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Nebraska Tourism Commission
301 Centennial Mall South
PO Box 98907
Lincoln, NE 68509-8907
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (402) 471-3796
For local convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), or chambers of commerce, and visitor centers please go here.
Nebraska Tourism Staff:
John Ricks, Executive Director
(402) 471-1558 or [email protected]
John is responsible for attracting, selling, and overseeing the development, implementation and coordination of the state’s tourism efforts. This includes marketing, advertising, and promotion, as well as effectively and accurately managing the department’s budget. Continuing market research assists John and the marketing team in developing a competitive marketing strategy to promote an effective image for state-wide tourism assets, programs, events, as well as cultural, historic and agriculture tourism resources.
Bryce Arens, Administrative Assistant
(402) 471-3796 or [email protected]
Bryce assists the director with organization of schedules, operational needs, inquiries from visitors via telephone and follows legislative bills related to tourism. He also works with the Tourism Think Tank, or 3T Program, a group of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students in the Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management Program, to establish ideas to incorporate the college demographic into commission operations.
Callie Austad, Industry Relations and Education Coordinator
(402) 471-7755 or [email protected]
Callie's responsibilities involve planning and overseeing all aspects of the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference including working with a conference committee to select speakers, seeking bids through requests for proposals for future conferences, recruiting sponsors, researching potential trends to showcase at future conferences and creating and maintaining a conference budget. Callie also serves as the agency’s representative at community educational events, coordinating educational webinars for industry partners, coordinating the logistics of tradeshows and staff attendance, working to plan Travel and Tourism week events and developing new programs and happenings in response to the interests of the Nebraska tourism industry.
Jenna Bartja, Adventure Travel Specialist
(402) 471-3767 or [email protected]
Jenna joined the Nebraska Tourism Commission team in the fall of 2018. Jenna received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Georgia College & State University. Her previous position was as the Program Assistant for the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute at Grand Canyon National Park, where she coordinated the organization’s educational day tours. Upon moving to Nebraska from one of the great wonders of the world, she and her husband were surprised yet pleased to be struck by the state’s natural beauty and the varied outdoor activities it has to offer. In her new role as Adventure Travel Specialist, Jenna will provide continued support for existing projects while helping communities and individuals identify, establish, and develop new and exciting ecotourism ventures throughout the state.
Jenna enjoys hiking, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, birdwatching, flower-sniffing, stargazing and all things outdoors, as long as she can bring her pup, Ryely, along. Her husband, Bobby, is a park planner for Lincoln Parks & Recreation. They both hope to become more involved with their community as they continue to settle in and make Nebraska home.
Micheal Collins, Group Tour Coordinator
(402) 471-3795 or [email protected]
Micheal oversees the Nebraska Travel Counselor program and supervises 30–40 seasonal summer staff in various rest areas along Interstate 80. He is also the group travel manager for the state and is looking forward to expanding the group tour market in Nebraska and drawing more bus tours to the state.
Micheal received his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in urban studies from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1995. In 1997, he received his master’s degree in planning from the School of Planning at the University of Tennessee. His first job in Nebraska was with the Panhandle Area Development District in Scottsbluff, where one of his primary duties was serving as coordinator of the Nebraska Panhandle Tourism Coalition (now Western Nebraska Tourism Coalition).
When he moved to Scottsbluff in 1997, Micheal planned on living in Nebraska for no more than two years. He found that he really liked living in the state, however, so he applied for a position with the Nebraska Tourism Commission in 2000. He remained in Scottsbluff until relocating to Lincoln in 2002, where he now owns his own home and lives with his cats, Seamus and Stella, and dogs, Sasha and Charlie.
Jenn Gjerde, Marketing Manager
(402) 471-3768 or [email protected]
As Marketing Manager for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, Jenn oversees the development of marketing, public relations and advertising strategies, seasonal marketing plans, coordinates the creative development, tracks the marketing budget and reports campaign goals and metrics. The former TV news reporter previously worked for TV stations in North Platte and Lincoln. Her experiences across Nebraska have helped her gain a great appreciation for the state, which she is excited to now be promoting.
Jenn graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Journalism degree. While in college she was an active member of the University’s club rowing team. She also worked for Husker Vision, where she spent football game days on the field and worked behind the scenes at many other sporting events. She currently lives in the capital city with her husband, son and their adorable pug. Gjerde is a lifelong Girl Scout, currently serving on their Homestead Community Advisory Board and volunteers with the Alzheimer's Association.
Heather Hogue, Deputy Director/Grant Administrator
(402) 471-3774 or [email protected]
Heather oversees the Commission’s grant opportunities including the Tourism Marketing Grant and Community Impact Grant programs, funding assistance programs that encourage Nebraska communities to work together to promote their destinations and events. Heather also manages administrative and program operations for the Commission in relation to state government policies, supervises the internship program, and performs program support for the agency director.
Heather grew up on a family farm outside of Minden, Nebraska and is a graduate of the Lincoln School of Commerce Travel and Tourism Program. Heather has worked for the state tourism office since May of 2000 and enjoys the challenges involved with the continuously changing world of the tourism industry. Prior to joining the Commission, Heather’s career path included being a customer service representative at Walt Disney World, working as an accredited IATA travel agent, and serving as a Quality Control Operator at a travel agency. Heather lives in Lincoln with her husband, Mike and their daughter, Maggie.
Karen Kollars, Agri-Tourism Consultant
(308) 249-3220 or [email protected]
Karen works as the Commission's Agri-Tourism Consultant, assisting tourism entities and helps encourage more rural residents to reach out to travelers wanting to take vacations that involve immersing themselves in ranching or farming experiences. Karen also plans and oversees the Commission's annual Agri/Eco-Tourism Conference and fall Travel Conference, great educational and networking opportunities for Nebraska’s tourism industry partners. She is a graduate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organizational Management. She formerly worked for the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce as the executive director and handled tourism and main street responsibilities. Karen has more than 15 years of experience working in the tourism industry.
Karen is actively involved in local, state and national groups. She serves on the advisory councils for the UNL Department of Agricultural Leadership Education & Communication, MarketPlace Nebraska, and the Nebraska Outfitters and Guides Association. She is actively involved with the North American Direct Farmers Market Association, a networking association for farm direct marketing and agri-tourism, as well as the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety’s Agri-Tourism Digital Dissemination Project. Karen also serves as a board member of the Partnership for Rural Nebraska and chairperson for the Western Nebraska Development Network. Karen is a native of Nebraska and has her office in Kearney.
Erin Lenz, Public Information Officer II
(402) 471-3797 or [email protected]
In collaboration with the agency's Marketing Manager, Erin keeps agency staff and tourism industry members informed and ensures that agency public information priorities and goals are achieved. Erin is the Commission's social media and web specialist, coordinating with external vendors, contracted agencies and marketing partners to ensure status of projects and continued communication efforts. Erin also assists in writing, designing, editing, research, and copy/layout for informational and administrative publications, audio-visual material, media releases, displays, and newsletters.
Erin received her bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations with minors in Business and Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While in college, Erin spent two years as the Public Relations Intern for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. Prior to returning to the Commission, she worked as the Development Coordinator for Friendship Home, a Lincoln non-profit dedicated to helping families escaping domestic violence. Erin is a Lincoln native with family ties to Western Nebraska.
Madison Schlake, Passport program coordinator
(402) 471-3789 or [email protected]
Madison serves as the Passport Program Coordinator where she focuses on participation, program development and implementation, as well as training and educating selected program applicants regarding the benefits of the program. She compiles and analyzes data to prepare reports in regards to program statistics, impact, and participation. Madison also builds partnerships with state and local officials, visitor bureau staff and managers, civic and tourism industry leaders.
Madison received her bachelor's degree in Hospitality, Restaurant, and Tourism Management with minors in Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Fairbury, Nebraska, Madison grew up on an acreage outside of town and has a passion for Nebraska and rural communities. In November, Madison is getting married and will soon change her name to Madison Johnson.
Emerson Belitz, Communications Intern
(402) 471-3791 [email protected]
Emerson assists in the writing of press releases and newsletters, as well as content management and creation for the Visit Nebraska website. She is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in Advertising and Public Relations and minoring in Psychology and Communication Studies. Emerson is originally from Columbus, Nebraska, and has always been heavily involved in her community. She is currently also working as the Marketing and Events Manager with the Daily Nebraskan Media Group on the UNL campus.
Bobby Olson, Communications Intern
(402) 471-3744 [email protected]
Bobby's primary responsibility is managing the day-to-day activities of the Nebraska Tourism Commission social media accounts. With the guidance of both the Public Information Officer and the Marketing Manager, he works to maintain the agency's positive public image through a combination of strategic planning, research, and writing. Bobby is working toward a bachelor's degree in Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in English, with an anticipated graduation in spring of 2021. Additionally, he was recently elected as the 2019-2020 Art Director for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Advertising Club, and enjoys designing in his free time. Bobby is a Lincoln native, but loves traveling to the East Coast to visit his family when possible.
Valeria Siemer, Communications Intern
(402) 471-3784 [email protected]
Valeria primarily assists in communications and marketing for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, as well as creating and managing content for the Visit Nebraska website. She attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, majoring in Advertising and Public Relations with minors in History and Political Science. Valeria is also currently the Marketing Coordinator for LeValley Wealth Management and previously served as a Brand Strategist for Jacht Agency. She is a Lincoln native and loves traveling around the world as much as she can.
Alisha Simonson, Accountant II
(402) 471-3776 or [email protected]
Alisha serves as the primary finance agent for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, managing the agency’s accounting operations, policies, and processes. Alisha consults with agency administrators regarding financial matters and performs a wide variety of accounting and related financial tasks including reconciliations of accounts of incoming and outgoing monies, and processing of accounting batches. She also serves as a liaison with members of the public including coordination and interaction with employees and clients of the Commission.