Area tourism continues recovery to pre-pandemic levels


Over two years after the pandemic affected people’s ability and willingness to travel, local tourism officials say numbers are rebounding to pre-pandemic levels.

Tourism Director Brenda Leisy said lodging tax numbers for June and July are comparable to 2021, which is a good indication for the industry. Lodging tax revenues are within $1,000 over the two-year period. In July 2021, lodging tax revenues were $59,600. In July 2022, lodging tax funds generated were $60,800.

“So not much change, which honestly is good,” Leisy told the Star-Herald. “For right now, the numbers are very steady. With the economy the way it is, we didn’t know how things would turn out.”

However, she will not know the impact of the Old West Balloon Fest, Harvest Festival and Monument Marathon on lodging tax for a few months yet. The numbers are reported two months behind when an event occurred, meaning OWBF numbers will likely come out in late October and Harvest Festival and Monument Marathon will be likely shared in December.

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“I think we’ll have a couple more good months between the marathon and Harvest Festival and Old West Balloon Fest. I think we’ll hold steady still,” Leisy said. “We’ll see.”

The tourism numbers for 2021 were good, following the public’s increase in travel after the pandemic. With summer numbers similar to 2021 for lodging tax revenues, Leisy said that is a good indication that numbers will also be similar for the attractions. Usually tourists who visit the area come for the larger events, although she noted there will be outliers as people come for weddings and family gatherings.

“Your larger groups that have an effect on the lodging tax dollars are generally people showing up for large events,” Leisy said. “I’m sure the Robidoux Rendezvous had a lot to do with that in June and I’m sure July, what we’re seeing here is Oregon Trail Days because things were back to normal.”

During the fall, Leisy said they will focus on marketing efforts on the sports market that they want to continue to grow.

“Having a strategic plan so we’re sure that we’re putting our money in a good place when it comes to the sports market,” she said.

Gering Visitors Bureau tourism director Karla Niedan-Streeks said they have seen a rebound over the summer for new group tours to the area. She is optimistic that trend will continue along with the upward trend for conventions in town.

Gering had three group tours visit during September and two group tours are scheduled for October. One group is traveling from eastern Nebraska and the other from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“These are tour companies for all five of the group tours are new tours that we’ve worked with — meaning that this is the first time they had tour travels come to fruition,” Niedan-Streeks said.

The Gering Visitors Bureau has worked to develop relationships with all of the five groups, staying in Gering and touring western Nebraska destinations as well.

“All of the tours we’ve booked in September and October are spending a great deal of time at Legacy of the Plains Museum and Scotts Bluff National Monument,” Niedan-Streeks told the Star-Herald. “They include overnight stays at Gering hotels, in addition to two meals they’re eating with us and, in some cases three meals, they’re eating in the Gering or Scottsbluff area.”

The tours have traveled along the Oregon Trail, headed to Chimney Rock and made stops in Ogallala and North Platte.

“We knew this industry was going to bounce back. It just took a little bit of time,” Niedan-Streek said. “The motor coach business has rebounded for tours in our area. We’re thrilled that our hard work and building these relationships with these tour operators have come to fruition and we’re seeing some good groups come into our area this year, next year and the year after.”

Niedan-Streeks said the visitor’s bureau already has seven tours on the books for 2023 and four tours on the books for 2024.

Group tours have a substantial economic impact on the local community. Niedan-Streeks said group tours can spend an average of $8,000 to $10,000 a day per community on lodging, fuel, attractions and other amenities. But that figure depends on the size of the tour. A coach holds between 45-48 passengers on average, with the majority of the tours being close or at capacity.

“It is truly a piece of the group business that has a strong economic impact for our communities and the other great thing is they do a diversity of things while they’re here,” Niedan-Streeks said. “They visit our attractions, they shop in our downtown areas, they spend time in our downtown plazas, they eat at our restaurants, so group business is truly a market of tourism business that gets well spread throughout the communities when we’re successful in bringing them here.”

The other part of group business is the convention and meeting business, which was the last industry to recover from COVID. Niedan-Streeks said the 2023 convention and meeting business schedule is one of the strongest for the Gering Civic Center she has seen for years.

“We are so excited about our conference and meeting schedule that we’re hosting in Gering in the year 2023 and we only see that continuing,” she said.

Two of the most exciting conferences are the Oregon California Trails Association, which will come to Gering for the national convention in July 2023. In October 2023, Gering will host the Nebraska Tourism Conference. The tourism conference will bring tourism partners from across Nebraska to Gering.

“From a tourism perspective, we’ve weathered the COVID storm and we’re past the COVID storm,” Niedan-Streeks said. “We’re looking ahead to strong tourism year next year and the foreseeable years.”

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