Tag Archives: Keith Backsen

Youth Sports is Good for All of Us

May 28, 2019 by

Sports is a serious business in the United States. Ticket sales for the NFL total $900 million annually, more than 22 million fans attend NBA games in a single season, and Major League Baseball generates more than $10 billion in annual revenue. But a smaller side to sports has produced some really big numbers right here in Omaha—youth sports.

In January, Omaha welcomed more than 1,000 young athletes from across the country who participated in the Northern Lights Volleyball tournament. In February, 410 volleyball teams competed in the Asics President’s Day Classic. In May, Omaha hosted the Midwest Basketball Showcase, which brought more than 250 teams to the city—with a waiting list of 30 teams wanting to play. But Omaha’s largest event for youth sports is the Slumpbuster Triple Crown Tournament. Every June this event brings more than 600 little league teams to the city from 37 different states.

When Omaha hosts any sporting event, those teams and fans stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants. But the visitor numbers grow even larger when children play sports because they have some of the most loyal fans willing to travel—their parents. And that means more hotel room reservations and more money spent in our local restaurants.

This year, Omaha is on track to see a total economic impact of more than $45 million thanks to these young athletes and their families. The money these families spend contributes to our local economy and provides jobs,  income, tax revenue, and community development projects we all enjoy.

Imagine this: Your cousins from the West Coast visit you for a week. At the end the week they write you a check for providing lodging, food, and entertainment. You use the money to landscape your backyard, including the fire pit you’ve always wanted. Now your family enjoys the fire pit every weekend, and when your cousins visit again, they will also enjoy the new backyard feature. That is kind of how tourism works, but on a much larger scale. When these sports teams and their families spend money in Omaha, we can make improvements to our city that everyone can appreciate.

So the next time you want to get a professional athlete’s autograph, do not overlook the little guys. After all, their money benefits all of us.



This column was printed in the June 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Keith Backsen

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

Celebrate Tourism

March 13, 2019 by

The Lone Tree Ferry Co. was one of the first businesses in the area to represent the tourism industry. The crew transported speculators from Council Bluffs across the Missouri River as early as 1850–four years before the city of Omaha’s founding. The owner of the ferry company, William D. Brown, had vision. Brown was the first pioneer to see the potential for a city on the site where his ferry dropped off speculators. The landing became a popular gathering site for the first settlers of the Nebraska Territory. Named after a solitary tree on the Nebraska bank of the river, Lone Tree Ferry became central to the founding and development of the city of Omaha.

As the territory grew, the company would become the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Co., and expand to include a steamboat that could bring visitors to Omaha from greater distances. Brown not only worked hard to get visitors here, he worked just as hard to make sure they felt welcomed once they arrived. Brown, with the help of 12 other investors, built the first building in Omaha, the St. Nicolas Hotel—a log cabin lodging house near 12th and Jackson streets. What Brown understood was that visitors meant business—lots of business.

Today, Omaha continues to offer some of the firsts and the bests in the tourism industry. Omaha’s EVEN Hotel, best known for providing exercise equipment in each of its rooms and offering unique fitness classes, was one of the first hotels of its kind built in the world. Omaha’s historic Blackstone Hotel is where the original Reuben sandwich was created. And Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is recognized internationally as one of the world’s best zoos.

It is hard to tell how many people Brown employed at the ferry company and the hotel, most likely it was fewer than 30. Today, more than 17,280 people work in some aspect of tourism in Omaha. They are individuals with vision, creativity, and a sense of pride, and they are making great things happen to help grow this industry. They welcome visitors to our hotels, restaurants, and attractions, and they represent our city every day, 365 days a year.

According to the U.S Travel Association, a total of 15.6 million jobs in America are supported by tourism. Every year during National Tourism Week, the Omaha Metropolitan Area (OMA) Tourism Awards honor the best in tourism. The event is an opportunity to celebrate employees and volunteers from local attractions, hotels, restaurants, and retail shops for their outstanding contributions to the industry. If these awards had been around in the 1850s, the Lone Tree Ferry Co. would have been in the running. After all, this little tourism company played a big role in Omaha.   

The OMA Tourism Awards are a tri-county partnership between Visit Omaha, Sarpy County Tourism, and the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitors Bureau.


For more information, to nominate someone, or to purchase a ticket to attend, go to omatourismawards.com.

This column was printed in the April/May 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Keith Backsen

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

Growing the Big O

January 22, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Daniel Schwarzbach knows Omaha is a great destination.

Schwarzbach first visited years ago for a business meeting when the downtown convention center was still called the Qwest Center Omaha.

The president and CEO of the Airborne Public Safety Association in Frederick, Maryland, plans to bring around 1,500 people to Omaha this summer for his organization’s 49th annual convention. He is confident they will enjoy the “great little area” around the CHI Health Center Omaha (NoDo), nearby hotels, and the Old Market. Schwarzbach picked Omaha because of these amenities, and the proximity of Eppley Airfield.

“We’re excited to come to Omaha,” Schwarzbach says.

Conferences and other large events play a vital role in Omaha’s economy, bringing tourists and creating opportunities to grow the city’s reputation—with the ultimate goal of attracting new residents and businesses to the region.

Keith Backsen, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the short-term value of bringing people to Omaha is money. Visitors who attend events at the CHI Health Center Omaha frequent Old Market shops and restaurants, helping keep that business district vibrant. The infusion of cash supports businesses and jobs in the community.

Tourism annually brings about 12.3 million visitors, who spend $1.2 billion per year in the city, according to the bureau. Those visitors sustain 17,280 jobs—about 1 in 17 jobs overall—and save Douglas County households each an average of $730 a year in taxes.

On a longer-term basis, conventions and other events help bring people to Omaha to see what the city has to offer. When relocating, people consider places they know or about which there are positive associations—adding economic value to Omaha’s tally of best-in-the-nation accolades.

The convention bureau works with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to target events that match industries where Omaha wants to attract talent and new businesses. David Brown, president and chief executive of the Greater Omaha Chamber, says the organizations brought defense contractors to Omaha for an annual convention on the space industry for several years, around the time that U.S. Space Command was integrated into U.S. Strategic Command, which is housed at Offutt Air Force Base.

Brown also says bringing Omaha to the front of people’s minds is a key for future success. Conventions and other events help introduce people to everything the city has to offer.

“It is not unusual for people to come here for a convention and it to be the first time they have ever been here,” Brown says. “But it is also not unlikely that those people will find another reason to come back.”

Many of those conventions fly under the radar, says Kayti Manley, director of special events at the Greater Omaha Chamber. The chamber works a few hundred events annually, including many targeting specific industries or interest groups that don’t receive publicity. Smaller events might be held outside of downtown venues, too, such as the La Vista Embassy Suites.

“They have a great impact on our community,” Manley says.

While conferences play a critical role, Omaha’s largest events can draw many more people to the area. The College World Series, for instance, averages more than 338,000 visitors a year and has hosted 9.9 million spectators in its 68 years in Omaha, according to the NCAA.

Keith Backsen, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

Keith Backsen

The Olympic swim trials are worth about eight conferences in terms of hotel bookings, Backsen says. While an average conference results in nearly 2,500 hotel rooms being used, the Olympic swim trials result in the use of around 20,000 hotel rooms. Those large events also draw media attention, bringing Omaha’s brand to a larger audience.

“Those are big image-building events that tell people that Omaha has got something going that other places don’t have,” Brown says. “In this world of tight unemployment and relatively slow population growth, being able to show people that we have the quality of life they may desire is a big deal.”

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people live in Omaha because of events and other tourism activity, or how many businesses are directly supported by them, it’s clear that they factor into such decisions.

A Californian, for example, might say they live there because of the proximity to the beaches, forests, or mountains—even if they don’t visit them often, Brown says. Omaha residents point to attractions like Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and Joslyn Art Museum, and events like the College World Series, concerts at the CHI Health Center, college hockey games, and Broadway musicals at the Orpheum.

“It’s hard to point a finger at that individual or company that had moved here exclusively because of those great things that we do,” Brown says. “It’s rather the larger picture of us continuing to add to this collection of really good quality-of-life stuff that makes a difference.”

Brown asks people to imagine what Omaha would be like without amenities attracted by the convention center and other facility improvements in the community. He says surveys of young professionals suggest the city would be a lot less appealing as a place to live.

Millennials, specifically, want communities with sports, music, culture, arts, green space, and recreation—all those features that have blossomed in Omaha in recent years.

“What happens if we can’t check those boxes?” Brown asks. “What happens if the College World Series hasn’t been here in seven years and we now don’t have any direct correlation to that particular sport? What happens if we didn’t bend over backwards to figure out a way to have the swim trials call this home? What if we just said we are good enough? What would this place look like?”

Even if these events and attractions serve a sliver of the overall population, they contribute to the perception of what it is like to live, work, and play in Omaha.

“None of them have been built because we want to attract tourists,” Brown says. “That’s an ancillary benefit that comes along with it. It has all been built so that we have the opportunity to continue to grow this place—the place we all want to live and have our kids stay here.”

The chamber compares metrics on quality of life and other indicators with other cities viewed as peers and competitors. According to the Chamber, Omaha ranks just behind Austin in large part due to Omaha’s cultural opportunities, health care access, and short commute times. Being neck-and-neck with Austin is impressive, given that the Texas city remains one of the fastest-growing in the country.

Schwarzbach expects members of the Airborne Public Safety Association will be impressed when they visit Omaha this July. He says he has told vendors who ask him “Why Omaha” that there’s a reason why Warren Buffett chooses to live in Omaha, and why the city has a world-class zoo.

“There is a reason why these things are there,” he says. “Omaha is a really cool place.”


Visit omahachamber.org and visitomaha.com for more information.

This column was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Keith Backsen, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

 

Omaha is a 52-Weekend Destination

September 18, 2018 by

When a Minnesota mom was looking for a December weekend getaway, she looked toward Omaha. Yes, you read that correctly: December and Omaha. Greta,* a blogger living in Minnesota, visited Omaha during the summer a few years ago. When she and her husband were looking for a fun family winter destination that was drivable, affordable, and offered lots of activities for their 18-month-old son, they thought Omaha fit the bill. And they were right—Omaha is a great winter destination for a weekend getaway. (Omaha is south of Minnesota…winter is all about perspective isn’t it?)

The city’s major attractions are all open year-round and offer unique indoor experiences during the winter months. When Greta and her family visited Omaha’s zoo last December, they had more than seven acres of indoor exhibits to explore. There weren’t huge crowds to compete with her toddler for great views of the animals. While she can’t pinpoint a favorite exhibit at the zoo, her son’s favorite spot was the aquarium. She loved the specially designed areas in the aquarium allowing her son to feel like he could almost reach out and touch the fish.  

The family also visited The Durham Museum during their Christmas at Union Station celebration. The magic of the holidays came alive as they explored the historic train cars, discovered how a train depot works, and bellied up to the old-fashioned soda fountain. It was a much different experience than she had during her summer trip.

When we look at research completed by Tourism Economics, an Oxford economics company, visitation to Omaha peaks in the second and third quarters as you would expect. In the fourth quarter, visitation is lower as the kids go back to school and winter sets in. But here is why visiting in the winter can pay off: hotel rates are generally lower and attractions are typically less crowded. 

Visit Omaha has created a new 52-Weekend advertising campaign to drive home the message that Omaha is a year-round destination for families, couples, and friends to get away for a long weekend. The ads are running year-round in Minneapolis; Kansas City; Des Moines, Iowa; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota—cities that are an easy drive away. From January through March, the number of people going to Visit Omaha’s website to plan a trip increased by 25 percent from residents of Minneapolis, 17 percent for those from Kansas City, and 9 percent from residents of Des Moines.

Omaha is not a city that hibernates during the winter months. The more Gretas who know that, the more business will be generated here. So, the next time someone asks you about the best time to visit Omaha, let them know it is any of the 52 weekends out of the year.

*Greta Alms is the blogger behind Pickles Travel Blog. Greta asked to partner with Visit Omaha last December. Her travel adventures, including her post about Omaha, can be found at picklestravel.com.


This column was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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

Omaha Offers a Travel-Worthy Food Experience

July 26, 2018 by

There are numerous reasons why visitors travel to Omaha. Some are in the city for business or a convention, while others come for an extended weekend getaway to see attractions like the zoo and museums. But there is another reason Omaha is growing in popularity—our food.

In every corner of the city, you’ll find authentic cultural culinary creations that make Omaha quite the foodie destination. You can eat pizza certified by the Italian government at Dante in West Omaha and savor a steak prepared by a James Beard Award nominee at The Grey Plume in Midtown. In North Omaha, nobody does soul food like Big Mama’s–just ask the folks at the Travel Channel. And, despite a culture of fast food, in South Omaha you’ll find the Lithuanian Bakery, where bakers take three days to make a mouth-watering old-world Napoleon torte. 

 Having restaurants that offer such unique cuisine is the cornerstone of building Omaha’s travel-worthy reputation, an equally important component is letting visitors know about our great food scene. In April of this year, Visit Omaha hosted a Foodie Blogger tour to see how many bloggers would be interested in telling Omaha’s story—25 bloggers expressed interest. Out of those 25, Visit Omaha selected four bloggers with the most impressive audience numbers and invited them to enjoy Omaha’s food scene on us. 

The bloggers traveled from Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, and Minnesota. They visited Monarch Prime and learned how the restaurant dry-ages its steaks in-house. They took a culinary class at Provisions by The Grey Plume and experienced making their own pasta. The bloggers also enjoyed samplings at half-a-dozen foodie hot spots on an Omaha culinary tour. They did not leave disappointed; each was impressed with their Omaha dining experience and now plans to share Omaha’s story with a hungry audience of more than 357,000.

 The economic impact when visitors explore Omaha’s food scene is huge. Research shows that out-of-town guests spend $304 million every year on food and drinks while visiting our city. Those dollars help keep people in our community employed. These people—from wait staffs, to chefs and their kitchen staffs, to the drivers delivering the supplies to the restaurant—all have jobs thanks, in part, to all the tourists spending their money here. 

If it has been a while since you have had an evening out, give Omaha’s food scene a try. Omaha Restaurant Week (Sept. 14-23) is a great opportunity to try a new restaurant, or a new dish at an old favorite. After all, if people are traveling from places like Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio to sample the flavor of Omaha, it’s definitely worth the trip outside your neighborhood. 


Visit omaharestaurantweek.com for details.

This letter was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

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

Take a Vacation and Create Jobs

March 23, 2018 by

When is the last time you took a vacation? I mean a real vacation, not just time off work to paint the kitchen or clean out the garage. Has it been a while since you’ve discovered a new place or experienced a new adventure you couldn’t wait to share with family and friends? If the answer is yes, you are not alone.

In Nebraska, 66 percent  of the workforce has unused vacation time. They’ve left 4.9 million vacation days on the table. Nationally, if everyone took all the vacation they’ve earned, it would generate $236 billion for our economy—enough to support 1.8 million jobs.

Think about it: if hotels had more guests, then they would need more staff. If restaurants had more diners, they would need to order more food from suppliers and hire more people. If retailers had more shoppers, they would need more merchandise to keep shelves stocked and more staff to provide great customer service. Inviting more people to visit Omaha would have the same effect in our community. You get the picture—tourism means business.

According to research from U.S. Travel, taking time off makes you a more positive and productive employee. In fact, the research shows employees who use their vacation time are more likely to get promoted and receive raises when compared to those who choose to forfeit their vacation time. Plus, and here’s the real bonus, people who take time off feel happier and enjoy improved physical health.

If you’re still not sure about taking time off, think about it this way: by taking a vacation, you’re helping create millions of jobs and providing a big boost to our nation’s economy. Now add that to your resume.

*Research provided by U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off, The State of the American Vacation.

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

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

It’s True, Tourism Touches All of Our Lives

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Astonished. That’s the word that describes colleagues, friends, family, and groups when they learn what tourism looks like in our city. Ask a family member or friend to guess how many visitors come to Omaha each year and chances are their answer will not even come close. New research shows 12.3 million visitors travel to Omaha each year—that’s more than the total population of Portugal or Greece. They visit for weekend getaways, to see family and friends, to attend conferences, sporting events and concerts, and to conduct business. And while here they spend money. Visitors spend $1.2 billion every year at our restaurants, attractions, hotels, retail shops, and other enterprises. Their spending contributes to our local economy, tax revenue, community development, and other important benefits we all enjoy.

Visitor spending also creates jobs—17,280 of them. One in every 17 jobs in Omaha is supported by visitor spending, which means you probably know someone who has a job in tourism, or has a job thanks to tourism. In fact, tourism is the eighth largest private sector employer in Omaha. 

Still don’t think your life is touched by tourism? Let’s talk taxes. Taxes generated by visitor spending saves each Douglas County household $730 per year. If visitors stop coming to Omaha and stop spending their money here, your taxes would go up or the current level of government services would go down. We would also see a significant number of jobs lost in the tourism industry if visitors did not show up.    

You can help Omaha’s tourism numbers grow even bigger. Keep inviting family and friends to visit. If your business, association, or industry hosts meetings, conferences, trade shows, reunions, or any other special event, invite them to Omaha and provide an economic boost to our economy.

After seeing the numbers, people get it—tourism is a big deal and a great deal for our city.

Visit Omaha can help.

If bringing a meeting home seems overwhelming to you, Visit Omaha, Omaha’s official tourism authority, is here to help at no cost.  Visit Omaha has the expertise and resources to help make your meeting or event, a success. Check out visitomaha.com/meetings to start planning your event.

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

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Omaha Tourism—A Legacy Business

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.

Building More than Bridges

May 19, 2017 by

Omaha is home to some big players in the architecture, engineering, and design world. Companies like HDR, Leo A Daly, and DLR Group are a few that call Omaha home.

Our lives are touched daily by the work they do. If you’ve driven on the West Dodge Expressway, used one of our state-of-the-art medical facilities, or enjoyed the ambience of a coffee shop or hotel, then you understand the magnitude of their work. But few realize the role they play in helping us bring conferences, meetings, and events to our city. 

The tremendous success of Omaha’s business community is also a great asset in helping Visit Omaha bring conferences, meetings, and events home. It’s one of the reasons our city recently hosted the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives for their annual convention. This group is made up of more than 200 influential scientific and technology associations, which are now more familiar with Omaha and may choose to bring a future
meeting here.

In 2016, thanks to local businesses and people like you, Visit Omaha hosted more than 342 meetings, events, and tours that brought more than $229 million into our economy. Visit Omaha also booked an additional 186 events for future years, worth more than $86 million. These are big numbers and showcase tourism’s impact on our city. But local business operations also win. Conventions such as CESSE can shine a light on an industry, help recruit future talent to our city, or even inspire a new business to set up shop here.

We know your endorsements often lead to meeting groups choosing Omaha, and we encourage you to bring your next event home. Our team at Visit Omaha can help you think through the details, provide expertise on hotels, venues, and attractions, and create a successful event that benefits both you and the city.

When you build these types of relationships, you’re building more than bridges.

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

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.