South Dakota tourism officials are quite optimistic about the 2017 season, which testified to the underlying value of the tourism industry to this state.
On Monday, tourism officials declared that they see a big year ahead for South Dakota tourism. The optimism abounds even though there are no centerpiece events this year, such as the recent 75th anniversaries of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (2015) and Mount Rushmore (2016), to lure people to the state.
However, they have confidence in the drawing power of South Dakota’s tourism industry, which seems to perform no matter what the circumstance or economic climate.
Last year represented another success story for the industry, seeing its seventh straight year of growth. The number of tourists in 2016 (an estimated 13.9 million visitors) was up 1.4 percent from the previous year. Tourism spending amounted to $3.4 billion in 2016, which was a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year.
Locally, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area enjoyed another banner year of growth, which has become the impressive norm rather than the exception for the site. In fact, as memory serves, the only year recently in which the area has seen its numbers drop was in 2011, when news of the historic Missouri River flooding likely scared off several potential visitors. However, they returned in force the next year and every year since.
The state’s tourism industry, while not immune to any Kryptonite situations that may arise, does seem well insulated from the vagaries of the economy because it offers something for everyone in any situation. For instance, when the price of gasoline is down, people will travel a long way to visit South Dakota’s sites. When fuel prices are up or the economy is dipping, locals tend to partake in “stay-cations” at nearby parks, which also winds up feeding state coffers.
So, while tourism may not be the No. 1 industry in South Dakota — agriculture reigns as king there — the visitor industry may well be the sturdiest industry the state has.
That’s one reason why state officials are positive about the prospects for 2017.
For another reason, the tourism “season” is no longer confined to the summer; the so-called “shoulder” season are taking on more and more drawing power. In fact, state park visits and hotel revenue were up during the first quarter of this year compared to last year.
So, there’s a lot of optimism about state tourism this year, even with no special anniversaries or hallmark events on which to pin expectations. The industry is just that vibrant, and the impact it has on the South Dakota economy year after year, in good times and bad, really deserves its due.