- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (AP) - When Lisa Burke started as executive director of the North Platte and Lincoln County Visitors Bureau in 2002, she was the only full-time employee. She had one part-time worker and a budget of $360,000.

The visitors bureau has grown - in staffing, funding and physical space with finishing touches being added to the bureau’s permanent home, the North Platte Telegraph (https://bit.ly/1Rgp6Fs ) reported. The budget for the office is more than $1 million now. Funding comes from a 4-percent lodging tax on hotels in Lincoln County.

The bureau has a history spanning over 30 years in the county. It began as a visitors committee in 1984 following the Nebraska Visitors Development Act, then quickly became a hospitality organization under the North Platte Chamber of Commerce. In 1999, the bureau became a division of Lincoln County government and has remained in that role since.

“Ultimately, our bosses are the three county commissioners,” Burke said.

The bureau doesn’t receive any funds from property taxes or from the city occupation tax used to support the Golden Spike Tower. It is governed by a five-member advisory committee that includes Clarine Eickhoff, Jack Morris, Charlie Burwick, Barb Fear and Alan Perlinger.

Over the years, the physical location of the bureau has changed many times. When Burke first started, she and another employee were in a building on Dewey just south of B Street. They moved in 2010 to a location near the Howard Johnson, then to the former Kmart building in 2012. The location on Halligan Drive has always been on Burke’s mind, though.

“I knew that we needed to be by this quadrant by Interstate 80,” she said.

Visitors to the center have gone up from maybe five per week in 2002 to around 10 a day at the new location, Burke said.

The aim of the bureau has always been to bring more people to Lincoln County. How the bureau has approached this goal over the years has changed, though.

The idea now is product development, Burke said - to add value to existing attractions in the community with new exhibits and events. Examples are the addition of Dusty Trails to Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area or bringing in the Grand Duke Alexis Rendezvous to the Lincoln County Historical Museum during Nebraskaland Days.

Tourism is no longer divided at county lines either, Burke said, which was how tourism was approached when she first started in the field. A visitor to Lincoln County who asked about things to do in Kearney may not have been given a good answer at that time, she said.

“We are Nebraska,” she said. “Every part of the state, we should be proud of.”

The bureau has been recognized as a leader for its activities. In October 2014, it received awards for Outstanding Tourism Campaign and Outstanding Tourism Publication during the Nebraska Tourism Conference. By knowing not just the surrounding area but tourism attractions across the state, “it just makes us stronger,” she said.

People in Lincoln County might not know much about the visitors bureau, Burke said, because most of their marketing is done outside the community in Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, even nationally. But at the same time, she said, part of the bureau’s job is to develop the community for the better.

“Tourists like to go where the locals go,” she said.


Information from: The North Platte Telegraph, https://www.nptelegraph.com

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