Pandemic resiliency pays off for SD tourism

South Dakota Department of Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen was the keynote speaker at the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce Annual Elections Meeting and Luncheon Tuesday.

Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

Click to purchase this photo

DEADWOOD — Confidence in safe travel is up. Pent-up demand is high. Americans are planning trips and open to inspiration. South Dakota is top of mind nationally.

So said South Dakota Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen Tuesday in his address to attendees at the annual Deadwood Chamber of Commerce luncheon, pointing to resiliency as the key to slight declines in South Dakota during the pandemic year, versus double digit downs experienced in much of the rest of the country.

“Travelers will be looking for fun, memorable, and relaxing vacations this year,” he said. “Concerns about crowding have diminished significantly over the course of the pandemic. Travelers are generally bullish about summer travel, yet interest in discounts and deals is high. Younger, urban, more frequent travelers may be entering the summer travel planning season expecting low prices.”

Hagen thanked many Deadwood city and chamber officials for their part in pulling together during the pandemic and rallying to keep losses to a minimum.

“I want to thank everyone in this room for everything Historic Deadwood did during this pandemic,” said Hagen. “I want to thank this community. You were the very first tourism community to put hygiene and health protocols in place for our visitors. Long before any other city was able to do that, you guys figured it out. Safety was top of mind for those visitors.”

Hagen then went on to talk about the March gaming numbers, a $139 million handle, up 102% over March 2020.

“I was on a plane last week when the gaming numbers came in for March,” he said. “I had to double take … I’m like, ‘These can’t be right.’”

An email back to Hagen’s budget officer confirmed the stellar numbers.

“For the first time in the history of the department, the gaming revenue from Deadwood provided more than $400,000 in the month of March to tourism,” Hagen said. “We had never even eclipsed the $300,000 mark in our history. It’s a 150% increase over last year, a 64% increase in revenue from 2019, which was a great year for us. So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of you for what you’re doing here and for helping our marketing budget tell the South Dakota story. We couldn’t do it without you.”

In recapping 2020, Hagen said resiliency was the name of the game.

“We welcomed 12.6 million visitors,” he said. “They spent $3.4 billion.”

State parks welcomed more than 8 million visitors, a 31% increase compared to 2020.

“I can report that numbers are up 26% over 2020, so we’re going to have another phenomenal year,” Hagen said.

Overall, South Dakota visitorship was down only 3.5% in 2020 compared to 2019.

In regard to hotels versus shared rentals, Hagen said research showed that in 2020 at this time of year, nearly 70% of Americans said they’d feel safest at a shared rental.

“A year later, now, we’re seeing just the opposite,” he said. “We see about 70% of consumers saying, ‘Nope, let’s stay in a hotel.”

In regard to the state’s marketing message for 2020, Hagen said state tourism officials wanted visitors to come at their own comfort level.

“When the time is right for you, Great Places are waiting,” he said.

Hagen said tourism revenue is down just 3.5% calendar year to date, as of numbers provided to him Tuesday morning.

Marketing Manager Mike Gussias of the Department of Tourism shared marketing statistics and strategies just before Hagen closed the presentation.

Gussias said the state is up 41% for bookings in July, while August remains soft.

“Really exciting going into the season,” he said. “People really wanting to get out to South Dakota.”

Hagen said that even though leisure travel is resuming, people still want to see health and hygiene protocols in place.

“So keep that in mind. They’re going to want to see hand sanitizer out,” he said. “They may want to see signage out that assures them that you’re keeping them and their families safe. So don’t roll back those protocols too quickly.”

In other business, Chamber President Louie Lalonde presented a Main Street Initiative update, while Deadwood Lead Economic Development Executive Director Kevin Wagner presented challenges associated with the current state of the housing market.

Board members elected were Louie Lalonde, Tom Koth, Carolyn Weber, and Kip Mau.

To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.


Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.