August 23, 2017 by

Visit Omaha, Omaha’s official tourism authority, turns 37 this year. While not a milestone birthday per se, Omaha tourism has certainly seen milestones through the years.

The CVB was created in 1980 as a department of Douglas County with the goal to promote Omaha to visitors and attract convention business to the area. Conventions were held at the former Omaha Civic Auditorium, the only downtown hotel with convention-hosting capacity was the 444-room Red Lion (now the downtown DoubleTree), and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium was just a typical zoo. In 2017, we have a 346,000-square-foot downtown convention center and arena, more than 3,000 downtown hotel rooms, a 24,000-seat downtown ballpark, a 3,000-foot-long pedestrian bridge, and our zoo is now world-renowned. While the goals of Visit Omaha haven’t changed, the product certainly has, and the value tourism brings to our city has grown tremendously.

Tourism in an important economic engine for the city. During an average year, Omaha welcomes 11.9 million visitors. Those visitors spend $1.1 billion annually. The money visitors spend at our restaurants, attractions, hotels, retail shops, and other enterprises contribute to our local economy, providing jobs and income, tax revenue, community development, and other benefits. 

From wait staff to small business owners, tourism means jobs. The odds are you know someone who works in the tourism industry. In fact, one in every 17 jobs in Omaha is supported by visitor spending, making tourism the ninth-largest private sector employer in the city.

The amount of taxes generated by out-of-town visitors means Douglas County households pay $682 less in taxes each year. Tourism’s decrease means taxes would go up and/or city/county services would go down.

Growth in tourism has not happened by accident. City leaders had the foresight to create developments that enhance Omaha’s appeal, which allows Visit Omaha to promote and market Omaha as an even bigger and better leisure and convention destination.

After 37 years, tourism has certainly earned its place as a legacy business here in Omaha.

Learn more about tourism through the eyes of residents in a series of videos at whattourismlookslike.com.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau.