In her role as tourism sales manager for Visit Omaha, Jessica Settje works with tour operators, military reunion planners, and meeting planners for small-scale meetings to build the perfect Omaha itineraries. Settje has been with Visit Omaha for nearly five years and “loves every minute” of her job. “Omaha is a special city to sell,” she says. “I am grateful for wonderful community partners, and as the city continues to grow, I have even more experiences to introduce to tour operators and planners.” We chatted with Settje about her destination and what groups can expect during a visit.
Q. How would you describe Omaha to someone who has never visited before?
A. Omaha offers a little bit of everything for any traveler. It boasts a diverse culinary scene, vibrant cultural experiences, and a big helping of history. More specifically, Omaha is home to the world’s best zoo, sprawling botanical gardens, and an invigorated downtown with revitalized riverfront parks, world-renowned art, rich performing arts venues, green spaces for gathering, and plenty more things to do and see throughout the city of just under 1 million people.
Q. What makes Omaha a great place for group tours?
A. Omaha offers one-of-a-kind attractions for every interest. It is centrally located, and is fewer than 200 miles from Des Moines and Kansas City, fewer than 400 miles from Wichita and Minneapolis, and about 500 miles from Chicago, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, and Denver. Our thoughtfully curated tours promise fun and inspiring stops, delicious meals, and opportunities for connections and memories.
Q. Are there any themed activities that groups should know about right now?
A. I would recommend our passport-themed itinerary. Around the World Without a Passport is my personal favorite tour, blending our historic city with the culture of its locals. On this tour, travelers experience a variety of cultures, food, and traditions passed down from generation to generation in the middle of our country. The itinerary for this tour includes stops in different areas or districts of Omaha, follows an ethnic/cultural theme, and offers interactive activities that groups will love. Some of these experiences include Oktoberfest, frontier dinners, a Greek Orthodox church experience, an Irish folk singer, and much more! Groups can discover these itineraries on our website or by contacting me.
Q. What are some of Omaha’s top attractions for groups?
A. Attractions included in a variety of our group tours include:
- Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium: Visit the world’s largest indoor desert under the world’s largest geodesic dome. Explore North America’s largest indoor rainforest and then make your way through a 70-foot shark tunnel. African Grasslands spans 28 acres and includes a full immersion outdoor habitat teeming with African wildlife, and Asian Highlands is an 8-acre journey through the grasslands of India to the Himalayan Mountains. Also experience Gorilla Valley, Orangutan Forest, an aquarium, and so much more at this zoo recognized for its world-renowned conservation program. The zoo was also just named “Best Zoo” in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. Tram tours are available.
- The Durham Museum: Omaha’s former Union Station offers a fascinating look at the history of the region through its permanent displays. Check out one of its many visiting exhibitions, walk through the train cars, view its rare coin collection, and enjoy a phosphate at the station’s original 1931 old-fashioned soda fountain.
- Boys Town: Guided tours of this National Historic Landmark District include stops at Hall of History, Father Flanagan’s restored 1920s home, and the breathtaking Dowd Chapel. See the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps on your way out.
- German-American Society: Sing along at your very own German Oktoberfest celebration any time of year at the Omaha German-American Society, where you can enjoy German song, dance, and cuisine.
- Lauritzen Gardens: Narrative tram tours wind through over 100 acres of outdoor gardens. This urban oasis is home to 20 themed outdoor gardens and an indoor conservatory. Tours also include Kenefick Park, home to the largest and most powerful diesel-electric locomotives ever built.
- Old Market Entertainment District: Visit Omaha’s historic art, shopping, and dining district, where cobblestone streets are lined with unique shops, local restaurants, and more. Horse-drawn carriage rides are available.
- Big Mama’s Kitchen: This television staple serves up soul food in Omaha’s first African American-owned food hub. Groups will experience authentic soul food dishes created by Big Mama and her family, complete with food presentations.
Q. What’s your long-term outlook for group tours in Omaha?
A. As Omaha continues to grow and develop, our itineraries will grow as well. Currently, the city is undergoing an $8 billion makeover that will transform the group tour experience, thanks to the addition of riverfront parks, entertainment venues, and more.
Q. Is there anything new or upcoming in Omaha that groups should keep on their radar?
A. Big changes are coming to Omaha, as the city is undergoing an $8 billion transformation from street to skyline. Gene Leahy Mall, the first of three parks (part of a $325 million RiverFront development), opened in summer 2022 and adds an element of relaxation and connection as groups stroll through the sculpture garden, walk its trails, and stop for a bite at local food trucks along the way. The development’s two other parks, Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing, will open in late summer 2023, adding exciting amenities like an urban beach and lakeside amphitheater to Omaha’s riverfront. The Kiewit Luminarium (opened in April 2023) offers groups an educational and interactive science-based experience along the riverfront. Additionally, Steelhouse Omaha (opened in May 2023) will offer yet another performing arts venue for groups to enjoy. Also, Joslyn Art Museum is undergoing a new expansion and renovation, which will deliver light-filled galleries with a growing permanent collection in 2024. The streetcar (coming in 2026) will allow groups to explore more of Omaha’s urban core during free time and in smaller groups. More information on Omaha’s exciting developments can be found at visitomaha.com/development.
Q. Is there anything else tour operators should know about Omaha?
A. Omaha’s community is always eager to welcome and host groups! Our locals look forward to connecting with your travelers and sharing their stories. We hope groups soak up the depth of Omaha’s culture, the warmth and hospitality of the people here, the deliciousness of its dining, and the beauty of our city. We want groups to discover how unique Omaha is and connect with its community and learn something new from a conversation with locals and create memories they will treasure forever. The best experiences result from interacting with people, and we believe Omaha provides that through the unique group experiences we offer.
Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront
Credit: Visit Omaha