Speaking of Nebraska: Tourism

Speaking of Nebraska: Tourism


(upbeat music) DENNIS KELLOGG:
Tourism is Nebraska’s
third largest industry with a nearly five billion
dollar annual impact. We’ll talk with the
State Tourism Commission Executive Director and a
western Nebraska tourism leader about attracting
visitors to our state. That’s tonight on
Speaking of Nebraska. (bright music) KELLOGG: Thanks for joining us
on Speaking of Nebraska. I’m NET News Director
Dennis Kellogg. Tonight we’ll get a lesson
in legislative history from long time Clerk of the
Legislature, Patrick O’Donnell. But first let’s talk about
a big industry in Nebraska that might surprise
many, tourism. Nebraska’s been attracting some
national attention recently thanks to a new and very
unique tourism campaign. Check it out in this
commercial that’s airing. VOICEOVER: Nebraska is kind
of like that odd kid. Didn’t say much in school,
slightly peculiar maybe. But when you took the
time to get to know him, turned out he was
pretty interesting. We know some people
won’t take the time but if you’re someone who will odds are you’re going
to like it here. Nebraska, honestly
it’s not for everyone. (upbeat music) KELLOGG: Joining us now to talk
about Nebraska’s tourism efforts are John Ricks,
Executive Director of Nebraska Tourism
Commission and Brenda Leisy, the Scotts Bluff
County Tourism Director. Welcome to both of
you, thanks for being on Speaking of Nebraska today. RICKS: Thanks for inviting us.
LEISY: Thank you. KELLOGG: So we’ve seen the
commercial. We’ve talked, we’ve
seen a little bit of the tourism campaign. It’s a little bit quirky,
little bit unusual. Can you kind of take
us behind the scenes and tell us how you
came up with that idea? JOHN RICKS: Well you know the,
what we did initially is we built this campaign
from the outside in. What I mean by that is we
know a lot about Nebraska, Nebraskans, and
we also know that according to something called
Portrait of American Travelers, Nebraska has been the least
likely state in the country for anybody to
visit on a vacation. So what we said was,
we’re going to go out into markets
outside of the state, because people who come in
from outside of the state they typically spend
more, stay longer, new money into the economy. And we went and discussed
with them the barriers to them coming here. And uncovered these, I
think pretty well known, almost stereo typical
comments like flat and boring, fly over country, nothing
to do here and those things. So the whole premise of
the campaign is to take those perceptions of
people out of state and then solve them
with, honestly solve them with the truth. It’s just, put our
positive spin on them. And that’s basically a
really quick overview of what we did. KELLOGG:
And so the campaigns been
out there for a little while. Tell me about the reaction
you’re getting to it. RICKS: Well there’s two
pieces to this. First one, we announced that,
at our tourism conference in Nebraska City on
October 17th, we truly had an hour long presentation and
did a little media after that and pushed a button
on a press release. And that evening was
our big banquet and even before that started the social channels lit
up and it went viral and it really did go viral. In 45 days after that
announcement, the earned media. PR value, was about
7.2 million dollars. I know people saw it on
Colbert but we were on Name Something, we were
at the Washington Post, CNN, it was really
fun to do NPR’s show, All Things Considered,
and on and on and on. So just the value of that
was 7.2 million dollars and our entire
annual budget is 6.6. So we didn’t really pay to
get into the market place until the crane promotion
started in January. And I could just give you
some ball park numbers ’cause we’re watching
very basic things. We’re watching,
because of the position where it’s called brand
apathy, people are indifferent. So if we can get people
to come and visit our website or request a travel
guide, those basic things are really important. And right now, we’re
running a little over 60,000 more people to the website
in that period of time. So it’s up 35 or so percent. Our travel guide requests
are up 35 percent. So those numbers in the
business and I’ve been in the business a long time,
are really out of this world. They’re huge. So there’s a lot more
interest than before and that’s what we had to do. KELLOGG: And so when you do
a campaign like this is the goal to get more
tourists spending more money or is it just to raise
awareness of Nebraska as a vacation destination? RICKS: Both. But it’s a process there. We weren’t on people’s
shopping list. So to get them on
our shopping list they have to aware
of the advertising. We also, there’s familiarity,
there’s awareness, familiarity and likelihood to
visit and we were pretty low on all those measures. And they’re kind of sequential. So first you have to
raise the awareness. ‘Cause we need focus
groups and talk to consumers out of state,
there was very little familiarity in what
there even is to do here. And of course human nature,
the default is to say what? If I don’t know, there’s
nothing to do there. That’s just human nature. And then now, when you
have built those two things you see the likelihood
to visit go up. And we do want people here. Tourism is a third largest
industry in the state and it’s an economic engine. So the more people we can
bring in is wonderful. But we have to start
kind of scratch again and start that whole process. KELLOGG: Brenda, how about out
in Western Nebraskans, in Scotts Bluff County, what
kind of reaction are you hearing to this campaign? BRENDA LEISY: For the most
part I think everyone really is enjoying the campaign. Until last week though,
John came out and he was part of our national
tourism week celebration. Until last week, I’m
not sure that everyone quite understood the campaign. And that’s just because out
in our neck of the woods we get a lot of Denver TV. So we know a lot about
what’s going on in Colorado, but we don’t always see these
ads and these different things that have been dropped
in the Lincoln area. So last week after they were
able to see the entire campaign and put things together,
I think people began to appreciate it more. And now I’m getting emails. For his phone number and
we want these post cards and we want all these
different things because we want everyone
to see what he had done in Scottsbluff. KELLOGG: So when you’re in a
smaller area like Scottsbluff, a very specific
area you’re trying to get tourists to come
to, how is your marketing and advertising different
than this major campaign? Is that enter into one
of the tools you use to try to get people to come
out to Scotts Bluff County? LEISY: Absolutely, so our
biggest market is Colorado. So myself and my organization, we focus a lot on the
northern Colorado area and even a little
bit into Wyoming. So that is completely different
than what Nebraska Tourism would do, although Denver is
one of their markets as well. And then we also have
the western Nebraska
Tourism Coalition and we have our travel guide. It’s 22 counties. And so that is for
sure the one piece of marketing material
that we use throughout the entire state. So we have several different
mechanisms that we use to attract guests. KELLOGG: John Ricks, I want to
ask you, when you came here in 2016, you came here from
Colorado, much bigger state, more tourism dollars. You came to Nebraska. There was some
controversy in the office with some financial issues
with the previous director. Obviously as I mentioned,
Colorado is a much larger state. What attracted you to Nebraska? What was the potential
that you saw in this state that made you want to
take on this challenge? JOHN RICKS:
Really good question. I came from the ad agency side. That’s really where I came from. Colorado was my first Government
job, this was my second. And I learned early on,
because I’d been around the industry for
almost 30 years now, that these positions don’t
open up very frequently and when they do typically
people who have been around it for that long go at,
because there’s only 50 of these positions
in the country. And they’re prized,
they’re treasured. And I don’t really care
what state it’s for, people go after them. Now, I worked on
Wisconsin and Wyoming and then Colorado is a
bigger budget and things. But the marketing
challenges here are… they’re difficult but
they’re really interesting because when I
came here honestly and I’ve said this before in
front of audiences and stuff, I had Nebraskans
tell me, or ask me, why would you take that job,
there’s nothing to do here. And I would look
and I’d go, what? And so that was kind of
an interesting thing. But I can tell everybody
that Nebraska’s no different than anywhere else. It has really cool things. Every place has cool things. It’s just how do you
get people interested, how do you get on your
shopping list for a vacation especially in light
of the past where people were just
indifferent toward it. So that’s a really cool
marketing challenge. And I think we’re addressing
it fairly quickly. And seeing things
turn pretty quickly. KELLOGG: Well let’s elaborate
on that then because you just talked
about how when you got here and Nebraska is often
considered to be in the study the lowest ranked state
as far as where people are considering to
take a vacation. So how do you change
that perception? What is the one thing you
said, we’ve got to do this to change that perception. RICKS: We use something called
value base marketing. We don’t have time
to get into it all, but I can give you a
couple of quick examples. Harley Davidson, sure
they sell motorcycles, but what they really
sell is freedom. And Nike, yeah they sell every
kind of sports equipment, shoes, everything else, but
what they’re really selling is empowerment. That’s what just do it means. So that’s the value
upon which it’s based. So here, we did a lot, a
lot of work and settled on concept of honesty. And it’s not only,
and we found this out from the people
outside of the state. And this genuine,
honest, self aware that the people we’re
attracting are wanderers. They’re really
intellectually curious. They understand nuance. They’re really the people
who peel back the onion to see what’s there so they
can really get the experience and understand. So specific kind of
person we’re going after. And that’s what we’re up to. It’s going to take a
little while to build, but it’s really built on
this value of honesty. And it’s just, it’s refreshing. One of the editorials,
or one of the articles written after we
announced the campaign was by a strategist from
Forbes magazine. And he said, honesty in
today’s culture is disruptive because we knew
we had to disrupt. We knew we had to
interrupt people’s patterns of thinking about the place. And I think that was
a really cool quote, he said honesty is
disruptive right now. KELLOGG: So let’s talk a little
about what tourism means to the state of Nebraska
and it’s economy. Many people may be surprised,
you mentioned it earlier, that tourism is the third
largest industry in Nebraska behind agriculture
and manufacturing. And if you look at
the economic impact we’re talking about nearly
five billion dollars and 49,000 jobs. So how has that been trending? Is the state growing
in those numbers or are we just holding our
own trying to fight off all those 49 other
states that are trying to go after the same visitors? RICKS: Well I mean, the industry
in the state is growing. There’s been some states that
have been flat and whatever. But here it’s been
growing pretty steadily. We’re funded by a one
percent lodging tax. And that lodging tax has
been growing for years. As a matter of fact, since 2014, it’s outpacing other
areas of growth, other industries in the state which is a good sign. So, your question before
about the challenge, seeing those numbers
move, for example, when I started
here we were 50th. We simply moved money out of
state the first year I was here and it sounds silly
’cause we jumped from 50th to 48th place. But for something to happen
that quickly is really good. So I look at this place as
a lot of potential that way. And it’s an important industry. KELLOGG: You touched on the
lodging tax and Brenda I want to ask you, 80
counties across the state use a lodging tax. Gering is in the process
of considering one that would be a
four percent tax. And Scottsbluff
already has one. Of course, the argument
is that puts the burden on the visitors who are
coming to the community. So do you think that kind
of tax is an effective way to fund tourism efforts? BRENDA LEISY: Well I do think
that it’s effective. Unfortunately, like in our
area, Scotts Bluff County has one too. So by Scottsbluff and
Gering having one as well we’re kind of double taxing. And we’ve had some questions
about it from some guests who ask why they’re
paying so many taxes ’cause not everybody
does it that way. But that’s just one
way that we get money and can assure that
these attractions and the different marketing,
all kinds of things happen for us. If we don’t have that
money, we are not gonna even be considered as a vacation
spot, a destination or even a drive through
because people just simply won’t know about us. So it’s very important
for us to have that money. KELLOGG:
Brenda Leisy is the Tourism
Director of Scotts Bluff County and with us tonight on
Speaking Of Nebraska. I also want to ask you,
so you have the money to fund your efforts but you
also rely on collaboration out in western Nebraska. Talk about that effort. LEISY: We do and that’s through the Western Nebraska
Tourism Coalition. The great thing about
the coalition is that it’s not just CVB’s, it’s not just destination
marketing organizations, it’s all the mom and pops. It’s everybody in the
sand hills, it’s everybody down on Interstate 80
that is working so hard to get the word out
about western Nebraska. And it takes all of our money. We pool everything
together and that’s how we get our Journey Magazine. We are very proud of
that travel guide. It has an opportunity
for every one to be able to advertise for their
counties, for their cities. And we hand out
thousands annually. So all through our area
and then of course, also today we had
our brochure swap. So the Journey will be
available up and down the interstate at the
different rest stops. But we really count on
that collaborative effort so that everybody
can get the word out. KELLOGG: That effort must be
working because you’ve attracted the National Hot Air
Balloon Championships for the next three years. LEISY: Yes. KELLOGG: That’s very impressive. It’s going to be a week long
event coming up in August, the economic impact estimated
at over a million dollars. Tell us how you did it. LEISY: Wow, it’s been
quite the journey. We brought the balloon festival
back about three years ago. Back in the day we had it,
it was about 20 years ago. So we were able
to bring it back. And after three very
successful years and we’ve had pilots
come to us even from as far away as
Louisville, Kentucky. So it was just building
that little festival, just a little bit at a time. But our balloon meister
is actually from, she was from Elizabeth,
Colorado and she actually just moved to Mitchell. But she took over the
director’s position because we could no
longer count on volunteers to work on such a large event. And she said, let’s
just try this, let’s see what happens. We’re a ballooning community
and I tell everyone we’re the ballooning
capital of Nebraska. But let’s try it. So we did, we sat down,
we wrote out our proposal. And the morning that,
his name is Maury, he’s with the Balloon
Federation of America. The morning that
he came up to fly, it was on December third
and it was absolutely, I mean I swear, it was
the most beautiful day we had all year. We had three mile per
hour winds and he was up in the air as
long as he could. And he got down and
he said, this is it. He didn’t get to fly
in any of the other national locations, so. KELLOGG: That’s great. LEISY: Yeah, so we just turned
on our western charm and was able to lure them in and the minute he got above the Scotts Bluff
National Monument KELLOGG: That’ll do it.
LEISY: and could see, yeah, that we had him. KELLOGG: That’ll do it. Well another big event. Every year is the
sandhill crane migration and I know you’re working
with a unique partnership with China to attract
visitors and raise awareness. So tell us a little bit
about that effort as well. RICKS: Yeah, we’re right
now in the process, by day after tomorrow,
sending some content through our Department
of Economic Development
and Cobus Block and people, they’re working
with the embassy in China because it’s the 40th,
celebrating the 40th anniversary relationship between
China and the US. And I guess the Chinese
said hey look, we want to, because of this relationship,
we want to feature something in each state. So they went to all 50 states
and talking with people here the crane migration
is a huge event and it’s very popular in Asia. So we decided to camp on that. So we’re going to
get some content out and then we’ll know, they’ll
do the translation for us and stuff but we’ll
be visible in China which is really good because we are just starting to
form an international effort and as a matter of fact, we
just got confirmation yesterday that Chris Thompson from
Brand USA is going to be at our conference this year. And he, working
in Washington with the US Chamber of
Commerce and things, they actually know
probably more about international travel to
Nebraska than we do right now. So he’s going to come
out and talk about the importance of it
and actually profile some of the international
traveling to the state. So that’s going to be fun. KELLOGG:
And with the time we have
remaining, I do want to ask you about the severe flooding that’s
affected eastern Nebraska. What kind of an impact is
that going to have on tourism in that part of the
state in particular? RICKS:
Yeah, we don’t know right now. I was up there, last week was
national travel and tourism week and I spent a day in Niobrara
speaking with the community. I’d been up there in January. So it is a little shocking
and sobering to actually see because there isn’t
anybody up there that I met in those hours I was
there who didn’t have, for example, a picture of
the ice moving the bridge a quarter mile. You just stand there and
go, how can that happen. So as part of tourism
week last week what we said was this, tourism matters like we
were talking about before. Tourism’s also good for
you, travel is good, to get out of your
daily routine. And the third thing
is tourism also cares. So we’re starting an effort
right now to put an emphasis a little on the north
eastern part of the state, even down into Brownville
area because of the closings down in the south east. And here’s the gist of it. More than 50 percent of
the people in this country don’t use their paid
time off, it confuses me. And Nebraska is, we’re 38 out
of 50 in terms of using it. So what we’re encouraging
people and Nebraskans to do is just, get away one
more time this summer and if you can, go into
one of the affected areas. KELLOGG: That’s a great idea. Great tourism season ahead,
looking forward to it. John Ricks with the
State Tourism Commission and Brenda Leisy with
the Scotts Bluff County Tourism Office. Thank you both for being with
us on Speaking of Nebraska . RICKS: Thanks a lot. LEISY:
Yes, thanks for having us. KELLOGG: This interview and
tonight’s program are available on our website. Just go to
netNebraska.org/
SpeakingofNebraska You can also find our stories
on Facebook and Twitter. Just follow us at
NETNewsNebraska. (piano instrumental music) DENNIS KELLOGG:
It’s been several weeks
since disastrous flooding hit eastern Nebraska and
communities are still dealing with the effects. That includes an impact
to the tourism industry. Niobrara State Park is
back open and Highway 12 leading into the park is
now open as well. Fremont Lakes State Recreation
Area is partially open. About 250 volunteers
helped clean up the park. And Dead Timber State Recreation
Area is partially open but the lower portion of
the park and the campgrounds are still closed. The deadline to apply
for individual assistance from FEMA has been
extended to June 19th. And there are other
ways to get help. The small business
administration
offers disaster loans for businesses that lost
revenue because of flooding. The deadline to apply for
that is December 23rd. And the Rural Response
Hotline is available for Nebraskans struggling
with stress, depression, or other mental
health related issues. Call the hotline
at 1-800-464-0258. We’re living in a time
when even little towns have to deal with some
big city problems. A new NET news documentary
takes you along as we visit three small
law enforcement agencies to see how much police work
has changed in rural Nebraska. The program Small Town
Cops reveals how even in towns and counties where everyone
knows everyone else, deputies train
for school shootings, encounter drug traffickers
and deal with complex social issues. We’ll be showing Small Town
Cops all across the state. At the end of May we’ll be in
Chadron, Alliance, Scottsbluff and Mitchell. In June we’ll be in Sidney,
Gering, Lewellen, Ogallala, and Brule. Go to netNebraska.org/ontheroad for the full schedule of our
Small Town Cops screenings and make
plans to join us. (music interlude) KELLOGG: Patrick O’Donnell
is a familiar face to people who watch the
Nebraska legislature. He’s been its clerk for
more than four decades. He can often be seen
upfront calling role or announcing what bill or
motion senators are debating. NET news’ Fred Knapp sat
down with O’Donnell recently to talk about what’s
changed over time and what remains the same. FRED KNAPP:
When did you start this job? PATRICK O’DONNELL:
Well I started legislature
in 74 but was fortunate enough to be elected clerk in 1978. KNAPP: And what was it
like back then? O’DONNELL: Different than today
like you might imagine. First of all we didn’t
have term limits so there were a lot of
member who had served, six, eight, 10, 12
years when I was here. And you have to
remember in those days a lot of the Omaha people
didn’t drive back and forth so there were more
of them in town and so they would spend
more time together. It was just comradery and
getting to know each other and I thought those times,
looking back upon them, I think they were
healthy because it helped them learn how
other members thought and what was important to them,
what their value system was and I think that made
for better work product as they would slug through
things on the floor. KNAPP: What
makes for an effective or
an ineffective legislator and has that changed? O’DONNELL: Well I’ve always
said, again I’m going to use Jerry Warner as
a role model here… KNAPP: And just for people
that don’t know, he was the long time
Republican chairman of the Appropriations
and Revenue Committee. O’DONNELL: Right.
KNAPP: Longest serving state senator in history
before Ernie Chambers took that title.
O’DONNELL: That’s right. Jerry’s now the second
longest serving member. He was the best listener
I ever saw on the floor. As you recall he wasn’t a
particularly gifted orator. But he was always thinking
and he was always listening. He was trying to figure
out where people were. He always tried to understand
their thinking process and learn about what
their value system was and what was important to them. And he would take that
base of information and develop outcomes, solutions. KNAPP: What have been the
biggest changes you’ve seen? O’DONNELL:
With the advent of technology that changed a lot
of how we operated and how we did things. Term limits was another
big change obviously when that came in early 2000’s. KNAPP: Yeah, what effect
has that had? O’DONNELL: Well again I think
members come in now knowing they have such a short
window of opportunity to effectuate change, that
members don’t necessarily think beyond the eight years
that they’re here. Sometimes I think
that poses problems for a legislative body like ours because they’re here for
eight years and they’re gone. And a lot of the things
that they do here that happen in the legislature
have long term implications and they still try and
operate as an independent non partisan legislature
and by enlarge they think they’re successful. Although we see more
evidence of partisanship in the body today I think. KNAPP: So as you look into the
future projecting forward from where we are
now, what are your fears, concerns or what do you
hope the future will bring? O’DONNELL: I worry about an
increase partisanship kinds of activities. I think people don’t appreciate
how lucky they’ve been to be in this
state without that. All you have to do is
look at Washington now to know how destructive
that can be. I have a lot of respect
for congress but they’re not functioning
particularly well these days as I think most
Nebraskans would agree. So I don’t want to
ever see us get there. I want them to remain a
strong independent branch of government. Some different
governors effectuate
that in different ways. But I think it’s important
for the legislature to always maintain and
be an equal partner to fulfill their
responsibilities of oversight and making public policy. They have to have
some independent sense of thought and perspective and disagreeing with the
governor’s not a bad thing. KNAPP: Okay.
O’DONNELL: Okay. KNAPP:
All right, thanks very much. O’DONNELL: Good to see you Fred. KNAPP: Appreciate your time. O’DONNELL:
Yes sir, enjoyed it, thanks. KELLOGG: Fred Knapp updates
you on the latest news from the Nebraska
legislature each week day during the session. Listen for our legislative
updates on NET radio at 5:45 and 7:45
week day mornings and 5:45 in the evening. And you can read his
stories on our website at netNebraska.org/news. (upbeat music) That’s all for this week
on Speaking of Nebraska . Thanks to John Ricks and
Brenda Leisy for joining us. Also Fred Knapp
for his reporting and all of those behind
the scenes who work to bring this show to
you every single week. Next week we’ll talk about
teen suicide in Nebraska with a state wide
expert and a mother who lost her son to suicide. Until then, I’m NET News
Director, Dennis Kellogg. Thanks for joining us. (soft instrumental music)

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