South Dakota’s tourism industry takes big hit amid pandemic
SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — Events that usually boost revenue and bring people together in South Dakota’s communities have been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
About 50 community events have been cancelled and not rescheduled, according to the state Department of Tourism. At least 15 events have been cancelled in the western region, 14 in the southeast, nine in the northeast, and six in central South Dakota. Other events, including fairs and festivals, have been postponed for later in the year, Black Hills Pioneer reported Saturday.
A total of 14.5 million people visited the state in 2019, spending $4.1 billion and generating $308 million in state and local taxes and supporting more than 55,000 jobs, according to state figures.
Jim Hagen, the department’s tourism secretary, said industry revenue in South Dakota is estimated to be down by about 70% so far this year, including hotel occupancy rates of only 15-30%.
Ali Tronsfeldt, manager of Fort Sisseton State Park, decided to cancel the park’s Historical Festival scheduled for June 6.
“It just broke my heart,” Tronsfeldt said. “ I know people have come for 40-some years, they bring their kids or grandkids and it’s a family tradition for thousands of people.”
Hagen noted that event cancellations can be emotionally draining for individuals and communities.
“These are events that people plan their whole summers around, they become a reunion for families, and there’s only so much you can do virtually to make up for that,” Hagen added.
Hagen said the state has partnered up with Sturgis officials to gather data and medical information to determine whether the Sturgis motorcycle rally, which is South Dakota’s largest event each year, will be cancelled. It is planned for Aug. 7-16.
About 490,000 people attended the 10-day event in 2019. The event brought in an estimated $720 million.
An announcement for the event will be made on or around June 16, Hagen added.
The state encourages event organizers and the tourism industry to keep gatherings small and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for social distancing, Hagen noted.
“If we don’t provide a safe environment when they get here, we won’t have any tourism,” Hagen said. “Our industry is taking this very, very seriously and putting in place those protocols.”