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If “Nebraska Nice” didn’t move the needle for you, you weren’t alone.

Nebraska has, for at least four years, ranked last in the nation among people interested in visiting, according to the Portrait of American Travelers study. And the patently blasé adjective that led Nebraska’s tourism campaign seemed to have no meaning – and clearly had no success selling this great state to potential visitors.

Learning that Nebraska Tourism Director John Ricks is shelving the bland motto is refreshing and welcome. Calling the news nice would be a significant understatement in the realm of the tagline itself.

With it must come a reinvention of how Nebraska promotes itself to outsiders. Tourism is big business – the third-largest industry in the state, per a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study – and needs to be treated as such if Nebraska wants to be a true player in the in the field. Growing both awareness and revenue requires a rethinking of how the state is framed and investment in that mission.

To his credit, Ricks seems to understand that. He’s trashed the tepid slogan and targeted people in adjacent states, who, by virtue of geography alone, are more likely visitors than your average American.

His suggestion of gaining access to additional spending authority over the next two years makes sense, too. Tourism is a game where you have to spend money to make more money.

Particularly with Nebraska’s comparatively paltry tourism budget of $6.5 million – a third of the national average and half of the median – every dollar counts. State data from 2008 indicate that every dollar spent by tourists has an overall economic impact of $2.70. Hotel-motel taxes are also important sources of revenue for cities and the state that avoid most Nebraskans’ wallets.

This is an arena where Nebraska must be more competitive. But the deck is somewhat stacked against the state, despite its sizable collection of sites worth visiting that fly under the radar.

From a broader perspective, Nebraska lacks major national and international destinations, such as amusement parks, mountains and beaches that many other states can offer. After all, this is the only “triple landlocked” state, three states removed from a gulf or ocean. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Chimney Rock and Lake McConaughy are all great – but they alone can’t carry water for all of Nebraska.

The state can trumpet “The Good Life” all it wants. But that classic saying has no significance to people who don’t understand why Nebraska’s worth the collective pride. This state has breathtaking natural beauty, cultural centers, historical sites and more – but too few Americans are cognizant of them.

Nebraska appears to be on the right track to growing that awareness. Ditching the dumpy slogan was a nice first move, one we hope pays benefits for years to come.

— Journal Star, Oct. 10, 2017


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