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Tourism visitors drive South Dakota

Visiting South Dakota is fun, as is being illustrated at the 2019 International Roundup event, April 29-May 1, in Spearfish. Nearly 200 tourism professionals, representing over 40 international travel planners from across the world, are attending this 25th annual tourism trade show.

These gatherings help contribute to an estimated $123.7 million in future travel to the five-state region of South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. South Dakota sees $22.4 million of this total. The international tour operators are from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Selling all-inclusive travel itineraries and packages to the five-state region branded as “The Great American West,” they are looking to promote more than 100 regional destinations, attractions and accommodations, including 24 from South Dakota. Many of these operators are small to medium-sized companies who specialize in tailor-made ‘fly and drive’ itineraries for individual clients.

“Our research, done by Tourism Economics, shows that each household in South Dakota would need to be taxed an additional $865 to replace the travelers taxes received by state and local governments if it weren’t for our visitors,” said Katlyn Richter, South Dakota Department of Tourism. “South Dakota generated $298 million in state and local taxes in 2018.”

Kirk Hulstein, also with the Dept. of Tourism, said the total number of visitors for 2018 was 14.1 million, up 200,000 over 2017, which was itself up 100,000 over 2016.

South Dakotans are tourists as well. The study by Tourism Economics estimates about 76% of total visitor spending comes from non-residents, while 24% is spent by residents. Both are counted as visitors, if they travel over 50 miles for leisure, are non-commuting and/or stay overnight. Out-of-state hunters are counted as tourists, as well as others, as long as they meet the standard industry definition above.

Regional citizens are tourists as well. The top other-state visitors, in rank, are from Minnesota, then Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The international draw is also significant. Around 155,000 visitors come from other countries, and roughly $110 million is spent by international visitors to South Dakota each year.

The average amount spent per person per trip is $180, and per party $534, with the average trip in the state being three days.

The tourism industry is very broad, and continues to expand across the state. “Please note we don’t have visitation numbers for many of the private attractions, so cannot determine where they would rank within the list,” Hulstein said. The visitation counts that can be made rank Mount Rushmore National Memorial at 2.3 million, and Custer State Park at 1.9 million. Last year’s total state park visitation was 7.5 million. Badlands National Park saw 1.0 million visitations, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – 739,000, Lewis and Clark National Recreation Area – 714,000, Wind Cave National Park – 656,400, hunting – 215,793, fishing – 215,173.

Other than the weather, the largest boon or hindrance to South Dakota’s tourism is consumer perception — a lack of awareness and consideration of South Dakota being a tourist destination. The next most important factor is the general condition of the national economy and consumer confidence. This is directly related to the nation’s average household discretionary income. Hulstein said the agriculture industry greatly affects visitors from the region “as many of our visitors across the midwest rely on the agriculture economy.” Another factor is negative media exposure; such as when there are natural disasters, government shut-downs, public policy decisions, and other things that could deter people from spending time and money visiting South Dakota. Certainly, travel prices are considered, such as gas prices, entrance fees, hotel rates, and more. On the list of factors are cultural changes, generational shifts and travel trends — which brings focus back to the 2019 International Roundup event, April 29-May 1, in Spearfish.