OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The pandemic put the brakes on a lot of things, including people traveling. That meant the tourism industry took a huge financial hit, including here in Omaha.
“When they think of Omaha, they don’t think of us as a tourism destination, we’re not a beach town, we’re not a mountain town, but I think everyone has a clear indication now of what happens with tourism in our city disappears,” said Deborah Ward.
Ward is the Executive Director of Visit Omaha. Recent numbers released by them shows how much COVID changed things from last year. The number of meetings and events in the city are down 77%. The overall economic impact of those things is down 66%, which directly impacts jobs.
“We got close to 18,000 of our friends, family and neighbors who work in the tourism field, and they’ve probably suffered the most because a lot of them are without a job, they’ve either been furloughed or laid off,” said Ward.
“The hotel and lodging industry has really taken a substantial hit,” said UNO Professor of Economics Chris Decker.
Decker refers to overnight visitation being down 38% and hotel revenue down 55% from last year.
So how does the tourism industry go about bringing people back? It starts with creative marketing to locations not far from Omaha.
“People will look for shorter trips, less expensive trips to take, and often times that benefits the smaller local venues more than the larger destinations like Paris or Munich,” said Decker.
He remains optimistic tourism, and the economy will improve in eight to 12 months. Visit Omaha says things are slowing improving now, including when it comes to hotels.
“When you look at hotel occupancy over the last couple of weekends, about 65 to 75 of all of the rooms in Douglas County on the weekend have been filled,” said Ward.
Visit Omaha also says restaurant tax revenue is also down 24% from last year. They add that it has to do with the lack of tourists, and locals are not going out to eat as much.