Last year was a record-breaking year for tourism in South Dakota, setting the state as the first to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels, according to the U.S. Travel Association and announced by South Dakota Tourism on Wednesday afternoon.
Visitors spent more than $4.4 billion in 2021, with the state raking in $160 million in tax revenue and local governments collecting $184 million. Tourism also supports over 54,000 jobs across the state, according to a news release from the department.
“We have to remember that tourism is generating sales tax and other taxes that fund things like fire fighters and law enforcement and help with infrastructure,” said Jim Hagen, South Dakota secretary of tourism. “It’s an important part of our economy. Without those visitors, our economy would look really different.”
Seeing a return to pre-pandemic traveling numbers lends to the state’s economic recovery and resiliency throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
While many states are still recovering from the pandemic, South Dakota boasted it was “open for business” in 2020 and 2021, encouraging tourists to visit the state when they felt ready through the department’s “Go Great Places” campaign, which attracted 13.5 million visitors over the last year.
South Dakota’s visitor spending saw an increase of 30% from 2020. The amount spent per trip also increased from $282 in 2020 to $323 in 2021, according to South Dakota Tourism.
“South Dakota’s tourism industry stayed open for business and open for visitors, working tirelessly to support millions of visitors who chose South Dakota as their vacation destination,” said Governor Kristi Noem in a news release. “Their record-breaking efforts have contributed to our state’s record revenues, jump-starting our state’s economy to make it the strongest in the nation.”
Hagen said he’d been expecting pent-up demand to continue driving tourism to the state throughout 2021, with research showing tourists seeking vacations with national parks, mountains, rural areas, wide open spaces and the American road trip experience. South Dakota has all of that.
Hagen is optimistic tourism demand will continue through 2022. Market research shows people still want the same kind of vacation — mountains, rural spaces and national parks to explore. That won’t change for another five to 10 years, Hagen added.
About 80% of respondents to a recent national survey said they’ll be traveling in 2022, with 73% planning on road trips, Hagen said.
“We’ve sort of turned a corner with the American traveling public. They just want to get out and travel,” Hagen said.