George S. Mickelson served as South Dakota's 28th governor (1987-1993). On April 19, 1993, he and seven others died in a plane crash while returning from an economic development mission for the state. Under his tenure, Mickelson created the Department of Tourism, launched the “Great Faces, Great Places” promotion campaign, and initiated the conversion of an old Black Hills railroad into the bicycle trail that now bears his name, the George S. Mickelson Trail. He also implemented the state lottery and Deadwood gaming.
In 1992, the Department of Tourism initiated the award that bears his name: the George S. Mickelson Award (formerly the George S. Mickelson Great Service Award). The award honors businesses, communities, or organizations that have done an exemplary job of exceeding visitors’ expectations in customer service. It marks the culmination of a yearlong hospitality program that involves hospitality training, customer comments, participation in the South Dakota Great Place Program, customer experience enhancements and involvement in the local tourism industry.
To be eligible for the award, entities must have met and exceeded the qualifications for the South Dakota Great Place designation. Entities are eligible for the George S. Mickelson Award each year, provided they requalify for the South Dakota Great Place designation each year.