It’s almost that time of year again when we pack the car, buckle the kids in, and head out of town for a summer vacation. We’re pretty fortunate in South Dakota. We really don’t need to go that far to take in some of the country’s greatest attractions. Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, the Corn Palace and the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder are all just a few hours away.
Outside of the entertainment value, those sites have created a thriving tourism industry for our state. In fact, one in eleven – or about 28,000 – South Dakota jobs are directly generated by tourism and the industry infuses nearly $2 billion into the state’s economy annually.
Think tourism only benefits the Black Hills? While the Great Faces draw the eyes of millions a year, eastern South Dakota is seeing a steady increase of visitors. According to the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than 1.5 million people visited Sioux Falls in 2013 alone, which generated more than $380 million for the community. And during hunting season, you’ll see visitors throughout the state looking to take advantage of the world-class pheasant hunting we have.
What’s more, the tourism industry helps save each of us a little money every Tax Day. Consider this: if South Dakota’s tourism industry did not exist, South Dakota taxpayers would owe an additional $892 per household in taxes to make up the difference.
Here in South Dakota, people travel from all over the world to see our sites. As a result, nearly 10 percent of visitor spending in South Dakota comes from international tourists. I’d like to find a way to grow this group of tourists. Last year, I became a sponsor of the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act – more easily remembered as the JOLT Act.
This bill would make it easier for tourists from other countries to visit places like Mount Rushmore. The bill does it in a way that helps ensure the tourists we welcome don’t pose any risks to our country. If we pass this bill, more than $7 billion could be infused into our recovering economy and more than 40,000 jobs added across the country. That’s a real growth opportunity.
Here in the U.S., we’re coming up on one of the largest travel weekends of the year – Memorial Day. I hope you take the opportunity to see some of South Dakota’s landmarks. After all, travel is good for us.
People who travel more are less stressed and happier at work. Good or bad, more than 90 percent of kids see family vacations as a chance for “quality time” with their parents. And the memories you make on these family vacations are memories that stick with you. Studies show that into our 50s and beyond, we remember childhood trips more vividly than birthday parties or other special occasions.
Whether you live East River or West River, you don’t have to travel far to make some incredible memories with your family and friends. I hope you take the opportunity to dig into our history, take in the great outdoors, and enjoy the beauty of our state this summer.