May 3, 2019
In some states, visitors are rushed, tourists are looked down upon, and out-of-staters are simply ignored. In South Dakota, we do things differently. We pride ourselves on making new friends, and it shows. I often hear how amazed travelers are at the kindness they feel while visiting our state, a place where a handshake and a smile are second nature.
Each May, we designate a week to celebrate the important role tourism plays in South Dakota. The theme of this year’s Travel and Tourism Week is “Travel Matters.” Its name speaks for itself, and its message is one I’ve believed for a long time. As many of you know, for years, my family and I ran a hunting lodge and a restaurant. I have so many good memories of leading hunts, eating breakfast with guests, and showing folks the joy of the outdoors.
Today as governor, I don’t have the chance to lead hunts as often as I once did (or as often as I would like!), but I do get to celebrate tourism with people across the globe. It’s amazing to see the excitement of folks as they realize the opportunities and adventures that await them in South Dakota.
Tourism is a foundational part of our state’s culture, and it’s also the second largest driver for our economy. In 2018, our tourism industry supported 54,723 jobs. If you do the math, that means about one in every 10 South Dakotans is employed by the tourism industry. These are real jobs that make it possible for people to feed their families, buy their kids basketball shoes, or tuck away money for a new home. In recent years, these jobs have seen even heavier traffic – a good sign for business. In 2018, 14.1 million tourists came to check out our state and contributed $2.66 billion to our economy, an increase of 2.5 percent from the previous year.
While the first iconic places and events people might think of are Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse, or the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, it’s not just the Black Hills that attract visitors and benefit our economy. Across the state—from Lemmon to Aberdeen and Mitchell to Sioux Falls—visitors continue to make memories at area fairs, local attractions, and delicious restaurants. They all make for an amazing South Dakota visit. That’s why we’ve enjoyed an increase in tourism interest and revenue for many years.
I hope you understand that these aren’t just numbers. As one of only a few states with no state income tax, tourism is a large contributor to keeping taxes low and maintaining self-sufficiency. Last year, tourism activity generated $298 million in state and local taxes, accounting for 11 percent of our sales tax collections. Maybe most impressively, each household in South Dakota would pay $865 more in taxes were it not for the contributions of tourism.
These figures point to one thing: travel matters in South Dakota.
With the summer months almost here, I hope you’ll take some time to recognize the importance of tourism. Plan an in-state vacation, go visit one of your favorite South Dakota spots, or just hop in the car and go exploring. There’s always something new to discover in South Dakota, and you can always count on a handshake and a smile to be waiting when you arrive.