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2023 Nebraska Tourism Industry Award winners announced

Marcos Eduardo Mora Barrientos
2023 Henry Fonda Award Winner, Marcos Eduardo Mora Barrientos

The Nebraska Travel Association gave out their Crystal Compass Award to longtime industry member Kevin Howard.

GERING, NEB. – Nebraska tourism industry members honored the hard work and dedication of their peers at the Celebrate Nebraska Awards Banquet on Thursday at the Gering Civic Center in Gering. The event wrapped up the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference organized by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Gering Visitors Bureau.

The 2023 Henry Fonda Award, the state’s highest tourism award representing leadership, vision and dedication to the tourism industry, went to Marcos Eduardo Mora Barrientos. Raised in South Omaha, Barrientos is from one of the largest Mexican American families in the city and is a pillar in the Latino community. He and his family’s contributions to the arts, culture, business and music scene in South Omaha are well known. He is a multi-talented musician who is an accomplished performer and teacher, with his talents including guitar, bass, mandolin, percussion and more.

Barrientos manages two massively successful festivals as event coordinator: Cinco de Mayo Omaha and Fiestas Patrias Omaha. The Cinco de Mayo Festival has gone on to be the largest local festival in Omaha history, attracting 250,000 people over a three-day period while sending $7.5 million back into the local economy. Proceeds also go into the community to support small businesses and scholarships.

The Friend of Tourism Award went to Miranda Becker of Hartington Economic Development. Becker took on a key role in organizing communities and tourism boards in Northeast Nebraska for the successful “Dare to Take the Backroads” project, which marketed local communities to encourage tourism and pride by elevating local voices and attractions. Becker provided strong leadership to foster collaboration between eight communities to help bring the project to completion.

The Visionary Award went to JT Martin. Martin is a fifth-generation Nebraskan who moved back to his home state in 2020 after a decade working in media and advertising in San Francisco and New York. He began documenting his Nebraska travels on social media on his @thecornbelt account, and his videos were viewed 15 million times over the summer of 2023. His videos promote local destinations and trip ideas and encourage visitors and locals alike to explore and experience all Nebraska has to offer.

The award for Outstanding Tourism Attraction went to The RiverFront in Omaha. The development combines three downtown parks along the Missouri River and has brought transformation to the area. The innovative, wide-open space in an urban environment for outdoor activities includes Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing. Since its opening in July of 2022, Gene Leahy Mall alone has hosted an estimated million-plus visitors. The park is a hub for events, activities and gatherings of all kinds.

The award for Outstanding Tourism Event (city population of 10,000 and above) went to Hear Grand Island. The event is a 10-week summer series of concerts in the city’s Railside Plaza. Since its beginning in 2016, the series has grown each year and saw an average audience of more than 3,200 each week in 2023. The event now includes features like a beer garden, food trucks and artistic events. This unique gathering is free to the public, thanks to more than 7,000 volunteer hours and more than 30 local business sponsorships.

The award for Outstanding Tourism Event (city population of 9,999 and below) went to Junkstock in Waterloo. Since its start in 2012, Junkstock has grown into one of the best-known vintage festivals in the United States. A gathering of more than 250 vendors and artisans and more than 60 food vendors, the event is a promoter of local businesses. While supporting tourism and the regional arts scene, it has drawn strong annual attendance figures, upwards of 30,000 people. The festival also gives back to the community, including through charitable donations and free weekends for nurses, military, first responders, teachers and more. Beyond its reputation in Nebraska, Junkstock has earned national recognition, including USA Today’s 10 Fall Festivals Worth Traveling For and Midwest Living’s Can’t-Miss Midwest Flea Market.

The award for Outstanding Marketing Campaign went to North Platte’s National Avocado Launching Championship. North Platte faced a challenge in its first year of its event, beyond planning and launching it. Drawing visitors and contestants to an odd and quirky gathering proved to be quite the task. A multi-channel marketing approach included a Super Bowl ad in the Rapid City, South Dakota area, plus web, traditional and social media advertising. The Super Bowl ad led to more than half a million post engagements, and total paid efforts led to more than three million impressions and more than 2,000 leads. The result was 32 teams registered for the first-time event and a successful contest overall.

The award for Outstanding Agritourism or Ecotourism Entity went to Nelson Produce Farm in Valley. Nelson Produce Farm is family-owned and gives guests an interactive experience. Things to do range from picking fresh produce, meeting barnyard animals, trike and barrel train riding and so much more. The farm also hosts several festivals, field trips and educational opportunities. Nelson Produce Farm works as a vital tourism and education bridge between urban Omaha and rural Nebraska.

The Nebraska Passport Champion’s Choice Award went to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Royal. Participants in the 2023 Nebraska Passport voted the park their favorite of the 70 stops in the program. Visitors get the unique chance to see the past frozen in the present day. Fossilized animals are resting in place at an ancient watering hole where a volcanic eruption millions of years ago covered them. Passporters enjoyed learning the history of the area, as well as seeing in-progress excavations that still happen to this day.

Co-Founder & Chief Editor - TravelDailyNews Media Network | Website | + Posts

Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.

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