The tourism economy brings major benefits to Nebraska communities — some $3.4 billion in economic impact in 2018. All those visits to festivals, rodeos, museums, restaurants and hotels sustained more than 40,000 jobs with total earnings of $750 million. For 10 years, the Nebraska Passport program has stimulated such visits across the state, and the 2019 numbers are encouraging.

At each stop, visitors collect a free Passport stamp and vie for prizes. This year, visitors took in some 154,755 stamps at 70 tourism sites across the state. Participants came from 448 Nebraska communities and 37 states. The number of Nebraska Passport accounts via its software app was up 22.5% from 2018.

It’s especially positive that the economic benefits from Nebraska tourism extend across the state to communities large and small. The Nebraska Tourism Commission enhances the appeal by packaging the Passport program in itineraries focusing on particular interests, such as outdoor recreation, food, shopping and Nebraska history.

Each year, Passport sites cover an impressively broad gamut. Examples this year included the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, the Mixing Bowl Café in Gering, Kinkaider Brewing Co. in Broken Bow, Sehnert’s Bakery & Bieroc Café in McCook, Stagecoach Gifts in Kearney, Neligh Mill State Historic Site in Neligh, It’s All about Bees in Ralston and Kregel Windmill Factory Museum in Nebraska City.

"I love exploring the state I grew up in, the state I continue to call home," Shannon Cook of Wood River, Nebraska, wrote at nebraskapassport.com. "The stops on each passport are truly treasures and as years pass have become stops I remember and continue to visit. The best part about these adventures, that brings me the most joy, is getting to watch my kids learn through this experience. Thank you Passport Nebraska for a fun 2019 summer!"

Michele Anderson of Columbus, Nebraska, wrote, "It has been great meeting so many fantastic people while enjoying Nebraska and making so many memories this summer! One stop to go!"

Each year, hundreds of participants visit all 70 Passport sites, and 909 people made that achievement this year, up from 769 in 2018 and 469 in 2017. Those high scorers hailed not only from Nebraska but also from Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Oregon, Washington and Florida.

The benefits from tourism certainly extend to Omaha. Last year, more than 13 million visitors spent $1.3 billion in the Omaha area. That’s up 4.3% from 2017 and generates more than 17,000 jobs. The Passport program will resume next spring, and Nebraska destinations are welcome to apply to join the itinerary for 2020. Applications can be made at http://nebraskapassport.com/passport-details/application/. The deadline is Dec. 31.

The Nebraska Passport program is a win all around, for visitors, businesses and communities.

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