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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tourism: When Economy's Tough, Play to the Locals

I'm looking at the numbers for the Sturgis Rally and the State Fair and wondering if I can come with a moral for our summer tourism story. Sturgis saw an 18% drop in rally attendance this year. Of course, that also meant less garbage, fewer parking tickets, and fewer emergency room visits, although our man Perry Groten notes more folks still managed to get themselves arrested for drugs and non-traffic violations. I guess the folks with the irrational inclination to break the law are also more likely to have the irrational inclination to drive across the country to Sturgis on $4/gallon gasoline.

Meanwhile, the State Fair continues to prove it may not need that $750K state subsidy. In the midst of economic turmoil, the State Fair saw 4% more people come through the gates in Huron. Everything was up, really: exhibitors (5%), camping revenue (6%), carnival sales (9%), vendor revenue (11%), FFA entries (14%), livestock exhibits (23%), and grandstand revenues (53%).

I would like to think these numbers prove that we put our economy on a more stable footing when we focus on our own people and resources. When we rely on tourists from other states for our economic viability (as is the case with the Sturgis business model), we run the risk of down years when those folks won't want to make the long drive. Focus on giving folks here in South Dakota some easily accessible family entertainment, and you can turn a profit even when the economy turns sour.

But then I look again at the numbers: even down 18%, the Sturgis rally drew 415,000 visitors, plus a bunch of early vistors who drove Sturgis's July sales tax collections up 18%. The State Fair drew 157,000. The 6,000 or so extra visitors the State Fair drew are swamped by the 90-some thousand who stayed home from Sturgis.

Even if everyone in South Dakota goes staycationing, we still won't be able to make up for the tourism revenue we lose thanks to high energy prices and other economic factors. We may have to look for a better source of local revenue to replace tourism as our second-largest industry.


  1. With pheasant numbers at a 10 year high in Winner, Chamberlain, Pierre, Huron, and Mobridge, maybe those gun owning guys Obama hates so much will have an impact on total tourism dollars. 80,ooo resident and 90,000 non resident hunters dump about 100 million into the state economy. Perhaps the higher forcast in those areas will bring a few extra MILLION in and have an effect on tourism. It's almost hard to believe a blog on tourism and revenue didnt touch on one of the largest tourism revenue resources to this state. GUN OWNERS.

  2. Obama's not after your shotgun, Jeff. And if you need more firepower than that to hit a pheasant, you shouldn't be hunting.

  3. He made it clear when he supported the DC gun ban for years...until one week AFTER the Supreme Court overturned the ban. Then all of a sudden he flip flopped and went with the flow to make himself more appealing to gun owners. But his support for the DC ban showed he was in favor AGAINST private gun ownership of hand guns. The shotguns were ok as long as they were broken down into pieces as to slow the response time of defending yourself against a home invasion...

    Sorry, back on topic...Lets pray that some of those rich, bitter, gun toting, out of staters, bring a few extra mill with them this year. We sure could use it.

  4. Back on topic, indeed: The Joads grasped this as clearly as I do: you can't solve our economic problems by asking "Who [or what] do I shoot?" Guns have little to nothing to do with figuring out the economic gains and losses of the State Fair or Sturgis (well, that might not be quite the case in Sturgis...).

  5. As a spectacular demonstration of how Jeff's rabid partisan spin blinds him to the obvious point, you could make Ron Paul President, and South Dakota would still have to look for a new tourism business model to deal with the fact that fewer people are going to come here from out of state when gas is $4 a gallon. Guns are irrelevant to this discussion: it's about energy, the economy, and looking for ways to rely more on our own economic resources.


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