Journalist Eileen Mattei says that people travel for two reasons: To make new memories and to remember the past.
As she and 24 other travel writers from across the country toured Hastings Wednesday, notebooks and cameras in hand, they were on the lookout for attractions and experiences that would spark both flashbacks and nuances in their future readers.
“I’m on the lookout for ‘wow’ things,” Mattei said during a tour of the Hastings Museum. “If something catches my interest or reminds me of something, perhaps it will do that for others, as well.”
The Nebraska Tourism Commission hosts media tours to give positive experiences to visiting writers, who in turn write feature and travel articles for national magazines and publications and generate positive buzz for the region.
The state has hosted more than 120 journalists on six media tours across the state since September 2012 and estimates that the tours have generated editorial coverage that amounts to almost $5 million in advertising dollars.
The first tour of Central Nebraska was conducted last March.
“This is one of the best ways for us to get some tourism exposure,” said Kaleena Fong, executive director of the Adams County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “If we can show these writers the great attractions of our area, and they can tell that story to their readers, we have a lot of eyes seeing what Hastings and our state has to offer.”
Fong said that she already has seen over 40 different articles published in regional and national publications about south central Nebraska appear since last year’s media tour. One of the most notable results of the tour was a 14-page article in the March 2014 issue of Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the region.
The Nebraska Tourism Commission contracts Florida-based consulting firm Geiger and Associates to find and recruit journalists from across the country to come on the media tours. The firm knows how to connect interested writers to the subject matter offered in Nebraska.
The touring writers choose from a variety of attractions and activities and experience everything from wildlife and antique viewings to food and wine tasting. They also can request some experiences based on their field of interest.
“Major feature coverage only results from the journalists seeing things for themselves, the same way that a food critic has to dine at a restaurant or a sports writer has to attend the sporting event,” said Debbie Geiger of Geiger and Associates during her Hastings visit. “For most of these people, the Midwest and Nebraska are a revelation. I think they’re pleasantly surprised by all the great things they’re finding here.”
The group of journalists on the Central Nebraska tour this year began its visit on Sunday and stopped at several attractions in Kearney and Grand Island before coming to Hastings. A major focus of the visit was several early morning sandhill crane viewings near Kearney. The group also will visit Red Cloud, Elm Creek, Minden, Henderson, Aurora and York on its trip.
In Hastings, the group stopped at the museum, Motorsport Park Hastings, the “Working Together Toward a People’s Art” mural, the Adams County Courthouse, the Jorn Olsen Gallery and Graham Gallery.
“Hastings is a charming place. It was great to see a vibrant, good ol’ American downtown. I can’t wait to encourage people to make sure they stop and explore Hastings,” said Steve Larese, a writer visiting from Albuquerque who has written for National Geographic Traveler, USA Today Traveler, the Boston Globe and The New York Times.
Larese said he came on the tour with a focus on studying sandhill crane activity, but also was drawn to the artistic offerings and museums on the tour.
Mattei has written pieces for the Texas Wildlife Association, Valley Business Report (Texas), and several other history and regional publications and also said she mostly was interested in wildlife when she signed up for the tour.
But, as she walked through the hallways of Kool-Aid history Wednesday, and dined in downtown Hastings, she found several other “wow” moments to take away.
“It is so cool that Kool-Aid started here,” she said. “I have been through Nebraska many times going from one place to another, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to stay here and see what you have. And you have a lot to offer.”