Never having spent much time in Pierre, South Dakota’s capital city, I was a tourist myself during the Jan. 15-17 Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
It’s usually just a quick drive-through on the way to and from the Black Hills. But spending a few days there made me appreciate those attractive rolling hills surrounding the town and along the Missouri River, the picturesque Lake Oahe, the ornate domed capitol building, and a more thriving business district than I remember.
Attending the conference with fellow My Place Hotels teammates from headquarters gave me a much bigger picture of our state’s tourism industry and the staggering boost it gives to South Dakota’s economy. National speakers recognizing all our attributes made me proud of the vast assortment of attractions and natural beauty the state offers.
Kudos to the conference team for putting together detailed days of meeting with representatives from the hospitality and marketing industries, representatives from research companies, talks by national travel representatives and even thought-provoking messages from inspirational leaders.
As the sponsor of keynote speaker Rohit Bhargava, an innovation and marketing expert, we found his thoughts on the not-so-obvious approach to promoting experiences to be compelling. It was actionable, not only for us as hoteliers, but for our surrounding community which does an outstanding job of promoting our home state.
The broad range of South Dakota’s attractions and accommodations adds up to some impressive numbers, said Jim Hagen, Secretary of the Department of Tourism. The state’s tourism industry has grown for the ninth straight year, he said, reaching record levels of visitors, visitor spending and impact on the state’s economy.
Hagen pointed out a new study by Tourism Economics which shows visitor spending in South Dakota during 2018 totaled $3.98 billion, an increase of 2.5 percent over the previous year. More people showed up, too, with 14.1 million visitors, an increase of 1.4 percent over 2017.
Even if a resident isn’t tuned into the tourist industry, those are important numbers for South Dakotans, Hagen said:
In 2018, tourism generated $298 million in state and local tax revenue. Without tourism in South Dakota, each household would pay an additional $865 more in taxes each year!
The conference days went quickly, digesting those numbers, attending break-out sessions and talking with the many vendors set up on tables throughout the Ramkota’s conference center hallways. There was fun to be had, too: You can get a look at what we were up to by searching the Twitter hashtags #StateOfGreat and #SDTourism. It’s a fun romp through photos from the conference.
Everyone probably was feeling a little tired by the last evening, but they all looked great! On the final night the banquet hall was filled for Gov. Kristi Noem’s presentations of the Department of Tourism’s annual awards. Several South Dakota industry members from across the state were all smiles as they received trophies, gave brief talks, had their photos taken and received lots of applause for all their hard work during past years.
As word of an approaching snowstorm spread, many quickly said their good-byes and hit the road. But comparing notes, it seems like most left with a renewed passion for the state’s tourism industry and its forecast growth for the coming years.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll plan a trip back to Pierre just to take time to hike the hills, take pictures and spend a little more time in that historic, beautiful capitol building.