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Tourism visitation and spending up over last year, setting new records

Brent Duerre

South Dakota tourism officials say the industry is breaking visitation and spending records again.

According to a report, the state saw 14.7 million visitors in 2023. That’s a 2.3 percent increase over 2022.

The state tourism department said that’s a record. Those visitors spent $4.96 billion dollars while here—also a record.

That’s an average of $340 dollars per person.

Gov. Kristi Noem said there’s a lot to discover in the state.

“I think there is an element to where people are looking for a bit of an experience of the Wild West,” Noem said. “They know they can come here and spend time outdoors. They can go hiking. They can enjoy our western way of life, but yet still go and have fine dining in the evening and experience some of the culture we have in Sioux Falls and Rapid City—even Watertown, Aberdeen. That’s pretty special.”

Tourism officials attribute part of the increased visitation to year-round marketing—including efforts to visit the state in the winter.

Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen also points to a new marketing campaign called Forever 605, which encourages visitors to travel off the beaten path and travel respectfully.

Hagen said the campaign focuses on those places yet to be explored.

“This campaign also puts an emphasis on, ‘Hey, let’s take care of the great outdoors that God has blessed us with.’ Pick up your trash, be respectful,” Hagen said. “Also, be respectful of our frontline workers and the people who work here. Treat them with respect. We’re excited about it. It’s resonating well with the industry.”

The department said tourism in 2023 generated $384 million in state and local tax revenue.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.