Busy Summer Season Afoot: How Local Businesses Can Out-Smart Challenges

Have you experienced an urge to book a vacation following the pandemic? You may be experiencing what those in the travel and tourism industry have dubbed “revenge travel.”

A study from Expedia predicts that travelers won’t be setting their sights on international locations, but rather 59% say they will travel domestically.

Open for Business

What does that mean for the Omaha Metro?

Deb Ward, executive director of Visit Omaha, highlighted a study done by STR, a company specializing in analyzing hotel data.

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“STR … predicts Douglas County hotel revenue will total $245 million, exceeding 2019 revenues by $26 million,” she said.

That prediction has already been realized by Council Bluffs and Sarpy County.

A menu offering from Boxer BBQ. (Courtesy of Boxer BBQ)
A menu offering from Boxer BBQ. (Courtesy of Boxer BBQ)

Sarpy County Tourism Director Fred Uhe said that looking at lodging taxes is an indicator of whether people are staying in Sarpy County.

“In 2021 we closed out our second-best year,” he said.  “We just had our best March ever — 48% over March 2021.”

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Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Mark Eckman said he’s seen incredible gains in the first half of its fiscal year — which runs from June 30 to July 1 — with an 87.6% increase in hotel/motel tax collections.

“That demonstrates a strong recovery in the travel business,” he said.

“However, it does not mean Council Bluffs has fully returned to normal, but we are making progress.”

With the numbers indicating a busy summer, businesses may not yet be ready to accommodate the influx.

Chocolat Abeille Chocolates. (Courtesy of Chocolat Abeille)
Chocolat Abeille Chocolates. (Courtesy of Chocolat Abeille)

Top 3 Challenges

As the pandemic continues to haunt businesses, three major challenges loom: staffing, supply chain security, and inflation.

“Staffing is probably the No. 1 concern, and that’s probably true just about everywhere,” Eckman said.

Staffing shortages could mean that restaurants and hotels adjust their services to make ends meet.

For hotels this may mean reduced housekeeping, shorter check-in periods, or condensed breakfast options or hours. For restaurants this may mean cutting days or times that are not as profitable, such as the beginning of the week or lunch time.

All three challenges could potentially wreak havoc on major attractions that need a high volume of employees as well as retail and food items.

“One of our area attractions was telling me that getting hot dogs is becoming a challenge, so you just never know what’s going to be on the list,” Uhe said.

Dusted Charm boutique (Courtesy of Dusted Charm)
Dusted Charm boutique (Courtesy of Dusted Charm)

3 Easy Tips

While some of these challenges may be unavoidable, communicating with the customer can go a long way toward keeping visitor traffic and customer satisfaction high.

1. Let customers know when you’re open

If your hours have been adjusted at any time in the last year, make sure that your Google profile, website and social media channels reflect current hours.

Don’t forget to communicate those hours and additional information with your local chambers or visitors’ centers.

The bar at M’s Pub in the Old Market. (Courtesy of M’s Pub)
The bar at M’s Pub in the Old Market. (Courtesy of M’s Pub)

Eckman said his organization has provided area hotels with a QR code sign that when scanned takes the visitor to area information, which includes events and attractions.

Visit Omaha can also help promote local businesses to out-of-state visitors with free promotions on its website, VisitOmaha.com.

“We are targeting consumers in Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Des Moines, and Sioux Falls, pushing them to go to VisitOmaha.com to plan their trip,” Ward said.

Fontenelle Forest walkway. (Courtesy of Fontenelle Forest)
Fontenelle Forest walkway. (Courtesy of Fontenelle Forest)

2. Take a minute to “lift the curtain.” 

Steve Maly, founder & CEO of Maly Marketing and treasurer of the Nebraska Tourism Association, said all it takes is 60 seconds of explaining the current challenges to communicate effectively with current and potential customers.

“Just explaining that because of labor shortages, hours have been cut back or that because of price increases things are more expensive,” Maly said. “We’ve seen it work out well when [customers] can see behind the scenes.”

Nebraska Furniture Mart. (Courtesy of Nebraska Furniture Mart)
Nebraska Furniture Mart. (Courtesy of Nebraska Furniture Mart)

3. Quality, not quantity

Maly said one thing to avoid is posting social media content just for the sake of maintaining a schedule.

“Once you start posting fluff just to hit five posts or 10 posts a week, the customer will notice and start to skim through your content,” he said.

With various customer acquisition studies noting that it may take between 16-20 interactions for a customer to consider purchase, it’s important to keep branding consistent. This means both the visual and messaging components.

“It’s very important to say the same thing over and over again so it breaks through,” Maly said. “If you’re saying different things all the time then people will lose who is saying what.”

The Peregrine Omaha Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton  (Courtesy of the Peregrine Hotel)
The Peregrine Omaha Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton
(Courtesy of the Peregrine Hotel)

What to Say

To break through to customers, businesses need to pinpoint what makes them most unique, and then find a creative way to market that.

Maly described a campaign that his firm ran for Visit North Platte that featured Buffalo Bill riding backwards on a horse. North Platte is home to the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, making Buffalo Bill a local icon.

The tagline read: You don’t have to be a master horseman to experience everything North Platte has to offer. However, we do recommend facing forward.

Dishes from Roma Italian Restaurant in Bellevue.  (Courtesy of Roma Italian Restaurant)
Dishes from Roma Italian Restaurant in Bellevue.
(Courtesy of Roma Italian Restaurant)

“You want your customers to stop and think about what they’ve just seen,” Maly said. “Is there something crazy you can hang your hat on?”

Another approach is looking at what experience you can give a customer, and what the lasting memory will be.

“People are looking for firsts, whether it be a child catching their first fish or a foul ball at Werner Park,” Uhe said.

Courtyard by Marriott Omaha East/Council Bluffs  (Courtesy of Courtyard by Marriott)
Courtyard by Marriott Omaha East/Council Bluffs
(Courtesy of Courtyard by Marriott)

What’s New

One Percent Productions announced a new festival taking place August 12-13 at the former Salvation Army Gene Eppley Camp — 915 Allied Road in Bellevue.

“We felt that the community needed music options that weren’t previously available,” said Mark Leibowitz, co-founder of 1% Productions.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum. (Courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad Museum)
Union Pacific Railroad Museum. (Courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad Museum)

Information on the festival can be found at outlandiafestival.com.

Railroad Days, which has historically taken place in July, has been moved to September 24. Union Pacific and the Iowa West Foundation have joined the Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau to continue the event. Participating attractions and activities can be found at GoRailroadDays.com.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Bellevue (Courtesy of Holiday Inn Express)
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Bellevue (Courtesy of Holiday Inn Express)

2022 Omaha Metropolitan Area Tourism Award Winners

The votes are in for the Omaha Metropolitan Area (OMA) Tourism Awards, recognizing the best tourism businesses in Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie counties. Nearly 10,000 votes were cast this year to determine the winners in four categories: Best Hotel, Best Restaurant, Best Attraction and Best Retail Business.

Douglas County

Best Attraction:
• Winner: Lauritzen Gardens

Best Hotel:
• Winner: The Peregrine Omaha Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton

“Since opening in March 2021, we at The Peregrine Omaha have shared our story of design and ambience while connecting guests to the local fabric of Omaha. Our team members are happy working here due to the passion we have for our culture celebrating diversity, inclusion and community. These elements along with a commitment to the best guest experience contribute to our uniqueness which is very much appreciated by visitors from all over the world.”

Best Restaurant:
• Winner: M’s Pub

Best Retail Business:
• Winner: Nebraska Furniture Mart

“NFM has made Omaha our home for the last 85 years and we believe that our incredible staff, unbeatable selection, and business model built on improving lifestyles is what makes us a name people can trust. What we think makes people fans of NFM is that they know they can come in and we’re going to take care of them, the same way we have been since Rose Blumkin herself was on the store floor helping customers.” -Scott Baker, Omaha Store Director

Pottawattamie County

Best Attraction:
• Winner: Union Pacific Railroad Museum

“The Union Pacific Railroad Museum is unique because it connects visitors to the history of railroads and does not just focus on the equipment. Railroads are a story about people and the UP Museum seeks to connect the generations of people who have been impacted by the railroad. People love it because it provides an unparalleled look into the history and context of railroads in the U.S. and in our area! Plus, there are so many hands-on opportunities to interact within the museum that it is a fun and engaging experience for people of all ages.”

Best Hotel:
• Winner: Courtyard by Marriott Omaha East/Council Bluffs

Best Restaurant:
• Winner: Boxer BBQ

“Since opening in 2007 we continue to find new ways to deliver amazing food and share experiences with our customers and local community. In late 2019 Boxer BBQ moved to its new location on South Main St., in the heart of downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa. While renovating our historic building we made an unexpected discovery! Hidden behind the old plaster walls for decades was a mural painted by the iconic Thomas Cusack & Company in 1877.”

Best Retail Business:
• Winner: Dusted Charm

“Our customer base loves Dusted Charm because of the welcoming and size inclusive shopping environment we have created.  Anyone that stops in is always treated just like family and leaves confident in their purchase.  Not only do we offer apparel, but a large selection of home and gift and many of these items are made by local makers throughout Iowa and the Midwest.  Equally important are committed to the betterment of our local community and making local dollars go as far as possible.  We host a give back event each month and 25% of sales benefit the needs of selected local organizations who applied through our annual application process.”

Sarpy County

Best Attraction:
• Winner: Fontenelle Forest

“With over 1,500 acres of land and 17 miles of hiking trails, exploring Fontenelle Forest is truly one of Nebraska’s great outdoor adventure experiences! Our members and guests love the variety of ways there are to engage with the Forest, making each person’s experience special and unique. – Matt Darling, Executive Director of Fontenelle Forest

Best Hotel:
• Winner: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Bellevue

Best Restaurant:
• Winner: Roma Italian Restaurant

Best Retail Business:
• Winner: Chocolat Abeille

The OMA Tourism Awards are presented in partnership with the Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau, Sarpy County Tourism and Visit Omaha.

More information is available at www.OMATourismAwards.com.