Tourism upswing spurs S.D. record

Travelers in South Dakota spent $96 million more last year than in 2009, raising tourism dollars to more than $1 billion for the first time.

The 10 percent increase is the largest single-year increase the state’s visitor industry has seen.

“It’s amazing. I’m thrilled with the number, but not at all surprised,” Secretary of Tourism Jim Hagen said.

He attributes the growth to South Dakota’s family-friendly attractions and the focus on bringing in regional visitors.

Unlike many other state agencies, the Department of Tourism is not facing budget cuts this year, because it does not receive any general funds, Hagen said. The department is funded by a self-imposed 1.5 percent promotion tax, as well as a portion of Deadwood’s gaming tax.

Hagen is optimistic tourism numbers will continue to grow.

“Families that are taking vacations, it’s almost as if they’ve accepted the fact that $3.65 gas is a reality, and even in these slumps, they say, ‘Let’s put our troubles behind. “Let’s go out and have fun as a family,’ ” he said. “Our attractions do a good job of maintaining a family-affordable environment.”

The tourism data comes from an Economic and Fiscal Impacts Study by Dr. Michael Madden, commissioned by the department.

Visitor spending includes money paid for hotel rooms, food and beverages, attractions and entertainment, as well as some types of transportation and shopping.

Tourism generated 20 percent of all state and local tax revenue last year, according to the department.

Spending increased at all four of the state’s regions – Southeast South Dakota; Glacial Lakes and Prairies; Great Lakes; and Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes. Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes led with 12.5 percent growth.
Individual attractions did well, too:

# Wall Drug did $15 million in sales, making 2010 one of the best years in history, President Ted Hustead said. He estimates tourism makes up about 90 percent of total business. Overall numbers were up by 6 percent for the year and 8 percent in the month of August, Hustead said.

# Falls Park had more than 177,000 people enter the visitor center last year, manager Rachel Crane said. That’s 18,000 more visitors than in 2009.

# Visits to the Corn Palace in Mitchell were up 8 percent in July, director Mark Schilling said.

# At the 54 state parks, visitation numbers were up 1.5 percent last year, and camping was up 2.5 percent, said Bob Schneider, assistant director for the division of parks and recreation.

# Mount Rushmore visitation was up 3.45 percent last year, with more than 3.1 million guests, spokeswoman Ace Crawford said.

“We’re very pleased South Dakota and the Black Hills were made a vacation destination,” she said. “It’s a great symbol of America and its dreams, and people want to visit this iconic memorial.”

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