Festival outdoor party

(The Center Square) – For the tourism industry in western Nebraska, happy days are here again.

Lodging taxes are on the rise as travelers hit the road again after the COVID-19 shutdown.

“In Lincoln County, we set a lodging tax record that was $10,000 more than March through May of last year,” David Fudge told The Center Square.

Fudge organizes a music festival and rodeo each June in North Platte called Nebraska Land Days. The event had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic but returned this year.

“We generated attendance numbers far and above what we’ve seen for quite some time,” he said. “People are itching to get out. They are looking for destinations that are both open and welcoming. Nebraska is both of those things.”

Fans who arrived in town for the Friday night concert at the festival may have experienced a tough time finding a hotel room, Fudge said.

“You couldn’t find a hotel room within 60 miles of North Platte,” he said.

The industry needed a brisk recovery, Fudge added.

“It was tough last year,” he said. “Folks had a really difficult year. It’s good to see people out and traveling again.”

Finding enough workers to meet the demand remains a challenge, however, Fudge said.

“We had a struggle to find enough volunteers to help in some roles,” he said. “The hotels I visit with here, our partners, are having a hard time finding enough people to do basic things like clean rooms.”

The North Platte area has a small labor pool to begin with.

“Then there is all this additional demand in our industry,” he said. “We sometimes have a difficult time finding enough help to meet that demand. We have some small delis and coffee shops that are reducing their normal hours just because they can’t staff the hours they would like to.”

It’s still better to have a shortage of workers than to have workers who can’t find jobs, Fudge said.

“We’re fortunate here to be seeing early signs of a very robust recovery in the travel and tourism industry,” he said.