Tourism week kicks off at Rushmore

Gray Hughes

On a chilly Monday morning with occasional flurries at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and South Dakota Sec. of Tourism Jim Hagen kicked off National Travel and Tourism Week.

The two addressed the past tourist season and what is to be expected for the 2021 tourism season — and by all metrics it’s looking to be a big year.

“We are so excited that it is National Travel and Tourism Week,” Noem said. “This is a week we look forward to every single year because it allows us to tell our story. The story of how tourism is the second largest industry in the state of South Dakota, it’s the bread and butter of the people who live here. “

Both Noem and Hagen stressed the importance of the tourism industry in South Dakota during their remarks.

Hagen said that the tourism industry is a job creating, revenue generating industry that has a huge impact not only nationwide but specifically on South Dakota.

2020 was a tough year for travel and tourism nationwide, Hagen said, but South Dakota “held strong.”

The state, Hagen said, did well — much better than anticipated — and broke every expectation for welcoming visitors.

“That just shows the power of travel, shows the power of freedom and giving people the responsibility to travel responsibly,” Hagen said. “We were so thrilled to welcome millions to the state last year.”

To conclude his remarks, Hagen thanked Noem for her leadership in the state for the travel and tourism industry. Hagen called her leadership “steadfast.”

Hagen said every time he needed something he could call Noem and she would say, “Jim, I am there for you.”

Noem said the state loves to welcome people to South Dakota and show visitors the wonderful people who live here, the great businesses visitors can enjoy, the beautiful landscapes and — as Noem put it — “our most famous monument that is right here behind me,” referencing Mount Rushmore.

During Noem’s remarks, she was interrupted by the sound of cement being poured as part of the ongoing construction project at the memorial. She took that opportunity to stress that is reflective of the work that is happening in South Dakota.

“People are not only visiting here, they are choosing to move here,” she said. “They are moving here and opening up businesses to welcome more people to the state of South Dakota. Thousands of families are moving, hundreds of businesses are coming.”

And the state is growing, she said, both from a tourism perspective as well as inviting people to live in South Dakota.

Noem said a total of 12.6 million people spent their vacations in South Dakota last year, helping a tourism industry that supports 15,000 jobs in the state of South Dakota.

While the nation was shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Noem said South Dakota made the decision to keep South Dakota open and welcomed people to the state.

Because of this decision, Noem said the state brought in $276 million worth of state and local taxes from tourists spending money in hotels, buying souvenirs and eating in the state’s restaurants, which, she said, saved the average family $780 in taxes.

And, already, the state’s tourism web traffic is up 55 percent over last year, Noem said, describing that as “incredible.”

“That means while people came here in droves — we set records last year — even more are going to be coming in 2021,” she said.

The state’s parks and monuments are setting attendance records, record numbers of hunting and fishing licenses are being sold and people are coming to enjoy the outdoors, Noem added. Game, Fish and Parks has seen a 26 percent increase this year in the amount of people who are booking visits in South Dakota’s state parks.

Noem said she wanted to thank Hagen for working with her to be creative and figure out ways to get through not just the pandemic and the challenges it brought but also create an opportunity to help the state grow and help families and businesses in the state be successful.

Realizing that there is a shortage of workers in the state right now, Noem said the state is launching a new initiative that is going to partner with businesses and the state Department of Labor and the state Department of Tourism to make sure people are being connected to jobs in the state.

“We’ll be working through our South Dakota Works website to connect individuals who have special skills and gifts and talents for working with people to the businesses who need the help so they can not just be here helping and serving people in the short-term but also in the long-term and consider staying here forever and raising their families with us,” Noem said.

Noem concluded her remarks by saying that it is “very clear” that in South Dakota, people love people.

When people travel in South Dakota, Noem said they are going to feel welcomed and appreciated. These people, she said, are going to recognize that the people who live in South Dakota are happy.

“And if they want to travel and spend their vacation with us that’s wonderful,” Noem said.” If they want to move here...we will welcome that, and it will be absolutely wonderful.”

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