Note: This story has been updated to more accurately show the state park and national park visitation and state park camping numbers for 2022.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The number of visitors to the state didn’t grow at the pace of prior years but they did spend more money.

The South Dakota Department of Tourism said visitors spent $4.7 billion in the state in 2022. That’s listed as direct spending in the 2022 tourism economic report. That’s 15% higher than the $4.1 billion reached in 2019. It’s also $350 million than in 2021.

“Some will say (spending) can be attributed (in part) to inflation,” said Wanda Goodman, the deputy secretary of the state’s tourism department. Inflation did contribute but it doesn’t account for all of the increase, she said.

In a year with record tourism spending, the number of visitors grew by less than 1%. The year-to-year growth was .6% in the state.

Goodman said that’s lower rate than in prior years but in a year with a strong demand for travel and rising costs, South Dakota did well. “For us to see a slight increase despite high gas prices…,” Goodman said.

Gas prices can be key as the state is often a destination for road travelers.

Visitors spent roughly $1 billion on transportation, both ground and air, according to the 2022 report.

Most of the state’s 2022 visitors came from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Sioux City, Minot-Bismarck, North Dakota, Fargo-Valley City, North Dakota and Omaha, said Kirk Hulstein, the director for industry outreach and development for the department.

While South Dakota is a drive-to market, “we are seeing an increase in flights,” Goodman said.

How does tourism help South Dakota and residents?

A South Dakota resident may see visitors at a local park, state park, national monument, lake and similar. What a resident may not physically see is how visitors impact state and local taxes.

SD Tourism said tourism generated $361 million in state and local tax revenue. That was an increase of $16 million from 2021.

The local and state tax revenue means that South Dakota residents pay $1,011 less in taxes each year.

The $361 million places tourism behind the agriculture industry, which contributes more than $645 million to the state’s economy, according to Ag United.

Agriculture is often cited as the state’s top industry.

IBIS World lists tourism as the state’s seventh largest industry based on revenue and hospitals as first. But when crop production is combined with meat processing, the ag industry would rank first.

What did they spend their money on?

Tourists shopped, according to the tourism department. Retail spending increased by nearly $100 million in 2022. They spent roughly $1 billion in retail items.

In addition to the roughly $1 billion spent on ground and air transportation, visitors spent about $1 billion on food and beverages. Another $889 million was spent on lodging.

Some of the lodging and transportation spending is associated with visitors who camped at state parks.

Camping increased at state parks by 1%, Hulstein said.

“Overall, state and national park visitation decreased 4-5% compared  to 2021,” Hulstein said.

Hulstein said the camping increase is tied to the number of people who bought campers during the height of the pandemic. They tried camping and enjoyed it and continue to camp, he said.

The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department reported in its January 2023 Commission Book that the state lands had 396,000 camping units in 2022, which is 2,000 more than the record year in 2021.

People are coming but visitation was down by 7%; yet, it was still 13% above the 10-year average.

What’s ahead?

Goodman said the department knows that potential travelers still have budget concerns but there are good signs.

Tourism works with several market research firms who have indicated the although household budgets are a concern, people still planned to travel, she said.

Goodman said the department continues to focus on expanding the diversity of its visitors.

The state is drawing older travelers and families as well as younger visitors.

Ag-tourism and the new Native American tourism sites plan are part of how the state is appealing to more diverse visitors, Goodman said.

The pandemic may distort some growth and decline numbers since 2019. For example, the number of visitors grew by 3.1% in 2019 but fell during the COVID pandemic by 20.7% to 11.5 million visitors in 2020. The rebound was substantial in 2021 as visitor numbers grew by 24.3%. The number of visitors increased to 14.3 million in 2021 but that was 200,000 fewer than 2019.

The state may not have double-digit growth in the number of visitors but the outlook is favorable, Goodman said.

The 2022 numbers were posted without

The 2022 numbers were posted without as much meeting or convention activity as that sector has not fully recovered. The number of international visitors and related spending was also lower than in some prior years.