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Officials: Yankton Fuels State Tourism Growth

Despite a deep national recession, South Dakota experienced tourism growth this year with Yankton playing a key role, state officials told a local audience Wednesday.

The 2010 Initiative, launched by Gov. Mike Rounds in 2003, set a goal of doubling visitor spending from $600 million to $1.2 billion by 2010.

Fueled by the initiative, South Dakota has outpaced national figures for visitor spending this decade, said Richard Benda, cabinet secretary for the Department of Tourism and State Development.

“As far as tourism, we have grown from $600 million (in 2003) to $967 million last year,” Benda said. “We have had a 6 1/2 percent annual increase in visitor spending since 2003, and the average is 3 percent annually.”

Yankton has played a key role in South Dakota's tourism growth, with this year producing a banner season, said Melissa Bump, director of the state office of tourism.

“Campground attendance and state and national park visitation is off the charts,” she said. “Across the board, state campground attendance is up more than 5 percent. And right here in Yankton, the Lewis and Clark Rec Area set a record in state park attendance.”

Lewis and Clark smashed marks for both one month and for a season, said Lisa Scheve, executive director of the Yankton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

“The Lewis & Clark Recreation Area hosted more than 10,000 camping units for a one-month period of time,” she said. “This has never been done before.”

The 10,109 filled camping units out of a possible 12,059 created an 84 percent occupancy rate, the highest ever recorded for one month, she added.

The Yankton campgrounds also set a single-season record, Scheve said.

“From January through October this year, Lewis & Clark hosted 35,534 camping units, the highest recorded number of camping units for this 10-month period of time and once again had a record season,” she said. “This was also a 5 percent increase over last year's number of camping units for this same period of time.”

Much of Yankton's success comes from its ability to redefine tourism, Scheve said.

“People think tourism is just the Hawaiian shirt, the shorts and the fanny pack,” she said.

Yankton has received a tremendous boost from the relocation of the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) headquarters to the community, Scheve said.

The relocation grew out of Yankton's role as host of a national archery tournament about five years ago, Scheve said.

“The tournament had a huge economic impact. It made a bull's-eye in our (tourism) market,” she said. “We wondered how we could continue to grow this.”

NFAA president Bruce Cull of Yankton said the timing was right for the permanent relocation of the headquarters.

“This (move) happened because of a chain of events. I was president of the NFAA, and we were interested in a new home,” he said. “They liked the Midwest hospitality (in Yankton). People went above and beyond for us. It was a natural (for us to come here).”

Yankton officials aggressively pursued the archery relocation, Scheve said. They formed a public-private partnership including the city, county and Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED), she said.

“We put together incentives for an archery center in Yankton,” she said. “With the NFAA, it was like the field of dreams. If you build it, they will come.”

The effort proved successful, with Yankton becoming the new headquarters of the NFAA and the Easton Sports Development Foundation Center for Excellence in Archery.

The new 22,000-square-foot facility includes permanent ranges for Olympic archery games, field archery and 3-D simulated hunting. A 25-meter indoor range will be open to the public all year. The NFAA, in partnership with other archery organizations, holds various tournaments in Yankton each year.

Yankton has hosted the First Dakota Archery Classic, Scheve said. The tournament is part of the NFAA world tour and has brought upwards of 800 archery members to the area. Yankton also hosts USA archery competition for the Olympics, she said.

“We have people from 49 states and 12 different countries,” she said. “Yankton has gone global.”

The relocation of the archery headquarters has produced more local jobs, Scheve said. The new facility also offers opportunities for classroom work and training seminars, she said.

Cull looks for the sport and Yankton's prominence to increase even more in the years ahead.

“Archery is a very big sport and growing,” he said. “Archery is a sport that anybody can do. People can do it from ages 5 to 95.”

Yankton provides an ideal location, particularly during the current recession, Cull said.

“With the economy, more people are driving, and South Dakota is the geographic center of the United States,” he said.

Even those who fly into the region find a pleasant surprise, Cull said. Yankton offers an airport for private craft and charter flights, and commercial airports are a quick drive away in a rural setting, he said.

“When I tell them we have airports in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, I don't tell them it's 70 or 80 miles,” he said. “I tell them it's an hour away. In a big city, it might take that long to get across town.”

Yankton has also found a niche promoting regional festivals, Bump said.

“The events you put on are fabulous,” she said. “You have Ribfest and Riverboat Days that are very successful. People are truly drawn to your events.”

Yankton's tourism success shows people are not giving up their outings despite the uncertain economy, Bump said.

“People are still vacationing, and they're doing it here in South Dakota,” she said. “It also tells us, during this difficult state budget time, tourism is helping to keep our economy stable.”

Last year, tourists spent more than $967 million in South Dakota, Bump said. If tourism didn't exist, each household would have to pay about $960 more in taxes to maintain the current level of state and local tax receipts, she said.

Each visitor generates $76 in wages paid to workers directly employed in tourism, Bump said. Each visitor also contributes about $41 in tax receipts, $20 of which goes to state and local authorities.

In addition, a new job is created in South Dakota for every 342 visitors, Bump said.

Tourism officials are using word of mouth through cyberspace, Bump said.

“We are on the social media bandwagon - promoting our programs on Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “We launched this effort in April and already have more than 2,200 fans on Facebook and another 1,100 on Twitter.”

South Dakotans need to continue promoting their great state, Benda said.

“We are way too modest,” he said. “We really need an environment where we talk about our successes and how good we are.”