State celebrates record tourism season

South Dakota State Roundup

Published January 1, 1992  | January 1992 issue

Mount Rushmore's 50th anniversary and national publicity generated by the movie "Dances With Wolves" brought flocks of tourists to South Dakota this year.

Attendance is up at tourist attractions statewide, as are occupancy rates at hotels and motels and at campsites. People in the tourist industry are calling it a record visitation year.

"This is the one we've been waiting for," says Bill Honerkamp, executive director of the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association in Rapid City. "Everything went our way. We can unequivocally call it a record year."

"We were just plain lucky this year," Honerkamp says. "The Gulf War ended, gas prices stayed low and there was no local crisis (like a fire or flood) to keep tourists away."

Department of Tourism figures after September showed attendance at Mount Rushmore up 24 percent and Badlands National Park up 15.8 percent over last year.

Reports of a strong year are coming from all parts of the state, says Kristin Brost, public relations director for South Dakota's Department of Tourism.

Attendance at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre was up 21 percent over last year; the Corn Palace in Mitchell had 13 percent more visitors this year than last.

Spearfish Canyon near Spearfish, the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs and the "Dances With Wolves" movie site near Rapid City were also successful tourist attractions this year, Brost says.

The home video release of "Dances With Wolves" should keep publicity going and keep visitors coming, Brost says. The movie site tours have received high praise, and more than 300 tours have been given to date. Tourists have already reserved appointments for next year.

Campsites statewide reported 5.5 percent more business than last year, while hotels reported an increase of 4.4 percent, according to Department of Tourism figures. The 1991 increase translates into an additional 116,000 overnight room rentals and 56,000 more overnight campers in South Dakota. Occupancy surveys are conducted May through September for hotel/motels and June through August for campgrounds.

More travelers are pulling into state information centers from South Dakota highways to find out what their options are. Thirty-one percent more visitors pulled into the 11 information centers, according to Department of Tourism figures.

In 1990 alone tourists put about $11 million in the state sales tax fund and another $11 million into the state gas tax fund. That's an additional $22 million state residents can spend on education and roads, Brost says.

Barbara Birr