ourism brings major benefits to Nebraska. It’s a $4.9 billion industry with more than 47,000 employees and tax-revenue generation of $705 million. Plus, Nebraska tourism is a statewide phenomenon — visitors enjoy the amenities and spend funds in communities large and small.

The Nebraska Passport program has proved a success in pointing to Nebraska’s broad range of tourism options, incentivizing visits across the state. The program features 70 sites (the list changes each year) divided into themes such as shopping and dining options, retail choices, history and outdoor treks.

Visitors collect a free Passport stamp at each site and vie for prizes (no purchase necessary). Last year, more than 50,000 travelers — from 418 Nebraska communities and 46 states — visited Nebraska locations to collect the stamps. Participants collected an average 31 stamps — indicating an impressive collection of visits to Nebraska communities.

The number of people visiting all 70 sites has steadily increased: 168 in 2016; 469 in 2017; and 749 in 2018.

"This program has grown year after year," said John Ricks, the Tourism Commission’s executive director. "To have 749 people make it to every corner of Nebraska and to see participants from 46 states is absolutely remarkable."

Some of the most-visited sites during 2018 were the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dairy Store; The Archway in Kearney; Platte Valley Antique Mall in Greenwood; Mahoney State Park near Ashland; Passageway Gallery in Omaha; Gene Roncka Willow Point Gallery in Ashland; Milady Coffeehouse in Fremont; Bottle Rocket Brewing Co. of Seward; and Shopping Tripps in Kearney.

The Passport program runs from May through September. The 10 categories for 2019 are Beautiful Nebraska; Bite of Nebraska; Family Fun; Happy Hour; History Alive; Nebraska Stories; Not-At-All What You Thought; Quirky Nebraska; Rural Gems; and Shop Nebraska.

The Nebraska Passport booklets for 2019 can be ordered at http://nebraskapassport.com/tours/requestyourpassport/.

Warm weather will be here soon, and with it a fun travel season. Great options across Nebraska are beckoning.

Omaha World-Herald