SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The state wants to make South Dakota a top 10 vacation destination over the next decade.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Jim Hagen, the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism during his Feb. 7 presentation to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriation.
Committee member Republican Rep. John Mills asked Hagen how that top 10 placement in measured.
The placement is measured by number of visitors to the state, Hagen said.
Right now, the state is not in the top 15 or top 20 in visitors or spending, Hagen said. He was not able to specifically share that day what the state’s ranking was. There were 14.4 million visitors to South Dakota in 2022.
While Hagen acknowledge the goal would not be easy to obtain he shared some about the work the department will do to get there.
The department will diversify marketing to reach a broader audience. Hagen said that includes marketing to African Americans and Latinos.
Marketing will be focused so “people can picture themselves in the state,” Hagen said.
The department will also better distribute to visitors by geography and season, Hagen said. One committee member said he’s seen some geography and seasonal marketing already.
“The state of South Dakota advertises heavily at Minnesota Vikings games,” committee member Republican Sen. David Johnson said. He noted the advertising for pheasant hunting Vikings games.
Tourism highlights national parks during the football pre-season and first part of the regular season, Hagen said.
“As it gets into pheasant hunting season, we change to that,” Hagen said.
The department spends about $300,000 on the advertising with the Vikings games, Hagen said.
It’s money well spent and there is a good relationship with the organization, he said. Some players and organization staffers vacation in South Dakota, Hagen said.
Minneapolis and Minnesota are still a No. 1 market for visitors to South Dakota, Hagen said.
The department will also have a new name, particularly as it continues to reach out to its marketing audiences. Travel South Dakota will be frequently used in marketing material, Hagen said.
The department’s website is already using Travel South Dakota. The name is more user friendly than the South Dakota Department of Tourism, Hagen said.
The department will also strengthen partnerships at local, state and federal levels to advance tourism.
Committee co-chair Republican Sen. Jean Hunhoff said when most people think of the state, they think Mount Rushmore first and not Lewis and Clark Lake or similar.
Hagen said it’s true that icons like Mount Rushmore are the hook but once a potential visitor is hooked, tourism helps funnel them to other regions of the state. The marketing continues after that first contact about the icons, through website and similar contacts, Hagen said.
The state is divided into several regional tourism districts. State tourism works with those districts and other DMO such as visitors and convention bureaus, chambers and the like, Hagen said.
The Passport program is one example of how the state and local entities are connected. The Passport is a list of what are called “hidden gems” around the state. The program has about 160 of those locations, Hagen said. Users visits sites to qualify for prizes after they have reached levels of a required number of site visits.
The state provided money for a grant program to work with communities, committee member Democrat Rep. Linda Duba said. “Are you tracking the metrics?” Duba asked.
Hagen said the department is tracking the number of users, where the visitors are from and similar metrics.
The tourism department has two divisions with five staff teams in each working in areas of global promotion, global promotion and others.
It also hires outside firms to help with tourism.
Committee member Republican Sen. Ryan Maher said he had gotten questions about why the department interviewed and hired a firm from outside South Dakota.
Hagen said only one firm from South Dakota applied when the department did its state-required requests for proposals.
“I don’t care where the marketing firms are from. It doesn’t matter to our team,” Hagen said. “We want the best.”
The department chose the best fit for the planned tourism work and goals, Hagen said.
“I’m not taking anything away from the agencies we worked with in the past, they helped us build the (successful) foundation,” Hagen said.
Maher asked how the department will determine if the results are successful
Hagen said “he couldn’t be more pleased with the fall campaign.”
“The money spent out of state, where did that come from…?” Maher asked.
The department does not receive any state general fund money but is funded through a 1% tourism tax, other tourism dollars and has received ARPA money during the COVID pandemic, Hagen said.
In relation to money, Hagen said it was time for the state to return a half penny (.5%) specifically created by the Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2009 to offset a loss of $2 million in general fund money. The state put the South Dakota State Historical Society and at least two other entities under the stand alone Department of Tourism
About eight years ago the state transferred the state historical society and two other entities back to the Department of Education from the state tourism and took the half penny tax funding too.
“It should be given back to (tourism),” Hagen said.
The tax generates about $946,000 in revenue that will be used for agritourism and grants to local communities to market festivals and similar, Hagen said. Those are just two of the planned uses for the tax money should it be returned.