By Dana Hess, Community News Service
PIERRE — Thanks to the internet and technology, the South Dakota Department of Tourism knows much more about its customers. That was part of the message the House Commerce and Energy Committee heard on Friday from Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen.
“We know our visitors better than we ever have in our history,” Hagen said.
Thanks to an increased ability to track information online, Hagen said the department can know if someone likes the outdoors, the arts or music.
“We can take our marketing and target it appropriately,” Hagen said, characterizing that ability as “cool,” but adding, “It’s a little creepy, too.”
Primary targets for the department are young families, bucket listers and active couples.
According to Hagen, visitors spent $3.8 billion in 2016, generating $279 million in state and local taxes. He noted that most people in the state are surprised to learn that tourism generates 53,000 jobs, about 9.5 percent of all jobs in South Dakota.
A “halo effect” study of reaction from visitors and people who had seen advertisements from the department said that 47 percent came away from the experience believing that South Dakota was a good place to start a career.
The study also said 39 percent believed South Dakota was a good place to live and 13 percent thought it would be a good place to start a business.
“Tourism really is a front door to economic development,” Hagen said.
Challenges the department face include the poor ag economy, a decline in gaming revenues and poor hotel occupancy.
He’s also concerned about maintaining South Dakota tourism’s market share as surrounding states start to increase their marketing budgets.
“As they are putting more money into marketing, the last thing I want to do is lose market share,” Hagen said.