COLUMBUS, NE. (Oct. 22, 2015)—Nebraska’s tourism industry professionals honored their peers at theCelebrate Nebraska Awards Gala Thursday evening at the River’s Edge Convention Center in Columbus, Nebraska. The event capped the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference organized by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and hosted by the Columbus/Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
State Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus and Nebraska Tourism Commission Executive Director Kathy McKillip announced the following 2015 Nebraska Travel Industry award winners.
The 2015 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to Nancy Delong Hoch. Hoch has a tourism footprint that includes being an instigator of the Kregel Windmill Museum, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Red Fox Run Sports Complex, refurbishment of the historic train depot, Victorian streetscapes and the Nebraska City trolley system.
Also as an active supporter for economic development and progress in the state of Nebraska, Hoch oversaw the creation of the Highway 2 Expressway; retention of the Cargill Specialty Products plant, VF Outlet Corporation, Pendleton outlet, & American Meter company; and the recruitment of Peru State College Technology Center.
As a community steward, she has served on the UNL Board of Regents, served as president of the River Country Economic Development Corporation, served as a National Historic Preservation Board member, State Historical Society Board member and has been an active member of many other organizations in Nebraska City, NE.
Her accomplishments throughout the years have continued to enhance Nebraska’s communities, making the state more attractive to visitors and residents who live here.
“Ours is a competitive industry. Yet more people today are discovering the unexpected beauty of our great state. Thanks to visionary leaders like Nancy Delong Hoch, more and more Americans are stopping and enjoying Nebraska,” commented Kathy McKillip, Executive Director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission.
The Friend of Tourism Award went to Nebraska through the Lens. Nebraska through the Lens is a public Facebook group started by Holdrege, NE resident Steve Evans in June of 2013. The site depicts Nebraska life through photography. Hundreds of photos are posted to the group every day, by professional photographers, highly skilled amateurs and the general public. The photos depict something the photographer loves and is deeply proud of. Pictures consist of cattle drives, winter storms, sunsets, northern lights, Nebraska’s varying landscapes and much more. With the photographer’s permission, numerous colleagues throughout the industry have been able to build their photo library to an extent that they would never have had the time or budget to do by utilizing the amazing work posted on Nebraska through the Lens.
The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations up to 10,000 went to the Seward Fourth of July Celebration. Since 1868, Seward, population 7,000, has honored and celebrated the anniversary of our United States’ founding with a Fourth of July Celebration. Recognized as “America’s Small Town 4th of July City”, this family friendly daylong event continues to add new attractions every year and draws over 50,000 people. This self-supporting event is organized by one main steering committee that coordinates the efforts of many volunteers representing community service clubs, high school organizations, churches, optimists and more. The Seward Fourth of July Celebration was recently named one of the “Top Ten Fourth of July Celebrations in the Nation.” The event also recently received “The Spirit of Volunteerism” award from the national organization, Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge, the “Volunteer Group of the Year” award from the Nebraska Volunteerism Office and Keep Nebraska Beautiful State Association honored the event for their efforts to patrol and keep the celebration litter free.
The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations greater than 10,000 was awarded to State Games of America that took place in Lincoln. The State Games of America is an all-ages sports festival featuring competition in 67 sports. Work began in 2011 to acquire hosting rights and after a formal bidding process, Nebraska was given the nod. The state was picked because of its track record of hosting national sporting events, Nebraska Sports Council’s reputation and the quality of the local sports venues. Fundraising efforts secured $1.5 million from more than 450 companies. A community impact grant helped fuel the way for 10 state games committees and the several partnerships with businesses, agencies and educational institutions, all of which, combine efforts to organize and promote the games. The opening ceremony was attended by 30,000 people with competitors representing 27 different states. An estimated 10,000 room nights were booked and the average hotel stay was three nights. The event generated an estimated economic impact of more than $20 million. This was an outstanding event that brought together the efforts of many people in many different communities.
The Outstanding Tourism Campaign Award went to the Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce for theHomestead Quarter Launch. In February of 2015, an outstanding campaign was implemented that highlighted the release of a design emblematic of Homestead National Monument of America on the back of the United States’ quarter. Many additional organizations and businesses around the Beatrice area assisted and helped promote the event. The Homestead Quarter Launch ceremony was attended by 1,000 people, with overall visitation at the monument during the approximate week long launch exceeding 2,000 people. $50,000 worth of quarters were made, $45,000 of which, were distributed the day of the launch. Officials say the national attention has increased awareness and visitation at Homestead National Monument and has brought in new visitors from all around the United States. The Homestead Quarter Launch was also recognized at the Gage County Tourism Awards ceremony where they received the Outstanding Tourism Campaign for Gage County Tourism.
The Outstanding Tourism Publication Award was won by the Lied Lodge and Conference Center at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. The facilities meeting planner guide wonderfully showcases the Lied Lodge in the flagship piece of a strategic marketing effort now underway at the recently renovated landmark. The publication is approximately 9” x 12” in a horizontal format produced using a four-color process. This publication expertly depicts the lodge’s marketing theme, “260 Acres of Meeting Space.” Through a fresh design concept, colorful images, meeting-centric verbiage and accessible-at-a-glance charts, the new publication entices approximately 8,000 decision makers and meeting planners in the Midwest region to host their events in Nebraska.
The Outstanding Website Award went to Keith County Visitor’s Committee for www.ILoveLakeMac.com. The goal of the www.ilovelakemac.com website is to showcase Lake McConaughy and provide a guide for tourist. In the fall of 2014, the Keith County Visitors Committee redeveloped and relaunched the website with a new mobile responsive design in order to provide optimal viewing and interaction across a wide range of devices. The website is coupled with a Facebook page which is a proven powerful driver, sending visitor’s to the website. January through August of this year, the site recorded nearly 111,000 unique visitors. With increased public awareness and availability of information, Nebraska Game and Parks are reporting high increases in park visitation, as well as, Keith County lodging tax revenues reporting the highest collection for the month of May on record.
The Outstanding Tourism Attraction Award was given to Edgerton Explorit Center in Aurora, NE. Catering to people of all ages, the center instills the joy of scientific discovery through hands on learning exploration, serving individuals, instructors and students throughout all 93 Nebraska counties. In 2013, the center worked with 80,000 individuals and in 2014, 160,000. 2015 is well on its way to surpass that number. Their traveling Explorit Zone was visited by 56,000 people at the 2014 State Fair. Over the past two years, $180,000+ worth of exhibits have been added to the Center’s Explorit Zone. One of those exhibits is an augmented reality sandbox of which there are only five of in the United States and 19 in the entire world. Other recent renovations, resulting from grants and donations over $50,000, include an outdoor patio and education area.
The winner of the Outstanding Nature-Tourism Entity Award is Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center of Wood River. The highly visible center, just off I-80 at the Alda Exit is the gateway for visitors wanting to explore central Nebraska and the great sandhill crane migration. Migration season in the spring generates an estimated $10.3 million to Nebraska’s economy every year. Marketing of the Crane Trust has increased in the past years, which is reflected in their visitation numbers. In 2015, the center saw a 35% increase in visitors reaching over 35,000. Visitors can see more than just cranes with the center’s recent introduction of pure American bison on their acres of mixed grass prairie. The bison allow for year-round tourism at the center. The facility is doing an excellent job providing a dynamic, engaging gateway and resource for community outreach, education and eco-tourism.
The winner of the Outstanding Tourism Association award went to Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. The byway began as a grassroots effort to improve the economics of rural communities in Central Nebraska by working cooperatively to enhance the visitor experience. The route is 272 miles, covering ten counties and 24 communities. With a mission to conserve and promote the natural, cultural, historical, recreational and scenic qualities along the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, the Group host a Rail Arts Trail in October and a Polar Bear Tank Race in March. Working from a Corridor Management Plan and an Interpretive Plan, the association is able to maintain a Visitors Center in Broken Bow, along with a website, Facebook page and newsletter. Newly acquired grant funds are helping the group place seven kiosks along the byway. The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway Group also gives back to the community by providing two college scholarships.
The Commission also recognized five Outstanding Frontline Employees for their outstanding contributions to their communities. Receiving this award were David Chang, Cobblestone Inn and Suites, Hartington, NE, Joyce McDonald, Holiday Inn Express, Norfolk, NE,
Chad Schaack, Hyannis Hotel, Hyannis, NE, Al Brock, Henderson’s IGA, Valentine, NE, and Miriam Zietlow, Pony Express Station Volunteer, Gothenburg, NE.