Tourism secretary updates statewide COVID-19 impacts

May 6, 2020

South Dakota tourism has seen a dramatic drop because of COVID-19 – along with the rest of the industry nationwide.

Secretary Jim Hagen said that since March 14, the state has experienced massive declines in travel spending – almost 90 percent as of last week.

Hotel occupancy is either in the single digits or less than 20 percent.

“The impacts have just been incredible,” Hagen said.

This week marks the annual National Travel and Tourism Week. It comes at a time when the industry nationwide shed 8 million jobs as of May 1, with economic impacts nine times greater than after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hagen said.

“It’s almost hard to get your mind around all of that, and it’s been devastating.”

Hagen urged hotels and visitor attractions to implement guidelines to keep visitors as safe as possible when they do return.

We spoke with him about what places are attracting visitors, what’s happening in the Black Hills and Deadwood, and what consumers are saying about their eventual travel preferences.

Regionally, the Southeast South Dakota Tourism Association is using the week to reintroduce the region to visitors who may have been preoccupied by other recent events or issues.

Its new mini-campaign, “Don’t Dream It, Win It,” includes a kayak giveaway. The contest is open for registration through June 22.

“Outdoor recreation is a major draw here, and a majority of travelers to South Dakota come through the southeast,” executive director Gary Keller said. “So we are giving away our brand-new SSDTA-logoed kayak to a winner 21 years of age or older who plans to visit southeast South Dakota between June 29 and Dec. 8, 2020. And as a special bonus, we will deliver it to them when they arrive.”

The only catch is the winner must take delivery in one of the 14 counties the organization represents.

Long term, South Dakota should be positioned well to take advantage of tourism once the industry starts to rebound, Hagen said.

“Gas prices are going to be good,” he said, adding visitors are saying in surveys they will look to regional trips and feel safest traveling by car or RV.

“That sets up our state so well because we’ve always, always been the ultimate road-trip destination.”


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Tourism secretary updates statewide COVID-19 impacts

South Dakota tourism has seen a dramatic drop because of COVID-19, although with the rest of the industry nationwide.

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