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Tourism Officials Expect Busy Season, Workforce Shortage

SDPB / Lee Strubinger
Governor Noem kicking off National Tourism Week.

State tourism officials expect a busy season as more Americans get their COVID-19 vaccinations. 

But hospitality businesses are struggling to fill seasonable jobs, despite an increase in the number of temporary work visas. 


Despite uncertainty from the pandemic, the state says 12.6 million people vacationed in South Dakota last year. Visitors brought in $276 million from state and local taxes. 


Tourism is the state’s second largest industry, that supports about 50,000 jobs. But this year finding enough workers is a challenge. 


Governor Kristi Noem talked about the tourism industry’s needs at a news conference at Mt. Rushmore. Noem says a state website will connect those looking for work with jobs. 


“Make sure we don’t’ overwhelm our tourism businesses,” Noem says. “Also, get them the visitors that they need, but the workforce that they need. I think that’s really what we’re doing differently this year. Not just working on recruiting visitors but recruiting those people who want to work in the tourism industry and facilitate apprenticeships, training programs, so we can fill those open positions that we have.” 


The industry relies heavily on foreign workers who receive temporary work visas through the federal government. 


Jim Hagan is the secretary of Tourism. He says the government is slow to roll those visas out this year. 


“The Biden Administration just announced an additional 22,000 workers were going to be made available, on top of the normal allocation of 67,000,” Hagan says. “That’s just a drop in the bucket, literally. From what I understand from partners it is moving slow.” 


The traditional tourism season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, the state is working to bring more visitors into South Dakota in the spring and fall.  

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.