Nebraska Tourism Commission’s executive director visited communities across the state last week, noting tourism week in Nebraska and meeting with local tourism industry members.

Starting from the state Capitol, after pitching the commission’s request for a governor’s proclamation, John Ricks traveled across the state to Scottsbluff, stopping in Kearney and North Platte on the way.

“That’s about as far west as you can go,” he said.

After a stop in Valentine on Thursday, he headed east for a meeting at a Niobrara business facility, hosted by the Knox County Economic Development Agency.

The meeting drew a small group, primarily Niobrara area business owners, as well as the director of Niobrara State Park, a representative of the Ponca tribe and area media.

“When you ask for a proclamation, you actually stand up and give a two- to three-minute spiel on why it’s important to whatever organization,” Ricks said.

His presentation to the governor included, in part, “Tourism is an important economic engine for Nebraska and it’s the third largest industry in the state. Visitor spending in the state, now estimated by the US Travel Association at $5.1 billion annually - that’s billion, so it’s a big industry, supports businesses across Nebraska and generates more than  $230 million in state and local taxes that are used to make Nebraska an even better place to live.”

“Everybody thought it was over,” he said. But he had more to say: “Travel is also good for you personally, the benefits of taking time off to rejuvenate and recharge are all well documented. Yet more than 50% of the people in this country still don’t use all the vacation time they’ve earned at their jobs.”

“I’ve just never figured it out, it makes no sense to me.” he added.

According to Ricks, Nebraska ranks 38th in 50 states in terms of unused vacation time.

He is encouraging all Nebraskans to take an extra get-away this summer to visit one of the areas affected by the March floods, primarily in northeastern Nebraska, but also along the Missouri on the eastern border, in the Brownville area.

“Just simply pick a destination in a flood-affected area, spend a weekend or more. I know what you spend during your get away will never be appreciated more than right now. Let’s give these areas some special love throughout the summer and let’s go have some fun.”

Ricks unveiled a new promotion the Nebraska Tourism Commission will soon launch,  in the form of a social media contest.

“We’re going to say something to the affect of ‘we have these affected areas and if you go there and you post a picture that you can actually tell that you were there, and post it to hashtag whatever, we’re going to have you in a contest to win something,’” the director said.

Prize packages will include T-shirts.

“We are also talking to other people about other things we can give away - to incent people, to give them a little nudge to come up to one of these areas,” he said. “On social media, people really respond to that kind of stuff, they really love it, not only do they respond themselves, they are going to share it.”

US Travel offered the Nebraska Tourism Commission their social channels for the campaign.

“I have no idea what all their social media contacts are, but I will guarantee you it’s in the 10s of thousands. They said whatever we post they will repost,” Ricks said.

Knox County folks at the meeting engaged in the promotion, many offering prizes. Others asked about linking the commission’s photo posts to local websites.

Ricks said area agencies and businesses are welcome to contribute prizes and can link their sites to the state tourism website any time.

He said the photo campaign will launch soon.

Following Rick’s presentation, Niobrara business owners engaged in a roundtable discussion regarding travel issues with the Morman Bridge being out of commission, and ways to capitalize on the flood.

A map app, developed by area publisher Brook Curtiss and Knox County Development Agency staff members, Megan Hanefeldt and Stacy Miller, was unveiled as well.

The app includes alternate routes to Niobrara, mostly via county roads. Several area residents offered suggestions for route changes.

Hanefeldt said they hope to launch the app within a week.