SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — New numbers show the pandemic’s impact on one of South Dakota’s hardest hit industry. The Department of Tourism released 2020 travel numbers during a statewide industry conference Thursday. 

While the data shows a big decline, state leaders say it could have been worse.

“Every state’s tourism industry was negatively impacted this past year by the pandemic but in South Dakota we were able to weather the storm much better than our neighboring states,” Governor Kristi Noem said.

Governor Noem released the statewide 2020 travel totals to industry leaders who couldn’t have anticipated what the year would bring.

“In one of the most challenging years our state has ever seen, you were able to keep things rolling,” Noem said.

The South Dakota Department of tourism said even in the middle of a global pandemic, South Dakota still welcomed 12.6 million visitors in 2020, a decrease of 13 percent from the year before. Visitors spent $3.4 billion, a decline of 18 percent while the nationwide average decline was 45 percent.

Governor noem says big efforts, including the presidential visit and fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, sporting events like the PBR and a nationwide push promoting South Dakota tourism helped the state exceed industry expectations.

“I worked with the department of tourism to help launch South Dakota’s first ever national media buy. This allowed us to share our state’s incredible attractions and scenery with millions of viewers from coast to coast,” Noem said.

While visitor spending as a whole saw only an 18 percent decrease, certain areas of tourism were hit harder than others.

“For hotel room sales, we saw a bigger decrease,” Experience Sioux Falls Executive Director Teri Schmidt said. “Hotel business has been down anywhere from 48 percent to three percent state wide.”

Schmidt said leisure travel provided a needed boost over the summer months, but the city’s biggest source of tourism income was gone during the pandemic.

“Sioux Falls is an event town, we like to do festivals, we like to do sporting events…we have a lot of conventions and meetings in this town,”  Schmidt said. “I know there are a lot of businesses right here in Sioux Falls that are still really hurting.”

Governor Noem says despite the difficulties, the state’s tourism department helped support nearly 49,500 jobs last year and generated $276 million dollars in state and local tax revenue, a 10 percent decrease from 2019.