KEARNEY — Tourism officials learned something from the thousands of visitors during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, said John Ricks, executive director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

To a crowd of about 30 tourism leaders and supporters gathered at The Archway to celebrate National Tourism Week, Ricks said visitors arrived in the Kearney area for no other reason than to witness the eclipse. Nebraska was never in their vacation plans before the celestial event.

However, Ricks said, visitors came for the eclipse, but they also experienced the region and its people, and, as a result, 40 percent said they intend to return in one or two years, and another 40 percent intend to return in four or five years.

Ricks said the eclipse reveals that visitors can enjoy exploring places and meeting people, and that most of the time, they just need a reason to come, such as the eclipse — or an invitation.

To test the invitation theory, the Nebraska Tourism Commission aired TV ads about Nebraska’s sandhill crane migration in Kansas, South Dakota and other regional states. Ricks said the response was impressive as thousands of tourists flocked here from states where the tourism ads appeared. Ricks said a couple from Lawrence, Kan., came for the cranes. They had heard about the birds in Kansas, but not until they saw TV ads inviting them to Nebraska did they come for the migration spectacle.

Anecdotes like the crane watchers are important, Ricks said, because they illustrate the economic potential of tourism. He believes tourism is Nebraska’s third largest industry behind agriculture and manufacturing.

The Nebraska Passport Program encourages people to visit various attractions in the state and brings in $6 million in tourist dollars, Ricks said, including $469,000 in state and local taxes.

“Ever dollar we put into the Passport Program generated sales of $27.60,” Ricks said.

Also during Tuesday’s celebration, Mayor Stan Clouse was named the recipient of the Kearney Front Line Tourism Award for supporting and promoting tourism. Ricks mentioned that as mayor, Clouse has welcomed at least two organizations per week to Kearney for conventions, meetings, sports events and other activities.

Roger Jasnoch, executive director of the Kearney Visitors Bureau, said Kearney is proud to be Nebraska’s No. 4 tourism destination, based on lodging tax collections, behind Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties.

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