SD Gov. Kristi Noem announces $200,000 tourism grant during industry week

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May 11—RAPID CITY, S.D. — The South Dakota Department of Tourism is set to divvy up a $200,000 advertising fund later this summer, an effort to beef up the marketing budgets of tourist attractions and travel-related businesses around the state.

The announcement from Gov. Kristi Noem at Reptile Gardens near Rapid City on May 10 comes during the 40th annual

National Travel and Tourism Week,

which times well as a kickoff for the summer tourism season.

"This grant program is going to be incredibly impactful to those in different regions, making sure that people are fully aware of all the attractions and sites they can visit while they're in South Dakota," Noem said during her remarks. "Our goal is to keep people in South Dakota longer and to get them to spend more money."

According to state data, the 2022 tourism season left an estimated economic footprint of

$7.6 billion

on the state. The industry supports more than 5,500 jobs in South Dakota.

The $200,000 fund will be disbursed in chunks ranging from $500 to $10,000; eligible entities include tourism-related businesses, festivals, attractions, fairs and local visitor bureaus.

Funding for the Tourism Advertising Promotion supplemental grant comes from the department's tourism promotional dollars. Tourism and gambling taxes, as well as some federal grants, make up the $34 million budget for tourism this coming fiscal year.

Each year, the department spends almost $10 million on paid media advertising, part of which funds an existing grant program that matches local advertising dollars.

During the legislative session, $900,000 in tourism dollars that had been earmarked for other areas of state government were returned to the tourism department by lawmakers, part of which the department is using for this additional grant program.

Department of Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen told Forum News Service that the grants would not require matching funds from the recipient, a decision that he says is focused on helping smaller travel businesses and rural areas.

"Oftentimes $500 or $1,000 can be a fortune to them to help promote an event," he said. "More than likely, they'll have their own marketing money that they're using to promote their event, but if we can supplement that with a grant, we're excited about that."

The program still has to work out some of its specific parameters, with the first grants scheduled to roll out sometime in July, according to Hagen.

While that may be rather late in the high season, Noem at her Rapid City press conference noted that the increased advertising potential is about attracting the small portion of travelers who have not yet set their summer plans.

"Out of the gate, we'll just see how things work the first year and what kind of applications we're getting," Hagen said. "We're really going to encourage all entities, regardless of their size, to make sure that they're sending in an application if they have an interest."

For Hagen, the 2023 season is an opportunity to improve on the strong visitation numbers the state posted throughout the pandemic. The state set a record with 14.5 million visitors in pre-pandemic 2019 and fell just short with 14.4 million visitors last year.

"I would say that the pent-up demand that we were seeing during the height of the pandemic is still there," Hagen said, pointing to industry data indicating that around 90% of Americans plan to travel in the next six months. "People are still excited about going out and traveling."

Jason Harward is a

Report for America

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