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The Reptile Gardens, a family-oriented attraction in Rapid City, is one of the popular visitor sites in South Dakota. Image: Courtesy of Travel South Dakota

Tourism in South Dakota ticks upward

PIERRE, S.D. – Tourism in South Dakota trended upward in 2019, despite challenges in some parts of the state caused by Mother Nature. 

South Dakota saw 14.5 million visitors in 2019, a 3.1% increase over the previous year, according to a recent study. 

An annual study done by Tourism Economics said it was the highest growth percentage the state has experienced since 2014.

“Tourism in South Dakota is a job-creating, revenue-generating industry that plays a vital role in supporting the state’s economy year after year,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement. “It also has a much larger impact beyond visitor-spending dollars. These visitors fall in love with our state, and many of them decide to move here, start a business here, or retire in our great state.”

The byproduct of visitors is their economic impact. Visitors to South Dakota spent $4.1 billion in 2019 – and increase of 2.8% over 2018 – contributing $2.75 billion to the GDP and accounting for 5.2% of the state’s economy. 

The Mount Rushmore State experienced adverse weather in 2019, including massive flooding in some parts, but that didn’t stop people from visiting. The state and national parks had fewer visitors, as hotels had lower occupancy rates in the Black Hills, but that was all balanced by the growth of other areas and businesses across the state, according to Secretary of Tourism James Hagen. 

“We have a really fantastic tourism industry,” he told Prairie Business. “People here are very passionate about tourism. We're really passionate about hosting or visitors from around the globe. They're also very smart when it comes to marketing and knowing how to deal with challenges, whether it be economic challenges or weather challenges. I think we attribute our success to that, but also to knowing that our marketing is such that we're reaching the right audiences in the right market, on the right platform at the right time with the right message. We're very sophisticated in our research.”

He said another dividend is that the tourism industry fuels jobs – in this case, it sustains 55,157 jobs, about 9% of all South Dakota jobs. To put it another way, one out of every 11 people in South Dakota has a job in the tourism field.

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Check back soon, more information on tourism and corporate travel will be published in the March edition of Prairie Business.

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