Tourism officials take stock of 2018 season

Slow start to season didn't stop tourist momentum

RAPID CITY, S.D. – With the 2018 tourism season coming to a close in the Black Hills region, officials have begun taking financial stock of what is one of the most important parts of the regional economy.

Members of the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association gathered for their 79th annual meeting Wednesday at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel to discuss the 2018 tourism season. Photo Date: Oct. 31, 2018.

Members of the BH&B Tourism Assoc. talk numbers Wednesday.

For the 79th year, members of the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association gathered to discuss the financial results of the tourist business season. The meeting took place on Wednesday at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City.

2017 was a strong year for tourism in the Black Hills, and expectations were high for 2018.

“The tourism season for 2018 ended up being a pretty good year for us,” said Michelle Thomson, president and CEO of the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association (BH&B). “We started a little slow due to weather and once we hit September we ended up being up a little bit.

“We’re up about a half a percent through September, and with October weather being decent we could end up a little bit more from that,” Thomson continued.

That half of 1 percent increase was in the Black Hills Tourism Index, which measures the strength and weakness of various components of the tourist economy and combines them into a numerical score.

The Index indicated weakness in hotel occupancy. However, Jeff Oldham, the 2018 chairman of the BH&B, said that other numbers suggest that it’s not due to fewer visitors but changing trends in visitors’ lodging choices causing the weakness.

“Camping, or another term I’ve heard, glamping, has become very popular throughout the country as well as in the Black Hills and Badlands region,” Oldham said. “I think they’re competing with that aspect of our industry.”

Taxable sales were very strong in 2018, up nearly two percent over 2017, which has pleased many businesses.

“What I’ve heard from a lot of businesses is they’re either even from last year or up a little bit,” Oldham said. “I think that says a whole lot, again considering how strong our season was in 2017.”

The BH&B organization also experienced a strong year on their digital and social media platforms. The BH&B website registered 2.9 million views, and their Facebook page logged a record 500,000 likes.

With October’s tourism numbers expected to be strong, members of the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association are anticipating that economic growth momentum to carry into next year.

“So far 2019 is looking great,” Thomson said. “Our marketing indicators are looking good and we’ll continue to watch those. but so far everything’s looking great for 2019.”

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