There has never been a better time to talk about tourism in South Dakota. May 1-7 is National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) across the country. In South Dakota, we celebrate the Great Faces, Great Places that make our state the greatest vacation destination in America.
NTTW is all about celebration. This year’s theme is #FutureOfTravel, but before I look ahead, we have a lot of folks to thank for getting us to this point. While other states were shutting down, the men and women in our tourism industry stayed open for business and open for visitors.
Despite a barrage of partisan criticism, our approach worked. A recent study from WalletHub just named South Dakota the second safest COVID-19 state in the nation, and we led the entire country in tourism growth. By working together, we have kept this state an ideal place for people to visit and enjoy the fresh air and open spaces at our scenic parks.
That is why we have so much to celebrate during this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week. We celebrate the 13.5 million visitors that came to South Dakota last year, an increase of 30% from the previous year. We celebrate the record $4.4 billion that visitors spent while they were here, the 54,208 jobs sustained by the tourism industry, and the $980 in tax dollars saved by each South Dakota household because of the tourism industry.
With a spirit of gratitude, let’s come together and use NTTW as a time to show our appreciation for our travel industry. There are many ways we can do this:
This past legislative session, we passed reforms to allow for more agritourism. This allows farmers and ranchers to use their property to generate additional income from tourism without burdensome regulations. And to make sure the future of tourism is bright across the state, we are bolstering our marketing efforts to target smaller communities. We want to be sure the millions of visitors to our state do not miss the hidden gems.
We are also continuing our efforts to strengthen habitat and enhance the experience for our visiting hunters and anglers. We cut regulations to make it easier for hunters to take advantage of our open seasons. And we have worked with landowners and our conservation specialists to increase habitat and reduce nest predator populations.
Since 2019, there has been a $27 million increase in direct spending by hunters. When you combine all outdoor activities — including boating, parks, snowmobiling, etc. — the overall estimated impact on our economy is more than $1.3 billion total. The best part is that portions of those dollars spent on ammo, park fees, and other tools feed right back into our conservation and habitat efforts.
Whether you walk two blocks or drive across the state, I encourage you to take the time to treat yourself to some exploration. Even as Governor, I am consistently surprised with the sights and delights I continue to find across South Dakota.
The future of travel is strong in South Dakota. We have much to celebrate and even more to look forward to. That is the South Dakota way, and that is what National Travel and Tourism Week is all about. Someone once said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” I could not agree more. Together, let’s make sure that South Dakota will continue to enrich the lives of every visitor that explores our great state.