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.
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