Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Record breaking year for state lodging and tourism

 

John Verser

The Kimball Ranch Rodeo, pictured above, is one of many local events that draw visitors to Kimball County. Contestants in such events as well as spectators contribute to Kimball's economy in many ways, including through the state and county lodging tax, which funds local and statewide tourism efforts.

2015 was a banner year for lodging tax in Nebraska, reaching a record amount and boosting the Tourism Commission's cash funds, according to a recent news release from the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

From January through October the Tourism Commission collected more than $4.5 million statewide, an increase of nearly 9 percent over last year and breaking all previous records.

That total accounts for one percent of the total collected at lodging establishments throughout the state. Funds are then turned over to the county clerk in that county before being directed to the Nebraska Department of Revenue according to Jenn Gjerde, Public Information Officer for the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

Monies are distributed back to the counties and are dispersed by county boards, usually according to guidelines set forth by the Tourism Commission's Best Practices Guide.

"Also, per state statute, the funds the Commission collects are to be used for operational expenses and marketing/advertising to promote the entire state to encourage and increase visitation," Gjerde stated.

If a county collects two percent or more, the first two percent is used to promote attractions and entities that promote overnight visitation within the county and increase tourism in the county, according to Gjerde.

Kimball County adopted the additional two percent lodging tax for Kimball County effective July 31, 2006, according to Kimball County Clerk Cathy Sibal, bringing the county to the upper limit allowed by statute.

More than $44,000 was collected in lodging taxes in Kimball County from January to October of 2015, with final numbers expected to increase that amount by approximately five percent statewide.

"Those funds run the Visitor's Center, cover two part-time salaries and one-third of my salary, and go towards costs," said Kimball County Tourism Director Jo Caskey, "but they don't cover our full expenses."

Caskey added that for the 2014/2015 fiscal year, the total amount for Kimball County was approximately $54,000, paid by visitors to the area.

"The oil situation has definitely hurt our lodging tax," she said. "We have to encourage people to spend time in Kimball, usually outdoors – at the lake and the golf course."

Caskey added that area events provide some overflow as well, particularly Cheyenne Frontier Days and even the Old West Balloon Fest – Reinflated, but local events, like the All-Class Reunion are key.

"The year we hosted Bike Ride Across Nebraska was a banner year for us," Caskey said. "We followed that with a welcome to a car group that stayed with us just one night, but there were dozens of them."

Tourism is Nebraska's third largest industry. "We're really excited to see that more people are traveling and staying at the lodging accommodations across the state, enjoying Nebraska Nice and our warm hospitality," said Kathy McKillip, Executive Director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission. "Nearly every month over the last few years, we've seen an increase in revenues."

 

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