Agri-Tourism is a buzzword that’s taken off rapidly in recent years and Nebraska is doing its part to participate. A brand-new marketing campaign and what might be called “a scavenger hunt on steroids” are just two of the ways that the Nebraska Tourism Commission is marketing the state and everything it has to offer.

Karen Kollars, the agri-tourism consultant for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, said the state’s new marketing slogan is a little self-deprecating.

“Nebraska, Honestly It’s Not For Everyone.” It’s new, already getting attention, and came about after a lot of work.

Travel marketing firm MMGY Global found Nebraska dead last on a list of states tourist most want to visit.

“The marketing company we hired went outside the state to talk to people about Nebraska and found out that Nebraska is pretty low on their list of states to visit,” Kollars said from her office in Kearney, Neb. “The terms that we came up with were among the terms people outside Nebraska used to describe the state.

“’It’s flat, it’s dry, there’s nothing but cornfields, so why would I want to go there’ was what we heard a lot. So, we’re telling people that it might not be for you, but we’re also showing them a lot of things we have to offer that they may not know about. We show them a few things to see, such as Smith Falls up in Valentine and some of our state parks. It’s hopefully whetting their appetites to find out more.”

She said the new slogan is getting attention. The number of website hits and requests for Nebraska Travel Guides has risen dramatically. Kollars said the new marketing campaign is doing exactly what they want it to do.

“There are around 20 other states that have new marketing campaigns,” Kollars said. “Can you tell me what any of those are?”

Once the Tourism Commission gets people into Nebraska, they have another idea that really helps the visitors find their way into the small towns and hidden gems around the state. It’s called the Passport Program, to kick off this year on May 1.

“This is our 10th year of doing the program and it continues to grow,” Kollars said. “It’s a program that Nebraskans can do, as well as people from out of state. People can stop into one of our tourism offices to get a Passport. However, the Passport is also on an app they can download on their phone.

“As people visit the different places listed on the Passport, they’ll stamp it to say you’ve been there. The more places people visit, the more prizes they can win. There are different levels with different prizes. There are some really neat things people can win, all of which you’ll find on the website at www.nebraskapassport.com.”

Kollars said it’s a great way for people to get out and explore the state, and they’ll find some great things a little off the beaten path. It’s getting people to explore Nebraska, whether they’re from here or not.

“The businesses that take part love it because they tell us about a huge jump in foot traffic,” she said. “Some of the businesses even take it a step further and offer prizes of their own to the people that bring in a Passport. People can even go on the website and post about their experiences, too.”

A traveler from Illinois had good things to say about the passport in an online post from late last year. “Doing the Nebraska Passport was so much fun this summer — even though it took three trips from Illinois to complete it. Each place that was included was so perfect — whether it was for good food, great shopping, beautiful scenery, or Nebraska history. I met so many wonderful folks. It made me wonder who has the task of selecting the sites for next year’s Passport? That would be the perfect job.”

Several ag-related businesses take part in the Passport Program. She did say it’s harder for ag businesses to squeeze it into their busy schedule. Kollars said it has to work well with what each business does during the day.

“There are a couple of things we look at, including whether or not they’re available during regular business hours to stamp someone’s Passport,” she said. “If it happens to be a working ranch or something along those lines, it won’t work for them because they could be out in the field or working cattle. Things like pumpkin patches or other ‘you-pick’ type operations are more seasonal in nature.

“There are some that do work,” Kollars added. “For example, we have Andrew’s Gardens here in Kearney, which is a farmer who has a location with fresh produce here in town. The store is supplied by farmers so it’s kind of like a farmer’s market, so to speak. So yes, we do try to get agri-tourism and eco-tourism businesses on the Passport program as much as possible. It does need to work for their schedule.”

Vineyards and breweries are other popular ag-related stops on the Passport Program. For a complete rundown on the program, check out www.nebraskapassport.com.

Chad Smith can be reached at chad.smith@midwestmessenger.com.