Latest on COVID-19 (coronavirus) and its Impact on Tourism in South Dakota

March 12, 2020

Dear Industry Partners,

As most of you have probably now heard, Governor Noem recently announced that eight South Dakotans have contracted the coronavirus. One of those infected – a gentleman who also had underlying health conditions – has died. The remaining individuals are all resting at home.

Now that things have hit so close to home, there are lots of questions about how the virus will impact travel and tourism to and within our state, especially as we get closer to the peak summer travel season. With President Trump’s announcement last night of a 30-day travel ban from Europe (except the UK), the suspension of the NBA season, universities and colleges taking their courses online for the foreseeable future, and postponements or cancellations of events and activities throughout the country, those questions only loom larger today.

We want you to know that we have been closely following updates from the U.S. Travel Association, the Centers for Disease Control  & Prevention (CDC), the South Dakota Governor’s Office, and the South Dakota Department of Health. We will continue to monitor all of these resources for the latest developments on the coronavirus, and we encourage you to do the same. These online resources will provide the most timely and accurate information.

Governor Noem shared in her press conference on Tuesday, March 10, that the state and the South Dakota Department of Health are – and were – prepared for any positive coronavirus test results. Here are links to Governor Noem’s first and second press conferences on the topic.

The U.S. Travel Association this week issued a statement about travel in our country in light of the coronavirus. The headline of the statement reads:

Travel Leaders Echo Experts: Make Fact-Based Decisions About Traveling U.S. Officials: "It Is Safe for Healthy Americans to Travel"

Below are some of the highlights from that statement. These are great TALKING POINTS. You can also read the statement in full here.

  1. Travel decisions must be based on facts and not fear.
  2. For the tourism industry, the safety and health of the traveling public, our visitors, and our employees is of the utmost importance. Without the safety and security of travelers, there is no travel.
  3. U.S. health and government officials have continually stressed that healthy Americans can confidently travel in the United States.
  4. Though headlines are worrisome, U.S. health experts continue to stress that the overall coronavirus risk in the U.S. remains low. At-risk groups who should take extra precautions are older individuals and those with underlying health conditions.
  5. We must remain vigilant, stay on top of the latest news, be smart about our travel decisions, and make vigorous use of good health practices, whether we are traveling or not.
  6. The decision to cancel travel and events has a trickle-down effect that threatens to harm the U.S. economy, from locally owned hotels, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), campgrounds, restaurants, events, attractions, and small businesses to frontline employees who make up the backbone of the travel industry and the American economy.

Please click here to review the latest video message about the coronavirus from U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.


To support the South Dakota tourism industry and our economy, we must keep sharing the message that travel to South Dakota is safe and that we’d love to welcome you here. I like what Tom Biegler, president and CEO of Regency Hotel Management and a Governor’s Tourism Advisory Board member, shared with his customers. He wrote, “At this point, there are no travel restrictions for healthy individuals within the United States. Airlines are still flying; restaurants continue to serve customers, malls and convention centers remain open. Broadway and Vegas continue with business as usual. In all but the most extreme cases, you are still quite safe traveling within the continental United States.” I will add all of the Great Faces and Great Places of South Dakota to that list as OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Let’s all encourage residents and visitors to take reasonable precautions to prevent transmission of any viruses. Encourage those most at risk — those who are frail, elderly, chronically ill — to take stronger measures to avoid infection. Urge facts over fear. The South Dakota tourism industry is one of the sectors in our state most at risk from fear and misinformation related to COVID-19. Mass cancellations threaten the livelihoods of thousands of tourism businesses and workers as well as business earnings and tax receipts.

  1. MMGY, one of the South Dakota Department of Tourism’s marketing agencies, believes – for now – that impacts on travel will worsen in the short-term (into summer) before they improve. They also expect a quick spike in travel demand once fears of the virus recede. Booking cycles will likely condense dramatically for summer, as travelers will wait to make final decisions based on the virus’s spread. This could present an opportunity. With flooding throughout the spring and into summer last year, we saw similar impacts to travel plans for many of our key markets across the Midwest. This caused us to shift strategy with a late marketing push that ultimately led to a strong finish for summer, a momentous Labor Day, and a busy shoulder season.
  2. The South Dakota Department of Tourism will monitor these trends very closely and adjust marketing strategy accordingly. As we know, South Dakota is particularly well-positioned to capture those visitors looking to take an epic road trip.
  3. Smart travelers will be on the alert for outstanding travel bargains. Keep this in mind as we begin to see travel rebound.
  1. South Dakota Department of Health coronavirus updates:
  2. CDC Overall summary of COVID-19
  3. Communication Resources for Travelers
  4. FAQ for travelers
  5. Good information for communities
  6. CDC COVID-19 website:

We will provide more updates as warranted. Although we will continue to be realistic and candid about the challenges stemming from the coronavirus, I want to encourage all of you that things will get better. The tourism industry in South Dakota has proven time and again that in the face of adversity, we are strong and able to rise to the occasion and make the best of whatever is thrown at us. Roger Dow wrote in an email message to the travel industry last night, “One thing we know for certain: travel is an extraordinarily resilient industry with a history of rebounding following significant public health challenges. There’s no question we’ll do it again.”

Please don't hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. I can be reached at [email protected] or 605-773-3301.

All our best,
Jim and Team

Jim Hagen
Secretary of Tourism

Department of Tourism COVID-19 Resource Page
State of South Dakota COVID-19 website