For the second time in 10 years, Gering will be participating in Nebraska’s Tourism Assessment Program (TAP).
The TAP program was developed by the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism. It helps communities identify strengths and improve weaknesses to assure they’re reaching their potential when it comes to tourism development.
“We were selected for the program the first time in 2001,” said Karla Niedan-Streeks, executive director of the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Since then, we’ve implemented many of the strategies the state recommended. While we were discussing results with state officials, we made a request for another evaluation and were accepted into the 2011program.”
The first phase of the program was to assemble a local TAP committee of members from area services and attractions, which first met last April.
“We’ve been meeting over the summer to collectively prepare our own community written evaluation,” Niedan-Streeks said. “We spent a lot of time brainstorming what we considered the key components of our local tourism industry and what are our most critical needs.”
The resulting 12-page document was submitted to the state in July. The next step is a community visit from about four members of the Nebraska Department of Travel and Tourism. They plan to be here on Sept. 20.
“We’ll spend the entire day with the state team,” Niedan-Streeks said. “They will have reviewed our document, so it will be a time to share information and tour the entire community. Obviously they’re familiar with our attractions, but they’ll be looking for improvements.”
She added it’s a positive to have our local attractions seen from the viewpoint of people who don’t live in the area. “They may identify some great strength we might be overlooking. They’ll also help identify opportunities for future growth.”
The state tourism team will use the information gathered here to develop a comprehensive report, which will include what other communities have done in the way of tourism promotion that might be applicable here.
Niedan-Streeks said several things came up in the TAP committee’s discussions that were identified as important to address. One was creating a tourism mentality among local residents through education on what the area has to offer.
Another high priority was more signage. “We’ve made some vast improvements through our work with the chamber’s Valley Visions committee when it comes to gateway signage,” Niedan-Streeks said. “But there’s never enough signage to direct our visitors to the places they need to be.”
The TAP committee also identified more convention business for Gering as something to pursue. Going hand in hand with that is the need for more motel lodging in the city.
Another need identified by the committee is connectivity to major transportation corridors, which makes completion of the Heartland Expressway a priority.
“No matter what we talked about, then consensus was that we need to come together as a unit to market and promote and really focus on the niche markets,” Niedan-Streeks said. “Some of those markets include those interested in history, the Oregon Trail, fishing and other outdoor activities – all those Baby Boomer market segments. We need to focus on those niche markets because we can’t be everything to everyone.”
She said another long-term item that came up both in 2002 and during discussions this summer was the need for a full-service Gering visitor welcome center.
The TAP committee also identified a need for revitalization and facelift for downtown Gering, such as more lodging and restaurants.
Niedan-Streeks said the state’s comprehensive report should be ready for implementation by the spring of 2012. “We’re working on budgets and marketing plans about them, so it’s the perfect time for us to collectively come together, hear the state’s recommendations and start planning for the future.”