PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota had a record number of visitors in 2009, according to a Global Insight study released Thursday evening at the 2010 annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Pierre.
South Dakota bucked national tourism trends with a 1.2 percent increase in visitor numbers last year. While South Dakota saw an increase in 2009, travel experts indicate the nation had a more than 7 percent drop in tourism.
“South Dakota’s visitor industry should be very proud,” said Gov. Mike Rounds. “While most states are seeing visitor numbers decline, we’ve positioned ourselves as an affordable, yet premier travel destination.”
South Dakota was able to use the national recession as a window of opportunity to secure a larger market share, the Governor said.
“In the face of the economic downturn, the state’s decision to invest in tourism marketing paid off,” Gov. Rounds continued. “South Dakota’s tourism industry is helping stabilize our state’s economy.”
While the recession has weakened sales tax revenues and other state tax collections, things would have been much worse for the state without a good year for tourism, the Governor added.
The Global Insight study indicates South Dakota snagged 6.4 percent more of the nation’s visitors than it did in 2008.
“South Dakota’s ability to increase its market share in a down market is critical,” said Richard Benda, secretary of the Department of Tourism and State Development. “The more visitors we have, the more people we have spreading the South Dakota message. Visitation begets visitation."
Despite seeing more visitors than ever before and receiving a larger percentage of the nation’s travelers, South Dakota did see a minimal decline in visitor spending. A report by Dr. Michael Madden, also released Thursday, shows visitors spent $962.7 million last year in South Dakota, 0.4 percent less than in 2009.
Although visitor spending was down, South Dakota is holding strong in comparison to the rest of the nation. National forecasts indicate total U.S. tourism spending fell by nearly 14 percent last year.
Among additional highlights in the 2009 South Dakota tourism industry:
Custer State Park set a visitation record of 1.8 million visitors last year
Mount Rushmore National Memorial visitation was up 26 percent from 2008
Badlands National Park had 10.4 percent more visitors than 2008
Lewis & Clark Recreation Area set an all-time record in July by hosting more than 10,000 camping units during the month
Camping in South Dakota state parks increased 7 percent from 2008
Mitchell Corn Palace visitation climbed 11.2 percent in 2009
The Ingalls Homestead near De Smet had a 13.5 percent improvement in attendance from 2008