Evidence keeps building of tourism’s growing importance to the Omaha area’s economy.
The latest proof: Analysis from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows that the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium now boosts Omaha’s economy by $148 million annually.
That’s an impressive number, and what’s more, it’s up considerably from 2008, when UNL economist Eric Thompson last studied the zoo’s economic impact and found it to be around $85 million.
Now combine that with other encouraging numbers.
In 2012, tourism spending in Omaha topped the $1 billion mark for the first time. Our area hosted more than 11 million visitors.
And during 2013 some of the best news on the local tourism front was the number of weekend tourist visits. The Omaha area saw 41,847 such visits between April and October, for an increase of 6 percent from the same period during 2012.
Dana Markel, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, notes that the 2013 number is significant not only in itself but also because 2012 had the major draw of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, which made for an especially strong showing that year.
The bureau has made weekend visits a particular focus of its promotional efforts in nearby cities such as Kansas City and Des Moines, and the numbers indicate that the efforts are paying off.
In all, more than 16,000 jobs in the Omaha area are supported by tourism, and state and local government revenues are boosted by $132 million from this region’s tourist-related activity.
In a recent news article by The World-Herald’s Erin Golden, Douglas County Board members and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert all noted the growing significance of tourism to this area’s economic prospects.
The Douglas County government contributes about $3 million annually to the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Stothert says she is aiming to boost the city government’s contribution (currently $1.1 million) by $200,000 each year to a yearly total of $1.9 million by 2018.
Omaha is fortunate to have a set of high-quality tourist assets as well as a smart marketing strategy. Markel notes that the Doorly Zoo, as one example, “does an exceptional job” in paying attention to making visits as positive an experience as possible. The proof in the pudding, she says, was the zoo’s No. 1 ranking this year by Trip Adviser, where the rankings are calculated solely by visitor reactions.
“Because of people’s experience at the zoo,” Markel says, “we know they’re going home and telling others about it.”
The bureau helped promote Omaha as a destination by hosting 23 national association executive directors last spring. It was the first time the American Society of Association Executives had not held its annual meeting at a resort location, which spoke well for the members’ interest in Omaha as a potential future meeting site for their individual organizations.
Tourism in Omaha averages around $137 per visitors and that is “new money” for the economy rather than a recirculation, Markel says.
Let’s keep that new money coming in through smart planning and investment that continues to promote this area as a welcoming place for visitors.