FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
La Vista, Neb. (Oct. 18, 2017)— It was a celebration of Nebraska and the growing tourism industry. Wednesday night, Nebraska’s tourism industry professionals honored their peers at the Celebrate Nebraska Awards Banquet at the La Vista Conference Center in La Vista, Nebraska. The event capped off the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference organized by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and hosted by Visit Sarpy County. Nebraska Tourism Commission Executive Director John Ricks and Commission Chair, Deb Loseke, announced the following 2017 Nebraska Travel Industry Award winners.
The 2017 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to Mitch and Patty Glidden of Mullen (pictured above). The Gliddens are the owners and operators of The Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rental and have been for a number of years. Their business not only offers lodging but also bird watching opportunities and summer and winter river adventures. The Gliddens serve on numerous boards and volunteer with many organizations including Hooker County Visitors Committee, Sandhills RC & D, Mullen Commercial Club, Western Nebraska Tourism Coalition, Nebraska Travel Association, Hooker County Fair Board and the Sandhills Sharptail Shootout. In addition, every year they host the Polar Bear Tank Races, which is a large (and sometimes cold) fundraiser for the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. They also worked hard to get lodging tax implemented in Hooker County.
“Mitch and Patty’s contribution to the state and the Sandhill’s as a destination is invaluable. They no doubt have a knack for drawing in tourists looking to experience the great outdoors,” said John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism Commission executive director. “Their love for Nebraska and meeting everyday travelers is apparent in everything they do. This award is a tribute to an ambitious couple who’ve made a lasting impact in this industry.”
The Friend of Tourism Award went to Derryl Barr. Barr is a retired school teacher, business owner and eclipse enthusiast. He began planning for the Great American Eclipse in 1995, collecting climate data in our state. Fast forward to 2014 and Barr kicked his eclipse promotion into high gear. He began visiting Nebraska communities along the path of totality, creating excitement and preparing the areas for what was to come. He aided Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Chambers of Commerce, libraries and schools in understanding what eclipse travelers would be seeking and which types of events would be the most likely to resonate with them.
The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations up to 9,999 went to the Broken Bow- NE150 DRIVE. The Broken Bow NE150 DRIVE was a new event put on this year by the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the state’s sesquicentennial. The DRIVE took participants on a 150-mile road trip through Custer County with eight unique stops along the way. To participate, individuals had to purchase a raffle ticket and then were given turn-by-turn instructions to the eight stops, which totaled roughly 150 miles. Purchasing a raffle ticket got the participant’s name entered in to win $500 dollars. To prove they visited the destinations, contestants had to take a selfie at each stop and upload the picture to the official Broken Bow NE150 DRIVE Facebook page. In the six weeks the event took place, nearly 24 groups completed the drive with nearly 200 photos uploaded to the event page. The event culminated on the day of the Great American Eclipse and a winner was drawn at the Broken Bow watch party.
The Outstanding Event Award for communities with populations 10,000 or greater was awarded to the Crane River Theater Company, for their annual outdoor production in Kearney. Over the past eight years, these summer productions have drawn in over 105,000 audience members. 15,000+ of those came for this year’s performances of The Little Mermaid- an elaborate show full of colorful costumes and quirky characters. Half of the patrons seeing this production at the Cope Amphitheater in Yanney Heritage Park, visit from outside of Kearney, so they take the time to spend the night at a local hotel, eat at local restaurants and visit other local attractions. To pull off this affordable event, Crane River Theater recruits talent on the local and national level. Helping to grow Nebraska’s reputation as a state committed to the arts.
The Outstanding Marketing Campaign Award went to the North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau for the New Adventures of Buffalo Bill campaign. Taking inspiration from the success of the new Kentucky Fried Chicken marketing campaign reviving Col. Sanders, the North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau decided to re-introduce to the world to Buffalo Bill Cody- a bit of a slap-stick “legend-in-his-own-mind” character proud of the place where he lived for nearly 40 years. Through video, memes and still photography, Buffalo Bill introduces the world to North Platte and gives his “Stamp of Approval.” In the first six months, the Buffalo Bill campaign generated over 655,000 impressions on Facebook and Instagram and they saw an increase of 50% activity on VisitNorthPlatte.com from some of their target markets. The campaign provided a consistent message, the home of the historical home of Buffalo Bill offers a lot, and created abundant awareness across multiple platforms. Another phase of the Buffalo Bill campaign is currently in the works.
The Outstanding Tourism Attraction Award was given to The National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud. Over the last five years, the Willa Cather Foundation embarked on a significant undertaking to create a new archive and museum. The Center is a state-of-the-art archive, museum and arts center that promotes the legacy of renowned writer, Willa Cather. In June, a dedication for the Center was held where first lady Laura Bush was the keynote speaker. Since the dedication and opening, the Foundation has seen an increase of over 40% in visitors and 20% of visitors taking guided tours. Visitors hail from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and up to seven foreign countries. Remarkably, approximately 80% of visitors come from outside of Nebraska, requiring overnight lodging and garnering average spending of $211 per day. The Center has also had a transformative effect on downtown Red Cloud, recently a coffee house and a wine and craft beer tasting room have opened in nearby buildings.
The winner of the Outstanding Agritourism & Ecotourism Entity Award was given to Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center of Wood River. Open and free to the public, the Crane Trust’s Nature and Visitor Center is a great location for anyone to experience nature and the awe-inspiring sandhill crane migration. Just a short walk from the Visitor Center is the Trust’s genetically pure bison herd, a 35-foot viewing tower and two footbridges that allow guests to cross the Platte River. The Trust has also spent the last five years expanding a variety of VIP experiences. These experiences are an opportunity for guests to have a more immersive experience on the prairie with migration viewing, comfortable lodging, fat bike tours, kayaking the Platte and much more.