Visitors in their own city learn what eclipse chasers and guests can experience
Nebraska's $5 billion tourism industry gears up for a cosmic event.
Thousands of visitors are expected to travel to Nebraska for the total solar eclipse on August 21. And with good customer service, local tourism leaders hope those guests will stay a few extra days.
“Well, you guys want to see the brewery,” Alex Briner said, showing off Prairie Pride Brewing to a group of visitors in their own hometown of Grand Island.
Briner said, “We get a lot of people who come in and say I don't feel like I'm in Grand Island right now.”
It’s a chance for hotel employees see the community the way their guests do.
Tricia Beem of the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau said, “We're trying to show them the community through the eyes of a visitor, so to look at it differently and to be able to answer questions they may have regarding places to eat, retail, fun things to do at attractions, you name it.”
That means visiting Grand Island's growing craft brew scene, and other downtown hot spots, and also attractions like Fonner Park and the State Fair.
Tourism is big business in Nebraska, with an estimated impact just shy of $5 billion.
Beem said, “There are a lot of things happening in Nebraska that are fabulous and more and more people are discovering what we have to offer.”
Including that once in a lifetime solar eclipse attracting international visitors.
Best Western manager Matt Ripp said his hotel is booked solid for the total eclipse.
He said, “They’ll be coming in a few days early and a few days afterwards and they're going to want to do some things around Grand Island other than just the solar eclipse, they'll be spending their money at those places too.”
Hotel managers would like to see guests stay another night or two, if they find other things to do.
Ripp said, “We've had that happen numerous times. If that's all you've only seen half of it. You need to go here, here, and here. That brings value to us.”
The Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau organizes tours for those in the hospitality industry, showcasing attractions those on the front lines may not know about.
Paul Chaudheri of the Comfort Inn was snapping photos at Raising Nebraska, as he checked out the interactive agricultural exhibit.
He said, “It's my first time and definitely I tell all my guests staying at the hotel, I will send them over here.”
Whether a visitor's coming for a cattle show or the eclipse, the goal is to keep them – and their dollars – around a few extra days.
“And see other parts of Nebraska so actually Nebraska wins as well as Grand Island,” Beem said.
National Travel and Tourism Week is May 7-13. The state estimates 47,400 jobs are supported by travelers, and generates around $700 million a year in tax revenue.