News and Tribune

Clark County

May 8, 2014

‘A perfect ambassador’: Derby Dinner's Bekki Jo Schneider receives tourism award

CLARKSVILLE — When Bekki Jo Schneider was surprised with the John H. Minta Tourism Award for her work at Derby Dinner Playhouse, her words were not of her own business but of the numerous other Southern Indiana attractions.

“You have over 135 opportunities to visit our community and see what’s going on — and we are a regional opportunity city,” Schneider, owner and producer of Derby Dinner Playhouse said Thursday to the matinee audience. “There are hotels ready for you. There’s a candy shop. There are farms. There are wineries. There’s a dinner theater.

“And it is your job to keep an industry that’s over 5 million visitors a year in our region coming back.”

Jim Epperson, executive director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau, said that Schneider’s leadership in promoting local attractions is a big reason she’s the recipient of the eighth annual award.

A Louisville resident and co-owner of Derby Dinner Playhouse, Schneider is a member of the Louisville Convention and Business Bureau.

“I think that as thinking of ourselves as a region becomes more important and more of us are able to do so ... you look at the way Bekki Jo’s been thinking all these years — that’s been her approach from the get-go,” Epperson said, attributing this regionalism to the construction of the new Ohio River bridges. “ ... In this time of heightened regional awareness, it’s especially appropriate to award her this.”

Annie Myers, marketing director at Derby Dinner Playhouse, who has worked with Schneider for the past 15 years, said Schneider has always made a point to promote not just her own business but others as well.

“Regionally, she’s the perfect person,” Myers said. “She’s very, very involved over here on this side with all the attractions. She’s a perfect ambassador for tourism.”

She said that Schneider pushes the business’ sales team to create marketing packages that draw groups of tourists to the dinner theater.

“The packages not only include us but the other attractions as well, so I think that makes a big difference because you have a bit more to offer,” Myers said.

Derby Dinner Playhouse celebrates its 40th season this year, with three quarters of those years operating under Schneider’s leadership. The dinner theater is the fourth largest of its kind in the country and brings in 200,000 visitors each year.

Over the last 30 years, Schneider — who has an education and background in theater — said she has worked to produce high-quality performances.

“The role when I bought [Derby Dinner Playhouse] was, it was supposed to be part of a convention center that would draw people to stay at the [nearby]  hotel,” she said. “Now, it is part of the cultural makeup of Southern Indiana.”

Epperson said that the dinner theater is one of Southern Indiana’s most popular tourism attractions.

“It’s an important local cultural institution but also an important visitor attraction, and dinner theater is still a very popular part of itineraries for the motor coach market,” Epperson said. “As much as anything, I think probably the attention to quality of the shows is something that’s kept this on the top of the list and made this a competitive attraction through those years.”

Schneider said she was great friends with Minta, for whom the award was named, a former president of the tourism bureau’s board of managers and longtime Clarksville Town Council president.

“I am truly honored,” she said.

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