SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The state of South Dakota reached a record number of 14.5 million visitors in 2019 and lots of them came to northeastern and southeastern South Dakota, state officials said.
“In the northeastern and southeastern parts of the state, hotel occupancy was the highest we’d seen in some years,” said Jim Hagen, the Secretary of Tourism in South Dakota.
Hotel occupancy is one way to track visitors in the state. Increases in occupancy and high occupancy rates can show growth in visitors.
“Our hotel occupancy rates were up by almost 2%,” said Casey Weismantel, the executive director of the Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In March, April, May and June, we beat our 10-year averages (for occupancy).”
Lodgers pay a $2 tax when they stay in a motel that goes to the city of Aberdeen in the northeastern region of the state. Weismantel said that $2 is tracked to help determine visitors and hotel occupancy.
The state also uses lodging taxes to track visitors and spending in the state. State officials said the estimated visitor spending for its recent 2019 report is classified as any sales that are subject to the State Tourism Tax, Municipal Gross Receipts Tax (BBB) or the State Lodging Tax. These figures are provided monthly by the Department of Revenue. The official county and region level visitor spending figures will be available in May 2020.
Weistmantel said a 2% increase indicates steady growth in hotel occupancy, which is healthy and better than spikes and dips.
Visitors spent 721,693 room nights in northeastern South Dakota, according to figures supplied to the state through AirDNA. That’s a 9.6% increase in room nights. The occupancy rate increased by 7.9% to 57.3%.
The region recorded about $60 million lodging taxable sales in 2019, an increase of 7.3% from about $56.2 million in 2018.
Southeastern South Dakota had a 7.9% increase in lodging taxable sales in 2019. The region recorded about $166 million compared to $153.8 million in 2018.
Visitors spent 1,766,187 room nights in the region, according to figures supplied to the state through AirDNA. That’s a 7.1% increase in the number of room nights. The occupancy rate increased by 5.2% to 61.2%
When visitors stay in northeastern or southeastern South Dakota, they spend money on more than the motel. They are spending money on the very things that helped attract them to the region in the first place.
Teri Schmidt, the executive director of Visit Sioux Falls, said the city’s restaurants and breweries, for example, are venues in which visitors spend money. Those amenities help attract visitors to the city, she said.
Minnehaha County recorded an estimated $992,144,103 in visitor revenue in 2019.
Brown County, in the northeastern region, recorded an estimated $145,555,077 in revenue in 2019.
“We’re really starting to see growth in the past few years,” Hagen said of tourism growth in northeastern and southeastern South Dakota.
Any dollar spent by a visitor turns over six times, said Jeff Griffin, the new president and chief executive officer of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
In simple terms, Griffin said, he likes to think of that dollar spent by a visitor as touching six additional lives. It’s money spent by employees getting a haircut or buying groceries.
Traditionally visitors have come to South Dakota for Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills or Custer State Park. But the public is also learning there are other places to visit in South Dakota.
Take Sioux Falls as an example, Hagen said.
Ten to 15 years ago Sioux Falls was more of a drive through site for visitors to South Dakota, Hagen said.
“It wasn’t a vacation spot,” Hagen said.
Sioux Falls has evolved into a destination where people spend several days or the weekend, he said.
“Absolutely, we are a destination. We may not be a 10- or a 15- day vacation but we are a (several day) vacation,” Schmidt said.
State tourism figures provided by ARRIVALIST and the 2018 annual report for the department show that most visitors to South Dakota come from Minnesota, and many of those come from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Many visitors travel by car to South Dakota. The state “is very much a road trip destination” for those who live nearby, said Katlyn Richter of Travel South Dakota. Minneapolis/St. Paul to South Dakota “is an easy trip,” Richter said.
Schmidt knows that many visitors to Sioux Falls come from a five-state area. She also uses Falls Parks as a barometer to track visitors to Sioux Falls. The log at Falls Park shows visitors from at least 60 different countries, Schmidt said.
Hagen said a combination of indoor and outdoor attractions are drawing visitors to eastern South Dakota.
In the Aberdeen area, hunting and similar outdoor activities are a traditional draw for visitors but events, concerts and sports tournaments are also a draw, Weismantel said.
Griffin said from a business standpoint, the attractions that draw visitors to an area are often the same attractions that help retain workers or draw new workers to the area. Griffin recently moved to Sioux Falls from Peoria, Illinois. Attractions and the quality of life in Sioux Falls attracted him.
While Sioux Falls is one of the big factors in southeastern tourism numbers, Hagen said neighboring communities are also benefitting from visitors to Sioux Falls.
Communities in which breweries, restaurants or shopping and other recreational options have developed can benefit when a visitor stops or stays in Sioux Falls, Hagen said.
Southeastern and northeastern South Dakota all benefit from being on the Interstate 29 corridor, Hagen said.