Eastern SD tourism is outpacing the west this season

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) – Pent-up demand boosted the 2021 tourism season in South Dakota as the state lost $4.4 billion in visitor spending and $345 million in state sales tax collections.

The numbers posted so far this year are unlikely to surpass 2021. But when compared to the pre-COVID-19 pandemic year of 2019, they compare favorably. The numbers also show that the area doesn’t need a national monument or a giant state park to attract visitors.

“2019 was kind of a typical year,” said Kasi Haberman, executive director of the Southeast Dakota Tourism Association. “As for 2020 and 2021, this year is not really good to compare them to.”

The 2020 tourist season was generally disrupted by COVID-19 across the nation as it changed people’s travel plans and many activities or events were canceled or postponed. Visitors to South Dakota in 2020 were motivated, in part, because there were no statewide mandates or similar policies on COVID-19 and were considered more open than other states with statewide policies or mandates.

The big increase in 2021 was due to pent-up travel demand, said Jim Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism.

“Compared to 2019, our numbers were very strong during the peak season, Hagen said. Spending is up 10% to 11% this year, but Hagen said the actual spend increase is about 1% to 2% over last year as inflation drives up prices.

Park visits were 1.7 million in July 2019 and 1.8 million in July 2022.

In July of 2019, $2.2 million in tax revenue was generated compared to $2.4 million in July of 2022.

Tax revenue is critical to the state’s general fund budget. Sales and use taxes accounted for more than 60 percent of state revenue in fiscal year 2022. Tax revenue from tourism is a part of that.

Hagen said money spent by visitors, as well as state residents traveling within the state, helps pay for roads and services in South Dakota.

Haberman said businesses in the Southeast tourism sector are using 2019 as a benchmark for this year.

No Mount Rushmore or Custer State Park

State tourism highlights road trips, cultural and historical sites and others on its website and marketing.

But how does a tourism sector fare when it has only one of the Big 8 in its backyard?

Well, if the Southeast South Dakota region is any indicator.

Statistics from the monthly Dashboard of State Tourism show that as of July 31, Minnehaha County had $616,586,000 in visitor revenue.

Falls Park in Sioux Falls

Yankton County had $38,157,786. Yankton County has the Missouri River and Lake Lewis and Clark, but Haberman said camping in the area is down from 2021 to 2022. The Missouri River is one of the Big 8.

As of July 31, revenue from the top two largest four western tourism counties: $456,834,339 in Pennington County and $172,479,542 in Lawrence County is required to pass the revenue to Minnehaha County.

“(Black) Mountain brings in visitors from a huge range. People are looking for those iconic attractions,” Haberman said. “This could be someone’s main summer vacation.”

The Yankton County area attracts repeat visitors who want to fish on the water and enjoy recreation and camping, Haberman said.

“If you look at Sioux Falls, it’s driven by a lot of activity,” Haberman said.

Hagen said there’s no doubt that areas around the state, including southeastern South Dakota, are attracting visitors.

“What we’re seeing in the eastern part of the state is year-over-year growth,” Hagen said.

The return of sporting events, conferences, concerts and the like contributes to that growth, he said.

“It’s exciting,” Hagen said of the interest in eastern South Dakota. “We’ll have to look at the numbers for several years to see if there’s some kind of trend.”

Tourism marketing campaigns were launched today, August 24, including an arts and culture program highlighting Nirman Passport to encourage travelers from the state and beyond to visit sites around the state.

Why something has dipped in this year’s tourism season

As tourism reaches its peak in South Dakota, tourism officials note rising gas prices and inflation.

Hagen said inflation and high gas prices have canceled campground reservations and changed other types of trips for visitors.

The tourism department’s performance indicator dashboard from January 1 to July 31 showed that park visits were down 4.3 percent during the same period in 2021. In July alone, room nights, hotel occupancy, airport arrivals, total visits, visitor spending and tax revenue were all lower than in 2021.

As of August 22, tax revenue had fallen 21.4% from 2021 as total visitation fell by 19.2%.

With Labor Day weekend and fall tourism ahead, Hagen said, “we’re feeling better going into peak season.”

Haberman said the fall usually brings back a certain type of camper because it’s less busy. A good fall will increase the number of campers.

Farther north in the region, a good pheasant hunting season also helps with visitor income, she said.

“We’re feeling pretty good about it,” Hagen said in a conversation with GFP officials about the pheasant hunting season.

While the state has none of the 54,000 jobs created by tourism, the drop in tourism revenue is still significant.

Without tourism, each household in the state would have paid $980 more in taxes in 2021, according to the state.

“A lot of the 2021 season was centered around the Black Hills,” Hagen said. “It was bursting at the seams.”

Keloland’s Sydney Thorson reported on Aug. 19 that businesses in the Rapid City area noted a decrease in tourism for 2022. But they also said 2021 was an exceptionally good year for tourism.

If the numbers in the Black Hills region from 2021 drop somewhat in 2022, it wouldn’t be a surprise, Hagen said.

But, Haberman said, Game Fish and Parks officials in his area have noted fewer campers than in 2021.

“Camping (numbers) have been astronomical since the start of COVID and it’s been a little slow,” Haberman said.

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