Two Hall County Attractions Earn Awards

Gering, Neb. (Oct. 20, 2015)—Nebraska’s tourism industry professionals honored their peers at the Celebrate Nebraska Awards Luncheon Thursday afternoon at the Gering Civic Center in Gering, Nebraska. The event capped the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference organized by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and hosted by the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau. Congressman Adrian Smith of Gering and Nebraska Tourism Commission Chair Deb Loseke announced the following 2016 Nebraska Travel Industry Award winners.

The 2016 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to Ron Hull. Hull has spent his life dedicated to promoting and understanding the pride in the people of Nebraska and their history, through his years of dedication at NET, Nebraska’s PBS Station. In 1955 Hull was hired to help establish the non-commercial publication broadcasting station. Today, NET has grown into a statewide radio and television service available to all Nebraskans and produces segments about Nebraska that are seen on PBS Stations across the country. Through Hull’s dedication NET’s library has thousands of hours of historical footage of Nebraskan’s like Mari Sandoz, John Neihardt, Dick Cavett, Chief Standing Bear and many dignitaries.

Hull provided critical leadership in working to get the Mari Sandoz High Plains Center at Chadron State College opened in 2002. In the early 2000’s he helped spearhead the Nebraska Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Journey, a tourism effort that made Nebraskans more knowledgeable about the state’s history, and encouraged Nebraskans and visitors to the state to join the commemorative journey.
“Mr. Hull’s accomplishments throughout the years have continued to enhance our communities,” said Deb Loseke, Nebraska Tourism Commission chair. “His love for Nebraska’s famous authors, his insistence that we preserve their legacy, and his work to spread Nebraska’s message beyond our states borders have a positive impact on Nebraska.”

Hull continues to serve on the Advisory Board of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial, is President Emeritus of the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society and an honorary board member of the John Neihardt Foundation. Hull is well rounded and even at his young age is still in demand to speak to crowds on history, culture, tourism and Nebraska’s economy.

The Friend of Tourism Award went to Pure Nebraska. Pure Nebraska is a morning show on 1011 News that highlights agriculture, rural life and our state’s hidden gems. The Pure Nebraska staff, which consists of Emmy Award winners Jon and Taryn Vanderford and Brad Anderson, continually travel the state doing feature stories on our beloved tourism attractions and Nebraska’s strong tie to agriculture. Just a skim of their website in mid-August showed that they’d recently done stories on the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Windmill State Recreation Area and Wilber, just before their annual Czech Festival. The station in which Pure Nebraska airs, KOLN, spans much of the state of Nebraska, giving residents fresh inspiration to travel their state. The Pure Nebraska Facebook page also entertains nearly 16,000 followers, broadcasting the shows message to even those outside of their normal viewing area.

The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations up to 9,999 went to the Seward Fourth of July Celebration, for the second year in a row. For over a century, Seward has honored our nation’s independence with a huge Fourth of July Celebration, this year drawing nearly 50,000 people to their small city. While the family friendly festival does have some tried and true events, they are always looking for changes to keep things fresh. This year’s celebration theme was Into the Wild Blue Yonder- Saluting a Century of Aviation in Nebraska, a fitting theme for the cities latest addition, the new National Guard Museum. The new museum was dedicated on July 4 during the celebration and featured a very successful open house. Seward residents feel that the museum is a natural tie in to being located in “Nebraska’s Fourth of July City” and plan to incorporate and work with the museum, making the Fourth of July a reality every day in Seward, because the new National Guard Museum reflects the same patriotism as the growing celebration.

The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations 10,000 or greater was awarded to Old West Balloon Fest… Re-Inflated, hosted by the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau in 2015. Old West Balloon Fest… Re-Inflated was a successful effort, rekindling a popular event from the 1980’s. Brought back to life Labor Day weekend of 2015, the festival led nearly 13,000 people to Gering/Scottsbluff/Mitchell to watch the beautiful western Nebraska sky fill with 18 hot air balloons. Forty-eight percent of those people were from outside the area. While visitors were there they enjoyed shopping, eating and visiting area attractions. Hotels, motels and campgrounds in the area were at 98% capacity, with an average stay of two nights. Restaurants reported similar numbers. The Old West Balloon Fest committee estimated the economic impact from visitors from outside a 100-mile radius of Scotts Bluff County was $2,193,408.00. The event was so successful it was held again in 2016 and plans have already begun for 2017.

The Outstanding Tourism Campaign Award went to the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau for the Swimmers of the Lagoon Campaign. In June of 2016, the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials were held in Omaha and the Convention and Visitors Bureau seized the opportunity to capitalize on the high-caliber event, with a 12-day campaign featuring 12 giant floating cutout swimmers in Omaha’s downtown Gene Leahy Mall lagoon. The campaign was a hit on social media, its intended medium, providing a fun shareable moment for out-of-town visitors. Photos of the lagoon “swimmers” were viewed 386,029 times on Twitter and Instagram alone. The campaign was also met with generous coverage from media news outlets, garnering more than $170,430 worth of publicity and reached 1.85 million people through television, radio and print. Additionally, the “swimmers” had its own page on, where information about the swimming event garnered 841 page views and visitors from 42 states.

The Best Digital/Social Media Campaign was won by Nebraska Rural Living for the 36 Hour Project, promoting Arapahoe, Cambridge and McCook. This campaign was a spinoff of the Sunday New York Times Travel section and their 36 Hours column. With advice from communities, a 36 Hour itinerary was created to attract tourists outside a 100-mile radius. The itinerary invited visitors to experience the culture, history, lakes, trails, lodging accommodations and cuisine in the region. A video, website and ads were pushed out through Google and Facebook. The campaign finished with over 1.1 million impressions. Between April and August, page visits to jumped from 4,800 to 325,971, those website visitors staying on the page for an average of five minutes, opening up the world to the opportunities for visitors in southwest Nebraska.

The Outstanding Website Award went to Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau for The Visit Omaha website, which underwent a major redesign in 2015, is an extensive tool for both leisure and business travelers, with a primary goal to showcase Omaha as a tourism destination while highlighting local restaurants, hotels, attractions, events, shopping and entertainment venues. New features to the website include making it mobile friendly, mapping features, an enhanced events calendar, Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews and much more. Since the websites reintroduction in September of 2015, it has seen 1,273,000+ visits with more than 735,000 of those being from a mobile device, the events page seeing the most traffic. This website makeover makes planning an Omaha visit seamless during all stages of the planning process.

The Outstanding Tourism Attraction Award was given to Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island. For almost half a century, the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer has served as the cultural hub of the Grand Island community, as well as central Nebraska. In 2015, the community celebrated the re-opening of the main building after an 18-month, $7.4 million renovation. Dubbed the Gem of the Prairie, The Stuhr Building is the visual anchor of the museum’s 207 acre living history experience and is an attraction in itself. The Museum was also recently recognized by the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce with the Outlier Award, honoring its leadership and commitment to the preservation of history. Stuhr Museum generates an annual economic impact of more than $2 million and serves an average of 67,000 people each year. Stuhr is already looking as the next phase of their program and infrastructure development, proving the establishment will continue growing and be a community icon for years to come.

The winner of the Outstanding Nature-Tourism Entity Award, for the second year in a row, is Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center of Wood River. Home of the largest sandhill crane roost in the world, the Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center is a great place to watch the sandhill crane migration each spring. It’s also a great place year-round for travelers to get their eco-tourism fix. In 2016 the center began marketing VIP excursion opportunities along the Platte River. The excursion opportunity allows visitors to ride fat bikes on the property, take off road tours, hike the prairie, kayak on the river, take an aerial tour, enjoy a guided photography experience, stay in the legacy cabins and more. In 2016 just over 55,000 visitors came through the Nature and Visitors Center. In the first four months of the VIP excursions, nearly 30 people signed up, experiencing the Platte and the prairie in an entirely new way.