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State Tourism Officials say the sharp drop in business they anticipated last year, did not happen.

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National Park Service
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State tourism officials say the sharp drop in business they anticipated last year, did not happen.   

12.6 million people visited South Dakota.  

State officials never imposed travel restrictions or mask mandates at the height of the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, ads encouraged people to visit South Dakota. 

Jim Hagen is the state Secretary of Tourism. He says  revenue from the industry has increased nearly every year and remains an important part of the state economy. 

“Game Fish and Parks Department, the parks division, has set records every single year for literally the last ten years. 2020 was unlike anything. As we’ve heard, Custer State Park welcomed more than 2 million visitors for the first time ever, in 2020.” 

Hagen says last year the state was ranked  third highest in the nation for domestic visitors. 

That travel was happening just as  data from the Centers for Disease Control showed South Dakota’s per capita death and infection rates were some of the highest in the country. 

Hagen says tourism DID see  a steep drop at the beginning of the pandemic but that turned around only two months later. 

“People are often asking me, ‘When did things turn around for South Dakota? When did you see the dial flip?’ and it really was on May 22nd where we saw the number of arrivals into South Dakota, that huge flip. People decided, ‘We are coming to South Dakota to start a vacation.’” 

Hagen says the biggest change came last  July  for Mt Rushmore’s  Independence Day celebrations.  

He expects tourism to continue to grow this year as more people are vaccinated and feel safe traveling.