Before the coronavirus pandemic, Sarpy County was primed to be a destination spot for tourists.
Venues such as SumTur Amphitheater, Papillion Landing Field House and Werner Park are among several locations in Sarpy County that were ready to provide entertainment to the masses.
Fred Uhe, director of tourism for Sarpy County, said travelers in Sarpy County spent $199 million in 2018.
He said the county would have benefited from the NCAA basketball tournament games in Omaha and had five properties on the lodging list for the Olympic Swim Trials.
Now with events being postponed or canceled, promoting Sarpy County has become a challenge.
Uhe said the number of canceled events over the summer in Sarpy County, such as La Vista’s Salute to Summer and Springfield Days, has been a tremendous loss.
“It’s a whole different environment, trying to figure out what we have to promote,” Uhe said.
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“I guess my goal is to salvage as much business as I possibly can.”
Uhe spends a lot of his time speaking with tourism partners during this time of social distancing.
“The tourism and hospitality industry has been probably one of the hardest hit in the country,” Uhe said. “I know retail is right up there, but if you think about it, the Walmarts and some of those stores are actually doing quite well.”
The biggest challenge he’s faced during the pandemic has been the uncertainty of when things will return to normal.
“I think caution is very appropriate; you don’t want to reopen too soon and create issues, but I wish I had a crystal ball and I could say we’ll have the all clear by X,” Uhe said.
Not all has been lost as fireworks shows at Werner Park have been a well-attended event during the pandemic.
“When you get almost 40,000 to 50,000 people looking at fireworks at Werner Park it shows there are people that want to get out,” Uhe said.
Toilet paper is not the only thing people are buying massive quantities of as Uhe pointed out outdoor recreational equipment is in short supply as well.
“You do see families getting out and riding bikes and fishing, those are things that we’re still promoting,” Uhe said.
There are several outdoor recreational areas in Sarpy County including Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue and Walnut Creek and Prairie Queen recreation areas in Papillion.
“I think people are out trying to experience some normalcy in their lives and I think the outdoors is one of the best ways to do it,” Uhe said.
One of the things Uhe and his team have thought about is to promote Sarpy County as the Halloween capital of the Midwest.
Sarpy County is home to popular Halloween attractions Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard, Bellevue Berry and Pumpkin Ranch, Scary Acres and Haunted Hollow, all of which Uhe says do well during Halloween season.
Uhe said businesses in Sarpy County also tend to perform well during Husker football season.
“We’re all working hard to get our industry to recover,” Uhe said.