EXCLUSIVE: New tourism director talks trust, goals

Posted at 4:49 PM, Jan 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-10 19:24:06-05

The state's tourism commission is now under new leadership months after the previous director was fired for misspending millions of dollars.

Tuesday was only John Ricks’ second day on the job but the new Nebraska Tourism executive director said he has a lot on his plate.

Ricks says being in charge of a state's tourism department is something he's aimed for. 

“When this popped up, you immediately go yeah it's something I wanted to do,” said Ricks.

But he knows those aspirations come with some heavy work leading the state's 3rd largest industry and selling Nebraska.

“This industry can be grown and that's what we are about, to increase the impact on the industry in the state,” said Ricks.

Ricks comes from Colorado where he was that state's associate tourism director. Before that Ricks spent over 20 years in the advertising realm of tourism.

Ricks believes a fresh, outsider perspective can help promote the state in different ways, “Because you like it doesn't mean somebody from the outside is going to like it for the same reasons.”

Coming from Colorado to Nebraska will be different, but Ricks said every state has its sights and draws to it, "I think the key is to try and figure out what those things are, work with the industry and then realize that tourism is an economic driver, this is a huge business," said Ricks

In May, the Nebraska Tourism Commission fired then director Kathy McKillip after a blistering report found a mishandling of over $4.4 million dollars on an advertising contract, $40-thousand dollars for a speaker at their annual convention and reimbursing a contractor for alcohol and cigarettes.

Ricks said that wouldn’t fly under his watch.

“You have to be transparent, the confidence of the commission here is totally dependent on how we present things how we communicate with them, how we keep them on board,” said Ricks.

And keeping the tourism commission in the loop Ricks said on all transactions will prevent anything from falling through the cracks again.

“Has to be explained, has to be endorsed, and signed off on, and that's the way you do it,” said Ricks.

But in the meantime, Ricks said he has a lot to learn and take in, "What the best think I can do right now is listen because I think we have to discover here what those things are."

Ricks will be paid $102,000 that's more than 86-thousand dollars McKillip made.