Inside the Tourism Industry – Pt 2

Follow along as we go inside the tourism industry in Buffalo County. Today we are taking a closer look inside our office here at the Kearney Visitors Bureau. Meet Sarah Focke, our Tourism & Convention Sales Manager (aka our local event planning expert). Did you know that Kearney hosts more than 1,350 events each year? That’s a lot of events and conventions and Sarah works hard behind the scenes making sure these events are a success!

Kearney is where the Heartland gathers, with more than 300,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, 11 hotels with 1,750+ rooms offering attendees a variety of options ranging from quaint limited-stay properties to full-service convention hotels. But it’s more than just facilities and amenities, Sarah and the staff of the Kearney Visitors Bureau are here to assist with whatever is needed to make the event a success. Now that is some good ‘ol Nebraska hospitality!

Sarah visiting Gerald Gentleman Station as part of her Leadership Nebraska program

Sarah has also worked on the Nebraska Lincoln Highway Historic Byway for over 10 years and was involved in the forming of the Lincoln Highway National Byway Alliance, an organization with representatives from the 13 states the route travels through. Its mission is to promote the national Lincoln Highway route.

Sarah is an Illinois native and has a BS in Travel &Tourism from the University of Nebraska Kearney.  Let’s learn more about Sarah and how local tourism impacts her role here at the Kearney Visitors Bureau.

How many years have you been working in the tourism industry?
23 years (17 of which have been here at Kearney Visitors Bureau)

Sarah with fellow Leadership Nebraska alum at an evening of Sandhill Crane viewing

What role does tourism play in your job?
I love being the destination experts for our community. Helping people make memories whether they are here for business or leisure is gratifying.

What makes Kearney such a great destination for events & conventions?
Our wonderful facilities and the awesome staff we have representing our hospitality partners.


What do you like to do in Kearney when you aren’t working?
I love running or biking our trails.

What is your favorite summer activity?
Camping in our state and kayaking down the Kearney Water Trail.

Where is your favorite place to eat/drink in town?
Suwannee (that’s Thai Cuisine for you non-locals)

What is one thing you have to pack when you go on vacation?
Business or leisure, my tennis shoes and headphones.

Tourism Matters in Buffalo County

It’s National Travel and Tourism Week and Kearney, along with other communities across the country celebrate how travel matters to American jobs, economic growth and personal well-being. This year’s theme, “Travel Matters,” highlights the innumerable ways in which travel makes up our community culture and economy.

Tourism is Nebraska’s 3rd largest industry and supports over 36,000 jobs and generate $3 billion in annual spending. Buffalo County is the 4th largest convention location behind Omaha, Lincoln & Sarpy County. Kearney’s diversification depends on our vibrant and healthy tourism industry.  Tourism in Buffalo County supports over 1,600 jobs creating $115 million in annual tourism spending for Buffalo County.

“Tourism is seen every week in Kearney by way of people traveling here for sports tournaments, special events, conventions or to just visit,” stated Roger Jasnoch, Director of the Kearney Visitors Bureau.  Kearney is fortunate to be the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World, hosting 600,000 Sandhill Cranes each year during their migration and to be located on Interstate 80, one of the busiest interstates in America.

Kearney is home to 1,800 hotel rooms and nearly 300,000 square feet of convention and event space. We are excited to welcome construction of a new Holiday Inn with over 100,000 square feet of attached convention space. The convention business is the cornerstone of Kearney’s hospitality industry.  In addition, the sports market has exploded in recent years. This is a result of venues like, the Buffalo County Fairgrounds, UNK and area high schools increasing our ability to host larger and more frequent events.

Buffalo County has over a dozen attractions ranging from historical, cultural and family friendly, thanks to places such as Fort Kearny State Historical Park & Recreation Area, Museum of Nebraska Art, The Archway, Kearney Area Children’s Museum and the Classic Car Collection. In addition, Kearney has numerous sport and event venues; in fact, sporting events is one of the fastest growing markets in Kearney.  Kearney “IS” the epic center for travel and tourism in Central Nebraska.

The first full week of May is annually recognized as National Travel and Tourism Week, a tradition first celebrated in 1984. It was established as National Tourism Week when the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1983 designating the week to be celebrated in May. In a White House ceremony, President Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Proclamation urging citizens to observe the week. Localized events are presented in cities, states and travel businesses nationwide to champion the power of travel.

Meetings Made Easy in Kearney

By Margo McKendree, Administrative Coordinator, Nebraska Grazing Conference

The Center for Grassland Studies has held its Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney for a number of years. The central location has made it easy access for participants coming from across the state.

Our conference has been at the Ramada Kearney, which has suited our needs quite well. The Ramada staff have always been professional, attentive, and very easy to work with to meet our needs and the needs of our attendees each year. In addition, they work well with the vendors and outside organizations registering to attend the conference to make sure they have what they need to make the event successful for them as well. The catered meals at the Ramada always get great reviews on evaluations completed by our conference participants.

Ramada Lobby

In addition, the Kearney Visitors Bureau (KVB) has been a jewel in helping us pull off our conference. The KVB has provided wonderful staff to help with anything from signage to name tags to welcoming to registering conference attendees. However, the KVB can do so much more to make any activity a huge success for any organization—definitely worth looking into. The KVB staff have been a joy to work with during the conferences.

Why I Choose to Meet in Kearney

By LeRoy Janssen, NACO Meeting Coordinator

The NACO annual conference has been held for several years at the Younes Convention Center in Kearney.  It will continue to be held there because it is one of the few venues in the state that can accommodate 800 county officials and over 100 conference vendors.  In light of that fact, Kearney makes NACO and its attendees feel very welcome.

Kearney Visitors Bureau hostesses work on-site to provide registration help.

The Kearney Visitors Bureau provides us with convention registration assistance and logistical planning, as well as encourages our conference participants to enjoy what Kearney has to offer. Many of our other affiliate groups have their smaller annual meetings in Kearney for many of the same reasons the NACO Board of Directors choose to return as well.  They all enjoy the free parking, the amenities of free wi-fi, inclusive morning breakfasts and the central location for statewide meetings.

The Younes Hospitality Group is able to provide us with a majority of the room nights we require for our conference.  With the help of the Kearney Visitors Bureau, the other nearby hotels in Kearney work with us and provide the remainder of rooms that are needed.

Younes Conference Center

Younes Hospitality and Kearney Visitors Bureau has provided service to many groups over their years of experience and are truly the best to work with.  It doesn’t matter if it is a meeting of twenty people or a thousand, it is a joy to plan an event because of the depth of experience and the amount of care given to every detail that needs attention.


Hey Locals: We Need Your Help!


By Krystal Webster

So you live, work and play in the Kearney area? Why should you care about its tourism? Or even tourism in Nebraska? You may not realize how much our visitors to Nebraska impact local businesses and the economy. By the way – it’s a lot!

Source: The U.S. Travel Association Impact of Travel and State Economies 2014.


Tourism is Nebraska’s third largest revenue source. It supports existing companies and stimulates new business development. Tourism is also a source of immediate revenue to Nebraska’s communities, rural and urban.

As the Kearney Visitors Bureau, it’s our job to encourage groups to host meetings and conferences in our community, promote our local attractions, events and hospitality establishments to potential visitors. Kearney is a growing and thriving place – thanks to our locals who live and work here, and to our visitors who enjoy all the things we have to offer.

So how do you – the local – factor in all of this?

We need your help to show others just how great our community is! Whether that’s writing a review online for a restaurant or attraction you visited, sending us community event info to post on our calendar, or even posting photos and using #visitkearney and #kearneynebraska on your social media accounts. We want to see Kearney from your perspective and share it as much as possible!

Check out our social media channels to see what we’ve been up to. Feel free to share, comment or “Like” anything you see!

Facebook: facebook.com/visitkearney  

Twitter: twitter.com/visitkearney

Instagram: instagram.com/visitkearney

Pinterest: pinterest.com/visitkearney

YouTube: youtube.com