The final numbers aren’t in yet on this year’s South Dakota tourism season.
But businesses in the Black Hills that depend on tourism say it was a good year for visitors.
Most Black Hills tourism businesses say the spring and summer rains helped create a more attractive Black Hills and Badlands this year that lasted into the late summer. Stable gas prices and a generally stable economy also helped.
“Tourism has been great for us this year. In the last few years we have seen a steady, uphill climb. This year, we figured it out, we’ve had a four percent increase. And that’s kind of the level we’ve been going at for the last several years now,” with Reptile Gardens David Yahne said.
One thing that’s mentioned consistently by most businesses is the steadily increasing numbers of visitors from overseas.
“It went really well this year. We had plenty of tourists this year that came in from all over the world and probably from a wider circulation than we’ve had in the past. And our numbers were up considerably,” Founding Fathers Manager Chris Orr said.
At the Mammoth Site, the numbers were down slightly so far. But they may match or exceed last year’s numbers depending on what happens this month.
“As of now, we’ve probably seen 90 thousand people through our doors. And going forward, by the end of the year we’ll have a hundred thousand visitors through our doors,” Mammoth Site Business Manager Preston Gable said.
Now that it’s September, the tourists are usually adults who aren’t hindered by school schedules, and include people who prefer the cooler fall temperatures. After Labor Day tourism is actually part of gains in recent years.
“In the last few years we’re extended our season. We now have a much larger spring and fall season. We call those our shoulder seasons,” Yahne said.
“Shoulder seasons” is a term being used by more tourism businesses as the graph of visitor numbers that starts gradually in the spring, peaks in the summer, drops somewhat, and then levels off in September.
“This is kind of like round three of our visitation. So, first round we kind of have our spring season, then we have the heart of the summer, and then we have our fall shoulder season,” Custer State Park’s Kobee Stalder said.
Aside from the general estimates of tourist movement, each of these Black Hills destinations also say they have reasons to be optimistic that are unique to their own situation. The Mammoth Site, for example, attracts a somewhat different clientele from the other sites.
“Here, we are an active research and education center. We just happen to be funded mostly by tourism,” Gable said.
Reptile Gardens brings in a different crowd yet again.
“We are no longer a roadside attraction, we are a destination. And we couldn’t be happier,” Yahne said.
And Custer State Park has fall events that will bolster its total numbers when they are finally tallied.
“Now we look into the Buffalo Roundup weekend where we…obviously we have about 20,000 people come out for that event.” Stalder said.
All a good performance, say South Dakota boosters, for the state’s second largest industry.
Each year, South Dakota plays host to an average of close to 14 million visitors.