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Tourism Up, South Dakota Reputation Down

It’ll take more than one New York Times report about an ill-timed trip to Mount Rushmore (whose 3,500 words aren’t as negative as some headline readers might conclude) to dampen tourism in South Dakota. Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen says South Dakota may enjoy another record year for tourism:

SD Tourism Sec. Jim Hagen
SD Tourism Sec. Jim Hagen

For two years running, South Dakota has amassed record tourism numbers. The state Department of Tourism is optimistic about turning the hat trick in 2017.

Those record numbers in 2016 add up to $3.8 billion dollars spent by 13.9 million visitors. Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen sees that national trends are setting up for another possible chart-topper.

“I expect that all the indicators that we’re seeing for 2017 whether it’s coming from the U.S. Travel Association and their economists is that leisure travel is going to be very strong. For the first time in a long time we’re actually seeing families consider taking three vacations. Business travel seems to be picking up a bit. I’m feeling pretty good about 2017” [Dan Peters, “South Dakota Still Must See for Travelers,” KSOO Radio, 2017.03.24].

Hmm… with two years of record tourism numbers and the state’s tourism chief thumbs-upping a third, tourism operators shouldn’t have any problem offering the competitive wages they need to draw seasonal workers, should they?

Maybe Hagen sees people coming to visit, but will we see people coming to stay? The low respect our Legislature expresses for minorities with laws like this year’s Senate Bill 149 allowing religious discrimination in adoption may drive some people away:

As an entrepreneur in the technology sector, my success is based on my ability to connect with top tier talent as partners, staff and customers. It would be highly damaging to my business’ brand if I were to associate it with a state that legalizes discrimination. In other words, ironically, this legislation is extremely business unfriendly.

I see in your brochure that major financial services companies have set up shop in your state. I find it hard to believe that their senior executives want their businesses to be associated with this kind of legislation or that they would condone state-facilitated discrimination against their employees or customers. I am copying the CEO’s of each of them on this letter to see if they wish to reply to that question [Randy Horton, letter to the editor, that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.03.23].

Todd Epp sees low wages and low respect for minorities working together to hold South Dakota back from the 21st-century economy:

So South Dakotans, decide what you want. Crappy jobs that don’t pay but the feeling that you’re superior to other people who don’t live their lives quite the same way that you do? Or join the arc of history that bends toward justice—and that might just get you a better paying job.

The choice is yours, South Dakota. The 19th Century ended 118 years ago. Society has moved on. Maybe it’s time for South Dakota to do the same [Todd Epp, “South Dakota’s Choice: 21st Century Jobs or 19th Century Discrimination,” KELO Radio: The Token Liberal, 2017.03.24].

As that New York Times travel writer saw, South Dakota is an imperfect land filled with wonders. If we want people to come see those wonders and stick around to build some more, we need to work on our imperfections. We need to adopt wages and attitudes better suited to the 21st century.



  1. mike from iowa 2017-03-28

    Sounds like some savvy persons just blistered South Dakota’s racist hide with burning verbiage. Really good show, gentlemen.

  2. Rorschach 2017-03-28

    If we had two record years for tourism, why are our sales tax numbers down so much?

    I was at the 2016 Sturgis Rally, and there were far fewer people than I am used to seeing there. While there may be more people optimistic about the economy and willing to travel this year, South Dakota is facing headwinds because of our discriminatory adoption law and because of the Trump administration sending messages that we don’t want foreigners here. The Canadians won’t come, and that’s a big deal for SD. People from all over the world who might otherwise travel to the US won’t this year because of uncertainty about being turned away at the airport and generally negative worldwide opinion of the Trump administration. This will negatively affect the Sturgis rally.

    My prediction: The number of Americans visiting Canada this year will be way up. I’m vacationing in Canada this year.

  3. Don Coyote 2017-03-28

    @Rorschah: “If we had two record years for tourism, why are our sales tax numbers down so much?”

    Because local spending and it’s tax revenue drop is outstripping any gains coming from tourism.

    “The Canadians won’t come, and that’s a big deal for SD. People from all over the world who might otherwise travel to the US won’t this year because of uncertainty about being turned away at the airport and generally negative worldwide opinion of the Trump administration.”

    A bigger factor is the strong dollar. The Canadian Dollar is worth only 75¢ right now against the USD. Pound, Euro, Yen and Yaun are down too.

  4. Rorschach 2017-03-28

    @ cayoete: If the Canadian dollar, the pound, the euro, the yen and Yuan are weak compared to the US dollar, then that factor coincides with foreigners from everywhere not wanting to have anything to do with a US run by crazy uncle Donald. A combination of factors will devastate foreign tourism to the US in 2017, and Republicans will rationalize the sharp downturn by ignoring the impact of President Trump’s policies and blaming it on other things – like you are doing.

  5. jerry 2017-03-28

    Mr. Rorschach, did you get the non answer from Don Coyote? Old Spicer, trumps chump had better look out as this one is pretty good “Because local spending and it’s tax revenue drop is outstripping any gains coming from tourism” In other words, the money spent in tourism is not taxed or something… Try again Mr. Coyote, do try again.

    The Euro currently is worth $.08 more to the dollar. What may turn people off to coming to South Dakota is the higher air costs. Example, you can fly in and out of Denver for about $500.00 each traveler that is quite a difference than flying in and out of Rapid City as an example. 500 bucks a head is a big deal to those who are traveling. Plus, Colorado offers much more in entertainment to go along with the beautiful sights. They like, Canada are pretty open to marijuana as it is legal in the state and will be legal nationwide in Canada next year. So there is that also. Colorado and Canada look pretty good. Canada has national healthcare as well, so if you get sick there, you just get sick and then you get over it. Here, much different.

  6. Donald Pay 2017-03-28

    The real problem is that young people don’t want to hang around past their college education to gather up the few pennies the tourist industry might toss their way. I can’t imagine what Daugaard is thinking when he signs discrimination into law while he invites in boreholes and pipelines. It’s almost as if he wants as folks to leave so that the entire state would be available for dumping radioactive waste and endless oil spills. No need to worry about citizen activism when he’s shooed all the people away.

    The NY features writer got a taste of SD rocks in winter. He mildly dissed Mt. Rushmore, but he did like the places I like: the Badlands, Custer State Park and the Hills environment in general. But, yeah, unless you like wind and loneliness or skiing/cross country skiing, winter is not a great time in the Hills. That time of year it might have been better to visit Pierre, where the real rocks-for-brains folks hole up to contemplate the fine points of discrimination against gays.

  7. Robert McTaggart 2017-03-28

    We are already distributing more natural radioactivity through current practices than any nuclear waste facility would be permitted to. So if the former is not dangerous, then why is the latter?

    Any real facility must at least keep track of all of its material and show it is isolated from the biosphere. I note that WIPP had a release and they shut the whole thing down for a couple of years.

    Pipelines will continue for both natural gas and oil in the United States until you (a.) build the necessary power infrastructure to generate and deliver all of the electricity to power transportation and heating, and (b.) provide that energy more cheaply than fossil fuels and pipelines can.

    The nuclear industry supports diversity. Different backgrounds help staff to see problems and issues differently and prevent problems before they occur.

  8. mike from iowa 2017-03-28

    Canadians are coming, Moldy Coyote. They are bringing pipeline hell with them – again.

  9. Roger Cornelius 2017-03-28

    Gov. Daugaard and his Tourism Secretary don’t seem to be on the same page, while Peters doesn’t mention either the Canadian or San Francisco travel bans, Gov. Daugaard is “concerned” about the San Francisco travel ban as posted in a AP story on the Rapid City Journal homepage.
    Daugaard thinks people are overreacting to the new discrimination law and says the state can’t discriminate because they use mostly federal money.
    It is puzzling that if South Dakota can’t discriminate with their adoption laws why would this new law have to exist?
    If Daugaard and Peters think that this is a small irrelevant matter they had better think twice. Other cities, states, and organizations are or will be calling for a boycott as well.
    North Carolina has lost billions of dollars in business and tourist dollars since their anti-LGBT legislation, it has had a huge impact on the state’s economy. Why can’t South Dakota learn from that?

  10. Roger Cornelius 2017-03-28

    Today president numb nuts used an executive order to roll back all of President Obama climate change orders.

  11. Robert McTaggart 2017-03-28

    Remember that in theory, they also believe in the free market. And nobody wants to build the same old coal plant next to them regardless of what is in the executive order.

    It is more likely that more coal is used for steel production in infrastructure.

  12. grudznick 2017-03-28

    Mr. Pay, now just you knock it off. You know darned well that The Borehole is not for nuclear waste yet you keep parroting the same falsehoods in hope, like the IM #22 backers, that if you squawk it enough people will believe you. Shame. Shame, sir!

    The story about Mount Rushmore was interesting. Those people picked an odd time to visit. If they don’t like empty places I would suggest they take their next trip to that Mall or maybe to Des Moines or Omaha.

  13. Rorschach 2017-03-28

    In college I once went to Mt. Rushmore for spring break with some out-of-state guys who had never been there. Before there was a parking garage we walked up from the parking lot and had the whole viewing deck to ourselves except for a Japanese couple. We drove the road with the pigtail bridges and were lucky to make it through as the snow snuck up on us. We gambled and drank in deadwood, and drank some more in Rapid City. We checked out the Black Hills Institute for Geological Research in Hill City, the Wounded Knee memorial – where a person was living in a tumble-down shack with no running water and probably no electricity but a wood stove (true poverty), and drove through Badlands National Park and took pictures during what felt like 50 mph sustained winds. And Wall Drug. Some of the things we saw surprised us, and we all returned to college with just a little bit more knowledge.

  14. grudznick 2017-03-28

    Hell of a road tripping, Mr. Rorschach. Before the Xantera parking garage, but after Deadwood gambling. You hit the little outfit there that Kevin Schiefer slapped upside the head. The snow snuck up on you over a 20 minute drive, and you were there the day the wind blew 50 mph in the mako sica but got back to your dorm in time to drink beer at the Hall Inn.

  15. Curt 2017-03-29

    Grudz – Beg your pardon, but what did that comment add to the discussion? No more than mine, perhaps.

  16. Rorschach 2017-03-29

    Were you there Grudz?

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