In 2015, 13.7 million tourists visited South Dakota, and they spent $3.8 billion. Almost half of that went to pay for food/beverages and transportation (think gas money), according to a study of tourism's economic impact released by the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
The categories of food/beverages and local transportation each accounted for 22 percent of total tourist spending in 2015, equaling 44 percent when combined, according to the report. Those categories were followed closely by retail spending (21 percent), then by recreation and entertainment (14.8 percent). Air travel accounted for 1.6 percent of spending.
While visitor spending was flat in 2015 -- up 2 percent without adjusting for inflation -- the report notes that reflects increased spending to make up for gas prices lower by about $1 per gallon than in 2014. Take transportation spending out of the equation, and tourist spending went up 5.5 percent without adjusting for inflation.
Spending on transportation dropped 8.5 percent while spending on lodging was up 9.3 percent, up 6.6 percent on food and beverages, up 3.7 percent on recreation and entertainment, up 2.4 percent on retail sales and up 0.4 percent on air travel.
The month of July was noteworthy, as a record number of hotel rooms were sold (630,000), a record number of people stopped at the South Dakota Information Centers (700,000) and more than 1 million visited national parks in the state.
Visitors from other states accounted for the lion's share of spending in 2015, $2.8 billion of the $3.8 billion total. South Dakotans themselves accounted for $869 million while international visitors accounted for $115 million.
The report finds that the tourism industry directly generated $1.2 billion worth of gross domestic product and had a $2.4 billion economic impact on the state.
The tourism industry directly accounted for 32,337 jobs and, indirectly, a total of 52,166. The number of directly supported jobs has grown for six consecutive years and was up 1.3 percent year-over-year in 2015.