Tourist spot: Aberdeen official says outdoor activity help boost visitor numbers; And where does the state get its numbers?

KELOLAND.com Original
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Hotel occupancy sank in South Dakota in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic but in Aberdeen folks were still checking in.

Casey Weismantel, the executive director of the Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said while occupancy still lagged slightly behind 2019 numbers, the numbers for July through November, “were ahead of last year.”

The pandemic caused many indoor events to be cancelled or adjusted to smaller capacity during the pandemic. Aberdeen has experienced that with indoors sports games at Northern State University.

But outdoor events continued in the city and those made a difference, Weismantel said.

“I attribute it to the success of our outdoor events,” Weismantel said.

The city was the host for the state trap shooting tournament and a national BMX event. Plus there were other outdoor sports tournaments held throughout the summer and early fall, he said.

Statewide, hotel occupancy rates finished the year at 46.3% which meant less that on average, hotels across the state had less than 50% occupancy during 2020. But, the South Dakota Department of Tourism said that 46.3% rate was still higher than the national average of 44.7%.

Every dollar a visitors spends on a hotel or in another tourism activity means a tax savings for South Dakota residents, according to the state’s department of tourism. So, when hotel and other dollars are down, the tax savings for residents decreases.

Aberdeen tracks its hotel occupancy through a tax visitors pay for stays. “It’s the best way for us to gauge the number of visitors,” Weismantel said.

Sioux Falls Experience, the former visitors and convention bureau, tracks occupancy and visitors in a similar way.

As of Dec. 8, the occupancy at local hotels was down 45% over last year, said Teri Schmidt, the executive director of Experience Sioux Falls.

“We were set to have a banner year in 2020,” Schmidt said of events, hotel bookings and related activity in Sioux Falls.

When those indoor events such as conventions, didn’t happen, hotel occupancy dropped, Schmit said in a Dec. 8 story in KELOLAND News.

Sioux Falls tourism was dealt another blow in December when Pheasants Forever canceled its February Pheasant Fest. The event was expected to generate about $4 million economic impact in the city, Schmidt said.

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Pheasants are another big reason why Aberdeen’s numbers were able to continue to rebound in the fall and early winter, Weismantel said.

“They are still out there hunting,” Weismantel said on Jan. 26. “We hardly have any snow on the grounds. Normally, we are up to our armpits in snow this time of year.”

Hunters were among the 12.6 million visitors to the state in 2020, according to S.D. Tourism. That’s 13% fewer than in 2019. Those that came spent less money than in 2019. Spending totaled $3.4 billion or 13% less than in 2019. That spending generated $276 million in sales tax.

Sioux Falls and Aberdeen track a tax or fee paid by lodgers to help determine visitor numbers and hotel occupancy but where does the state get all of its tourism numbers?

Where does the state get its numbers?

Travel South Dakota or the state’s department of tourism tracks travel activity in the state. The numbers are posted on the website category called “Research & Reports.”

Kirk Hulstein of the tourism department, follows the performance metrics and is involved in the research and reports.

“Tourism Economics, is the main source for most our top level reports,” Hulstein said.

Tourism Economics is an Oxford Economics Company. Tourism Economics provides research and analysis on the tourism industry. According to its website, the company works with more than 300 companies, destinations and organizations as a research partner. It also works with its parent company of Oxford Economics.

“I would say it’s the No. 1 trusted source, (in tourism industry),” Hulstein said.

Tourism Economics will use data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. Department of Labor and similar agencies on topics such as demographics, labor and others.

“We supplement that with our own local sources,” Hulstein said. Those local sources include the South Dakota Department of Revenue.

Data from the Department of Revenue includes sales taxes.

Sales tax is a way to track what visitors spend.

When the state says tourism generated $276 million in state and local tax dollars that includes more for local and state governments. Of that $276 million, $157 million in travel and tourism tax revenue collected by local governments. The state collected $119 million in tax revenue.

South Dakota also has a long relationship with a survey company that provides data on travel and visitors, Hulstein said. The provided information includes destinations.

“We know our share… and any increase or decrease,” Hulstein said.

Visitor numbers are also provided by the National Park Service and the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department.

Although the overall number of visitors declined by 1.9 million people or 13%, visits to state parks increased by 31% including two million visitors to Custer State Park.

The tourism department also looks at the economic impact of tourism and visitors that includes wages received by employees and money earned by vendors and others related to tourism.

Tourism’s impact on the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GNP) is what is generated within the state, Hulstein said. It is the value added of those sectors directly interacting with travelers, according to the tourism department.

For example, supply chain spending such as supplies from a business in Colorado. The taxes in Colorado aren’t part of South Dakota, Hulstein said.

The tourism industry GDP tallied $1.3 billion in 2020.

Data is scrutinized and cross checked so as not to be inflated and leans toward being conservative, Hulstein said.

The data from out-of-state agencies and in-state participants is information for the tourism dashboard. For 2020, much of it was included in a 41-page annual report found here.

Tourism generates lots of big numbers in South Dakota, including directly supporting about 33,200 jobs and supporting a total of 49,500 jobs.

Also, for every dollar spent by tourist a South Dakota resident gains, according to the state tourism department.

Although numbers were down for 2020, households in the state save $780 in taxes that year because of spending by tourists.

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