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Omaha’s ethnic holiday festivities are a big draw for visitors from all over | Money

Tourists wanting to experience the holidays around the world are finding festivities just a bus ride away — to Omaha, Nebraska.

Last week, 22 motorcoach tours from across the country converged on the city for a smattering of Christmas festivities, and local businesses and hoteliers are seeing the boost in a time of year when some hotel rooms sit empty.

More Christmas-themed tours are expected this week, but the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau said that last week may have been the busiest tour week in December in the city’s history.

They come for Christmas in Germany at the German American Society; Christmas in Greece at the Greek Orthodox Church; Christmas in Mexico on South 24th Street; Irish Christmas at Father Flanagan’s Boys Town; plus other holiday events, like the poinsettia display at Lauritzen Gardens, the Omaha Symphony’s Christmas program and “A Christmas Carol” at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Valarie Dean, manager of Bilbrey Tours of Abilene, Texas, said the motorcoach tour company sent a group of just under 40 people to Omaha last week.

“It just blew me away, all of the diversity that area has,” Dean said. “We called it ‘Christmas around the world.’ It’s like doing a European tour within the United States … in Nebraska.”

Cathy Keller, vice president of sales and services at the Omaha visitors bureau, said at least 800 people making up 22 different tour groups from California, Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere came to Omaha last week.

The organization has been selling Omaha, with its various December events, to the tours for about 10 years, Keller said.

“It’s been continually growing. About half of those tours are repeat tours. About half are new tours,” Keller said.

Keller estimated that about 1,200 people were in town on bus tours late last week. All told, their hotel rooms, event…

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