SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County may post the big visitor and tourism numbers in the state but there other draws in towns and cities across southeastern South Dakota.
The 14 counties of the southeastern South Dakota tourism region had $1.8 billion in visitor spending in 2022. The biggest chunk was spent in Minnehaha County at $1.1 billion but the money is also being spent elsewhere including $3.5 million in Douglas County which is lowest in the region.
Visitor spending in eastern South Dakota surpassed spending in western South Dakota in 2022.
According to the South Dakota Department of Tourism, visitor spending in the Black Hills and Badlands Region dipped by 3% in 2022 to $1.813 billion from $1.863 billion in 2021.
Spending in the southeastern region increased from $1.596 billion in 2021 to $1.862 billion in 2022 for a 16.7% overall increase.
That happened because of Minnehaha County and the 13 other counties in the southeastern part of the state, said Kasi Haberman, the executive director of Southeast South Dakota tourism.
“Minnehaha County is kind of the behemoth in the region and entire state,” Haberman said. The county had a nearly 19% increase in visitor spending from 2021 to 2022, she said. But Miner County had a 59% increase.
Visitors spent $10 million in Miner County in 2022.
“Miner County is a small county,” Haberman said. The 59% increase in visitor spending indicates that investments have been made in restaurants, motels and or bed and breakfasts in the county, she said.
Haberman said there is something to attract visitors in each of the 14 counties of Bon Homme, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, Lake, Lincoln, McCook, Minnehaha, Turner, Union and Yankton.
“From the beauty of the bluffs in Palisades State Park to the bluffs along the Missouri River,” Haberman said of attractions in the region.
There’s a small town in Hutchinson County that draws thousands each summer to regional food festivals.
Freeman is a town of about 1,300 people but on one Saturday in July, the town attracts nearly 10 times its population to the annual chislic festival, said Carol Eisenbeis, the director of development and marketing for the city of Freeman. The two-day Schmeckfest in March draws about 1,000 people a day.
The food festivals will draw visitors to town but they will also showcase what else the city has to offer, said Eisenbeis.
The chislic festival is on the grounds of the Freeman Prairie Arboretum, a 40-acre area with a walking path, disc golf and ponds. Eisenbeis said the arboretum draws visitors who walk the grounds.
The Heritage Hall Museum is a museum that tells the story of the cultural history of the Freeman area which was largely settled by Germans from Russia in the 1870s.
Haberman said visitor spending also helps the local, regional and state economies by creating jobs.
For example, in Davison County, 1,171 jobs are directly related to tourism, Haberman said.
“That’s 10% of the labor market there,” Haberman said. Direct labor income in the county is $30.8 million, according to South Dakota Tourism.
Where are the visitors from?
Eisenbeis said Freeman is about 30 minutes from Yankton, 30 minutes from Mitchell and 30 minutes from Sioux Falls.
“Out here 30 miles away is a 30-minute drive,” Eisenbeis said. That’s an advantage in drawing visitors from out-of-state, she said.
She knows that visitors to Freeman have gotten off the interstate or other highways to stop because it’s not a long trip.
South Dakota Tourism’s data shows that visitors to tourist regions come from within and outside the state. The department emphasizes that all spending is important. It also works with tourist regions like southeast South Dakota to market the region and state to out-of-state visitors.
Haberman said the region will draw visitors from Minneapolis, Omaha and Des Moines. The state can help draw visitors from farther away such as Chicago or Denver.
The traditional tourist season attracts the most visitors but southeast South Dakota is also promoting year-round activity, Haberman said.
The development of indoor archery facilities in Yankton is one example of how the region can draw visitors in the fall and winter, she said.