McKillip, interim director of the newly formed Nebraska Tourism Commission.
That's where a strategic plan for cultivating and promoting tourism in Nebraska comes in.
The draft plan, being developed by the Minneapolis-based consultant Conventions, Sports & Leisure, has several recommendations for getting potential visitors to stop and stay awhile.
» Develop a marketing statement that can capture the diversity of the state, from Omaha to the Wildcat Hills.
» Address the high cost of liability insurance for possible tourism businesses such as ventures giving people hands-on experience at a working ranch.
» Find ways to acquire land or preserve public access to nature-based experiences, such as getting up close to the Sand Hills, which is primarily in private hands.
» Review and possibly replace the state's brand slogan, which for the past decade has been “Possibilities ... endless.”
» Align the marketing efforts of different groups and create partnerships to maximize resources.
John Kaatz, a partner at Conventions, Sports & Leisure, said the company concluded that no single strategy or attraction will work to attract visitors to Nebraska. “I don't think there's any that stands out as a silver bullet at all.”
But he said the plan suggests that Nebraska find ways to turn Interstate 80 into an asset in marketing the state.
Those could be electronic billboards highlighting nearby attractions, coupled with a satellite radio program offering information and historical skits.
“Interstate 80 works against us by confirming what people think about Nebraska — flat and boring,” Kaatz said.
The recommendations also include educating Nebraskans who come in contact with potential tourists, he said, such as the teenager working at a convenience store who might field questions from visitors stopping for gas.
The strategic plan and its recommendations are part of a renewed focus on Nebraska's third-largest industry. Tourism generates about $3 billion a year for the state and sustains some 45,000 jobs.
McKillip said she believes that tourism has the potential to challenge agriculture as the state's top industry.
A survey of people from key metropolitan areas who considered visiting Nebraska, but did not, offered a glimpse of the potential.
The survey was done as part of the planning process, she said.
It found that most people know little about Nebraska or its attractions.
Yet those who had previously visited the state reported being happy with their experience, and many found the state's top tourist offerings appealing. They include Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and sites related to “how the West was won.”
McKillip said the strategic plan will be the basis for continuing discussion about priorities and about how to implement the various recommendations.
But before that happens, the consultant and tourism officials will present the draft recommendations at meetings across the state today and Thursday.
Comments from the meetings will be used in writing the final report, which is due to be submitted state lawmakers by Sept. 1. The $147,000 study was mandated by a bill passed in 2011 and paid for with state dollars, lodging taxes and local contributions.
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Weigh in on the proposal
Schedule of public meetings to gather comment on proposed tourism plan for Nebraska:
North Platte, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., Quality Inn Sandhills Convention Center
Scottsbluff, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MDT, Gering Convention Center
Thedford, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Thedford 4-H Building
Valentine, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Peppermill & E.K. Valentine Lounge
Kearney, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., Museum of Nebraska Art
Norfolk, 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., Divots Conference Center
Ashland, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Mahoney State Park, Peter Kiewit Lodge