New state grant program aims to lure last-minute summer tourists

May 11, 2023

RAPID CITY — Gov. Kristi Noem announced the creation of a $200,000 grant program for tourism businesses Wednesday at Reptile Gardens in the Black Hills.

Noem cited industry data indicating 91% of this summer’s travelers already have their trips planned. She wants the grant money to help South Dakota businesses target the remaining 9% of travelers.

“We want to make sure those that have a change in plans or haven’t decided yet, that they decide to come and visit us,” Noem said.

The Tourism Advertising Promotion program will join other tourism promotion efforts already included in the state Department of Tourism budget, which legislators recently set at $32 million for the 2024 fiscal year. The department does not receive money from the state’s general fund. Instead, its funding sources include a federal arts grant, a state tourism promotion tax and Deadwood gambling taxes.

Department Secretary Jim Hagen said he hopes to have the new program ready for applications by early July.

Seth Tupper with South Dakota Searchlight reports the department wants to pad the marketing budgets of tour operators, tourist attractions, festivals, fairs, and convention and visitor bureaus, along with other related businesses and entities. Hagen said most grants will range from $500 to $10,000.

“Whatever they happen to be marketing, this is a supplemental grant that will hopefully allow them to do a little extra,” he said.

The state’s tourism industry drew more than 14 million visitors in 2022 who spent more than $4 billion and supported more than 50,000 jobs, according to estimates from a data firm hired by the state. This week, the industry is observing National Travel and Tourism Week.