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State tourism industry descends on Gering
October 25, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Ken Kurtz/Spectrum Photo A rainbow arcs over Eagle Rock, one of the five named rocks of significance at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

About 170 people in the tourism industry are visiting Gering this week for the 2012 Nebraska Travel Conference.

Karla Niedan-Streeks, director of the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the last time Gering hosted the conference was in 2004. “Last year, we bid on the conference for both 2012 and 2013 and were awarded the bid in June 2011.”

Niedan-Streeks said that everyone in the state who’s involved in the travel and tourism industry is part of the travel conference. Members represent hotels, convention and visitors’ bureaus, museums, attractions, small bed and breakfasts, outfitters, rafting companies and much more.

This year, Scott Bluff County Tourism has partnered with the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau to charter the “magic bus.” About 19 conference attendees will come from Omaha as the bus heads west, picking up attendees along the way.

“People come to learn, network and work as a team to find out ways to better market the entire State of Nebraska as well as individual sites as tourism destinations,” Niedan-Streeks said.

She added this is a year of change for the travel and tourism industry. State legislation was passed last year to allow for the formation of the Nebraska Tourism Commission, which is separate from the state’s Department of Economic Development.

“With us being a standalone commission comes a new direction,” she said. “We’re taking advantage of a strategic plan for Nebraska tourism that’s just been completed.”

The yearlong process laid out guidelines of recommendations on how tourism will be marketed in the future.

“As an industry, we’re facing the coming years with a whole new focus that I think is good for tourism,” Niedan-Streeks said.”We’ve gotten some good research help to identify our strengths and weaknesses, because we can’t be everything to everyone.”

She added the strategic plan helpS identify wHere visitors were coming from. Visitors to eastern Nebraska come from a different area than visitors to the Panhandle area, which draws extensively from Colorado’s Front Range.

“We have to market differently to different segments and types of visitors,” Niedan-Streeks said. ‘We remain strong with the Baby Boomer market, the people who are a bit older and have more time to travel and money to spend. These visitors are very interested in our history, our monuments and the outdoor activities we provide. That’s our number one customer.”

While the registration deadline has passed for the conference, organizers usually expect some walk-in traffic for specific small group sessions.

The travel conference opened on Tuesday, Oct. 23 with a presentation on “A Roadie’s View of the Lincoln Highway.”

A newcomer’s orientation was Wednesday, Oct. 24, along with numerous small group sessions. The evening wrapped up with a “Drive In to Gering” event at Tom Cozad’s Ford Garage. The evening’s theme was diners, the 1950s, classic cars and what Niedan-Streeks called “monuments, milkshakes and memories.”

The travel conference wraps up on Thursday, Oct. 25 with a banquet will feature Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy as speaker.

“We’re thrilled to be able to host the conference again this year,” Niedan-Streeks said. “It’s a good comment on how well we host conferences and meetings.”
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