Record rainfall, flooding, rising gasoline prices, a slow economy and, to top it off, a season of seemingly never-ending storms are all being blamed for what has been a slow start to the South Dakota tourism season.
The Rapid City Journal reported that Renelle Watt, owner of Lazy J RV Park & Campground, said the business is off to its worst season in the 20 years she has owned the site. Watt estimated that revenue is down as much as 40% from past years.
“They’re just not here this year,” Watt said. “You try a few different marketing ideas, but it’s very frustrating. It rained all May and June. We had a good Fourth of July weekend, but it was still down from last year.”
Ray Mapel, a camper at Lazy J, also said the area seemed less congested than in some years. He said his trip from Gillette, Wyo., through Hulett, Wyo., near the Devils Tower area was also noticeably less busy.
“The weather’s got a lot to do with it,” Mapel said. “I was going to bring my motorcycle, like I usually do, but the weather looked pretty nasty. The real question will be if Sturgis brings the area back. I’ve heard both sides: Some think it’s going to be big, some say it’ll be down.”
Michele Lintz, president of the Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she has heard anecdotally that tourism has been down, but tax collection data for June is not available. She said month-over-month data may be deceiving, with higher than normal visits last year at this time.
Newly released visitation statistics for Mount Rushmore, which generally indicate tourism strength for the entire region, provide some insight into the industry.
In May, the start of the season, 199,523 people visited the memorial, a 15% decrease year-over-year, according to a National Park Service database. June saw 506,968 visitors, down from 587,844 last year, or 13.8%.
It also marks the first time since 2008 that it took until July for the memorial to break through the one-million-visitor mark. In 2010, 3.1 million people visited the sculpture.
Ace Crawford, spokeswoman for the monument, said that after a slow start, officials are optimistic that the near-record 21,000 visitors July 3 is a sign of improving times.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one factor for it; certainly, the weather this year has been a factor. It’s not just flooding in South Dakota, it’s weather across the country,” Crawford said. “There’s a lot of year left; nice weather late in the season can help make up those numbers. In 2010, we were down some months, but in the end, we were up.”