South Dakota breaks record for tourism spending

A September 2020 view of Mount Rushmore. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – South Dakota visitors spent a record $4.4 billion in 2021, according to a news release from the South Dakota Department of Tourism.

The spending was 30% higher than 2020, the department said, citing a Tourism Economics report. It amounts to $344 million in state and local tax revenue, state officials said, saving each South Dakota household $980 in taxes.

More than 13.5 million people visited South Dakota in 2021, which wiped out the “pandemic-induced decline in 2020 and [surpassed] the pre-pandemic high by more than six percent,” the report’s authors said.

Tourism accounts for 54,208 jobs in the state, about 8.7% of all jobs in South Dakota, according to the report.

“South Dakota’s tourism industry stayed open for business and open for visitors, working tirelessly to support millions of visitors who chose South Dakota as their vacation destination,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement. “Their record-breaking efforts have contributed to our state’s record revenues, jump-starting our state’s economy to make it the strongest in the nation.”

Visitors spent nearly $1 billion on food and beverages, accounting for 23% of all spending. Restaurant receipts were 30% higher than last year, according to the report.

The report’s authors said some of the spending increases could be because of federal stimulus money, but “the size of the strength is likely supported by visitor activity.”

The number of visitors to Custer State Park (CSP), the state’s largest, increased by 12% to 2.3 million in 2021. Noem is asking lawmakers to appropriate $10 million to create 175 more campgrounds at the park.

The South Dakota Campground Association is opposed to the expansion and said in a statement earlier this month it would hurt smaller campgrounds.

“Adding an additional 175 campsites at CSP is more than double the average size of some Custer area campgrounds in the private sector and is considerably greater than the average size of any South Dakota privately owned campground (based on SDCOA membership data),” the organization said. “Add to that, CSP’s fee structure makes it impossible for the private sector to compete.”

The bill is in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

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