Nebraska tourism industry members were honored at the Celebrate Nebraska Awards Banquet on Wednesday night at the Sandhills Convention Center in North Platte. The event closed out the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference organized by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and hosted by Visit North Platte.
“Our deepest congratulations go to all of the 2019 award winners,” said John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism executive director. “From the creative marketing campaigns, to the unique events and destinations that give visitors a memorable experience, there are a lot of amazing things going on in Nebraska to help bring travelers here.”
Award winners in each category included:
- The 2019 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to The Kreycik Family. From 1995 to 2018, the Kreycik Family offered a unique experience in Nebraska giving Elk and Buffalo tours on their ranch near Niobrara. Tourists were able to ride in covered wagons to hand feed and pet the Elk and Bison. Not only were members of this family busy with their own tourism operation, but they have always taken part in their community’s tourism. They’ve been an active part of the Northeast Nebraska Travel Group and of Knox County Tourism, continually helping to promote their area.
- The Friend of Tourism Award went to Nebraska Life Magazine. Since 1997, Nebraska Life Magazine has worked hard to promote Nebraska events and attractions. Nebraska Life supports the industry by partnering with tourism entities in the state to create local guides like Journey to Western Nebraska and by taking travelers on week long tours that highlight different parts of the state. In Nebraska Life’s 23 years, they’ve shed light on the very best Nebraska has to offer and captured it beautifully in their magazine.
- The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations up to 9,999 went to The 50th Annual AppleJack Festival in Nebraska City. In 2018, the AppleJack Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary. New events were designed and implemented for the 50th year, including the taste of AppleJack and the AppleJack Royalty Float. Old favorites like water barrel fights were also brought back for the anniversary. New events paired with additional out-of-state marketing efforts resulted in over 80,000 people coming to Nebraska City to partake in all things apple for the weekend, one of the most successful years the festival ever had.
- The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations 10,000 or greater was awarded to NEBRASKAland DAYS in North Platte. NEBRASKAland Days is an 11-day celebration that hosts the largest outdoor rodeo in the state and draws national acts to perform in its two-night concert series. The festival has evolved in many ways, including adding a Taps and Tunes event that features Nebraska based beers and whiskeys, a kickball tournament in the rodeo arena and recruiting Carnival Americana in 2019. Nearly 98,000 people in total participated in the 2019 celebration one way or another. The festival brings in visitors from over 40 states and multiple foreign countries and boosts the area’s economy with an over $21 million impact.
- The Outstanding Marketing Campaign Award went to Visit Omaha for Meet Your Match. For the past three years, Visit Omaha has invited meeting planners to experience Omaha through a traveling exhibit. To encourage meeting planners to stop by Visit Omaha’s booth in 2018, the team developed a creative way to boost attendance. Prior to the conference, Visit Omaha mailed a single sock designed with Omaha themed info-graphics. Each sock was attached to a card that read “Meet Your Match. Bring your sock to the Omaha booth to find its match… and meet yours.” The single sock encouraged planners to stop by the booth to get its matching pair, and while they were there they engaged with Visit Omaha and shared images of their new fashion statement to social media. In the years past, 200-300 attendees typically stopped by the Visit Omaha booth. In 2018, the sock promotion helped bring a total of 843 people to the booth.
- The Outstanding Tourism Attraction Award was given to the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. In May of 2019, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo opened its largest expansion ever. The expansion includes an outside and inside viewing deck built specifically for year-round giraffe feeding, a new terraced amphitheater for educational shows put on by zookeeping staff, and a secret jungle that gives guests the chance to climb with spider monkeys in a 24-foot playground. The expansion also included a new habitat for two critically endangered Sumatran Tigers that includes a viewing area where children can sit in the driver’s seat of a safari vehicle next to a tiger. The Lincoln Children’s zoo has undergone extensive changes to improve their visitor experience in the last year and make it a top attraction in the state.