Published Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:11 pm
raise promotion to next level
World-Herald editorial: Tourism industry is serious business

In the Omaha area and Nebraska as a whole, our leaders need to grab hold of a crucial fact about tourism.

Tourism isn't a mere nicety. It's a significant and growing part of Nebraska's economy. And that means our communities and the state have a big obligation to step up our game.

Last year, more than 11 million visitors came to the Omaha area, and for the first time tourism spending topped $1 billion here — a genuine milestone. That's the result of hard work in building strong attractions and events and promoting them energetically.

Tourism supports 16,200 jobs in the Omaha area and generates $132 million in state and local government revenues.

Statewide, tourism is a $3.7 billion industry supporting 43,900 jobs and generating $582 million in annual tax revenues.

Future success on the tourism front isn't going to happen on its own, though. We need to be proactive, building on our successes and tackling the challenges. After all, our regional competitors have frequently been more aggressive and better-funded.

The good news is that Omaha and Nebraska have been taking positive steps. A standout effort in Omaha is the way that seven local attractions — the Henry Doorly Zoo, the Durham Museum, Lauritzen Gardens, the Joslyn Art Museum, Village Pointe, the Omaha Children's Museum and the Amazing Pizza Machine — have come together to jointly market themselves under the coordination of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, an effort now in its fifth year.

“All these business interests have come together as one marketing team,” says Dana Markel, executive director of the bureau. “We're pulling it all together for one cohesive message.”

The bureau is doing impressive work in carrying out regional marketing, honing social media techniques to spread the word and gathering detailed numbers on the tourist demographic. The bureau benefits, too, from having a capable advisory board.

Question marks remain on some Omaha-area tourism issues, though. Of the many issues on the Omaha city government's agenda, it seems tourism promotion rarely gets mentioned as a top-shelf issue. That needs to change.

A key example: The Omaha and Douglas County governments have long been in discussion about how to fund and support the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau. Strengthening the bureau's marketing ability in the competition with other regional cities needs to be a key goal.

This isn't a trivial matter. How this issue is resolved can have a huge effect on Omaha's future success, or lack of it, in maximizing its tourism opportunities.

On the state front, Nebraska last year rightly began to put more emphasis on tourism promotion by making the state tourism commission an independent agency. Kathy McKillip, the commission's executive director, notes various steps underway.

Some examples:

>> Three tours so far of Nebraska by travel writers with national publications.

>> New grant projects aimed to help Nebraska communities compete for national events.

>> Partnerships with the state Game and Parks Commission and Nebraska public television — one example is their joint sponsoring of a helicopter photography project a British firm, Skyworks, just completed across Nebraska. Segments of the Nebraska video are at this YouTube site.

One of the state tourism commission's most important tasks will be to set up best-practices guidelines for how county governments distribute tourism promotion dollars generated by lodging taxes. The funds are given to local attractions and events.

A 95-page consultant's report last year looked at a wide range of Nebraska tourism issues. It provided a needed warning on how the lodging-tax funds are being distributed in some instances.

“In some cases, funds are spent on projects that may not have a direct bearing on supporting and growing the visitor industry,” the consultants wrote. “Allocating these funds in a strategic manner designed to truly enhance the visitor industry product and impact should be a paramount goal.” Indeed.

In 2010, these promotional funds totaled $13.9 million statewide. In Douglas County, they totaled $5.1 million.

Omaha and Nebraska are seeing success on the tourism front, but more needs to be done. This is the right time to step it up.

EB L Street lane to close
Owners of exotic dance bar deny prostitution allegations
More Nebraskans are electing to vote early
Nebraska's U.S. Senate candidates stick to familiar topics at Omaha forum
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
8% of alcohol sellers checked in Omaha area last week sold booze to minors
OPS bus, SUV collide; no students onboard at the time
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
< >
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »