2015 was a record breaking year for South Dakota tourism. The industry saw all time highs in visitor spending and economic growth. Tourists spent nearly four billion dollars in the state, contributing more than two billion dollars in Gross Domestic Product to South Dakota’s economy.
Nearly 14 million people made South Dakota their travel destination in 2015. That’s an almost three percent increase over the previous year. More people visited Mount Rushmore than ever before, and other sites saw double digit percentage growth as well. Tourism’s contribution to the state’s economy grew by more than six percent from the year before. Governor Dennis Daugaard says those numbers mean positive things for the future.
“Good tourism begets even better tourism,” Daugaard says. “Because those people who come to South Dakota and see our monuments and feel the friendliness of all our people, and enjoy the very reasonable cost that they experience in our destinations verses other more expensive destinations, they go back home and talk about it to others. And the increase in tourism means an increase in tourism tax, which means an increased investment for tourism the following year.”
Part of the marketing in 2015 focused on the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo Roundup. South Dakota Department of Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen says those events were important, but visitor numbers stayed strong all season. He says he’s optimistic about this year as well.
“I think we have two iconic anniversaries, again as the Governor said, with the centennial celebration of our national parks, the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mount Rushmore, we’re doing a lot of marketing around those two events,” Hagen says. “With gas prices predicted to stay low through actually next winter, some of the surveys that I’m seeing, I think it’s going to be another strong year.”
Hagen says this year’s tourism theme is “Find Your Great Place.” He says visitors are looking for an authentic experience, and the opportunity to slow down and connect.