Nebraska tourism industry members were honored during the virtual 2020 Nebraska Tourism Industry Awards celebration today, Oct. 22, 2020.
“Congratulations to our award winners! While it has been a tough year, our tourism industry has done a lot to be proud of and it’s nice to celebrate that,” John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism Commission executive director, said. “We appreciate all of the nominations we received this year from creative marketing and virtual events, to businesses adapting during COVID-19 and all of the extra work that has gone in to making sure Nebraska isn’t forgotten about as a travel destination.”
The awards ceremony was held virtually this year. John Ricks presented winners with their awards last week and Jon and Taryn Vanderford, 1011 Now Anchors/Producers, announced the following 2020 Nebraska Tourism Industry Award winners during the virtual event.
The 2020 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to Muriel Clark. Muriel is currently the North Platte/Lincoln County Visitor Center Assistant Director. She has spent many years in the tourism industry, dedicating her time and sharing her passion for her region, the sandhills and the Lincoln Highway. Over the past 10 years, she has authored a blog visiting every town in Nebraska and has opened up her home to travelers through her own Airbnb. Muriel never stops contributing to the growth and success of the industry and is admired and respected by the people around her.
The Friend of Tourism Award went to Maly Marketing. Maly Marketing is a trusted partner of many tourism entities across the state and when the devastating impacts of COVID-19 started to show, they stepped up. They created a weekly support session called “Overcoming the Coronavirus Together” to help individuals, organizations and small businesses who were struggling navigate hard times. Maly Marketing also recently started a video series called “What’s Up Nebraska,” that highlights communities across the state, focusing on safe, socially distanced activities for tourists.
The Outstanding In-Person Event Award was awarded to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo. Although many events were cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Nebraska’s Big Rodeo worked closely with the Loup Basin Public Health Department to make sure measures were in place to help keep volunteers, contestants and spectators safe. The rodeo brought visitor spending to Burwell and the surrounding communities with some businesses seeing an increase in their year over year sales.
The Outstanding Virtual Event Award was a new award created specifically for this year. The award was given to Mac’s Creek Winery & Brewery for their virtual wine tastings. After Mac’s Creek was forced to close due to COVID-19, the McFarland family started weekly wine tasting videos through Facebook Live. The family worked to share information about their wines and also got creative by sharing wine cocktails and food pairing suggestions. The live videos averaged 3,000 viewers each week. The success from these videos helped Mac’s Creek maintain their sale of wine. It also helped save them from having to furlough more employees or shut down parts of their production during the pandemic. The family plans to continue the virtual wine tastings in the upcoming winter months.
The Outstanding Marketing Campaign Award went to North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau for their COVID-19 Tourism Awareness Marketing Campaign. North Platte worked quickly and creatively to change their marketing messaging after the COVID-19 outbreak first appeared. North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau collaborated with local restaurants and attractions to create fun, engaging and safe activities for visitors and families. They promoted social distancing outdoor activities, virtual scavenger hunts, encouraged locals to be a tourist in their own backyards and more. Despite all the challenges in 2020, North Platte Visitors Bureau went above and beyond to make this year positive and memorable for the people traveling to and living in their community.
The Outstanding Tourism Attraction Award was given to The Golden Spike Tower in North Platte. The Golden Spike Tower closed in March and didn’t open again until Memorial Day. Through it all though the staff took a proactive response and got creative with a drive through Easter bunny event, daily Kids Korner Crafts on Facebook and a virtual North Platte Rail Days event that train lovers from all over the world could attend. When staff reopened the doors to the public they had a long list of new procedures and adjustments to their day-to-day operations to keep staff, volunteers and visitors safe.
The Outstanding Agritourism and/or Ecotourism Entity Award went to Midwest Hop Producers LLC. First established in 2013 as a hop farm enterprise, The Midwest Hop Producers continues to grow and expand their business. In 2016, they opened the hop yard, a tasting room and restaurant, featuring local and regional beers crafted by area brewers using their hops. They continued to get creative in their offerings, expanding into events. Midwest Hop Producers also holds one of Nebraska’s first 10 hemp-plot licenses and provides educational activities, workshops and conferences that get consumers and Nebraskans more familiar with hemp.
Another new award category created this year was the Passport Champions Choice Award. The winner was The Southeast Nebraska Cancer Memorial Garden in Humboldt, chosen by Nebraska Passport travelers who visited all 70 stops in 2020. The garden has a variety of plants, trees and flowers; resting benches, walking paths, water features that flow into a peaceful koi pond containing water lilies, statues, personalized bricks, remembrance stone and much more.