Sturgis rally begins as high prices curb summer tourism in South Dakota – Mitchell Republic

SIOUX FALLS, SD — With the 2022 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally underway, South Dakota tourism officials hope higher travel costs won’t keep too many bikers from making the trip to the Black Hills.

“I don’t have a very good idea of ​​what the numbers for Sturgis might be this year,” Secretary of State for Tourism Jim Hagen told Forum News Service. “I spoke to a number of partners when I was in the Black Hills last week, and I think everyone was wondering how the rally will go this year.”

Last year the rally attracted 550,000 participants.

Visitor numbers to the state’s top attractions and responses to recent consumer surveys indicate that high costs are affecting summer travel, causing the state’s tourism industry to underperform slightly compared to to last year, which set records for total number of visitors and expenditures.

“I think back to February and early March, we were preparing for the peak season and were pretty optimistic, and then when gas prices started to rise quite quickly and inflation started to shoot up, we saw more and more that consumers, we’re saying in the polls, they were going to opt out of longer trips,” Hagen said. “That being said, your numbers are pretty solid. , things are close to where they were last year.

Tourism is an important part of the state’s economy; according to the Department of Tourism’s Economic Impact Report, the industry accounted for 5% of state GDP and nearly 9% of state employment.

So far this year, tourism levels have remained in line with 2021 figures at the end of May, but the peak tourist season has started to show the effects of stretched wallets. In May, the total number of visitors fell by almost 10% compared to the same month last year, according to official figures from the Ministry of Tourism. Although total spending in May increased by 6%, this figure does not take into account inflation of around 9%.

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While Hagen said numbers at Mount Rushmore were up about 10%, May figures from the Tourism Database show visits to the site were down 7% from May of the last year. The park, which takes media inquiries through the National Park Service, did not respond to a request for comment.

While their experiences and scale vary, most of the state’s tourist destinations contacted by Forum News Service reported a drop in summer traffic compared to last year.

Badlands National Park reported a 20% drop in traffic in June, according to Aaron Kaye, the park’s chief interpretive officer. At Mitchell’s Corn Palace, visitor numbers were down by at least 20% by mid-July, Corn Palace manager Doug Greenway told the Mitchell Republic.


Raf Luna nails straw bales on the Corn Palace on Thursday July 21, 2022.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

Wall Drug President Rick Hustead said West River tourist stop sales fell 14%, though he pointed to a variety of factors that made 2021 unique.

“People had been locked down with COVID,” Hustead said. “Boy, they were ready to go somewhere, and maybe they didn’t feel like flying, so this was the perfect storm for us as a roadside attraction.”

At Wind Cave National Park near Custer, chief interpreter Tom Farrell said visitation was up 4% from last year. However, the park was plagued with understaffing in 2021 and often had to turn people away; this year the park is adequately staffed but “rarely” full, he said.

599806+Velvet Elk (Wind Cave National Park).jpg

Velvet Elk in Wind Cave National Park.

Contribution / National Park Service

Across the state, Siouxland Heritage Museums Director Bill Hoskins said the total number of visitors to the Pettigrew House and Museum and the Old Sioux Courthouse Museum Falls had risen nearly 40% so far this year; however, in June and July, traffic is down 10% compared to those months of last year.

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Still, Hagen and others involved in the tourism industry told Forum News Service that comparisons to 2020 or 2021 may become skewed, as the federal stimulus and a drop in international travel were some of the tourism explanations. record high in 2021, while widespread closures made 2020 numbers artificially low. According to travel figures released by the US Travel Association, spending in South Dakota through the end of June had jumped 6.5% from 2019, the sixth highest in the country.

And, while that same report showed that 43% of Americans say rising gas prices will have a big impact on their decision to travel in the coming months, falling gas prices over the July could keep key tourism drivers such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and Labor Day Weekend from underperforming.

“I am encouraged that gas prices are coming down and they have been for four weeks,” Hagen said. “And so we’ve gathered a bit of chatter about some of our target markets from families who may have canceled vacations thinking maybe they should reconsider now.”

Jason Harvard is a

Report for America

Corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at



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