South Dakota communities, is your front door open to guests?

Travel SDAT ISSUE: Our state still has a few weeks to go for its tourist season. We won’t know if it has been a good period or not for some time yet. But as one couple told me, more tourists are traveling the “back roads” this year. Is your community’s front door open for them? Remember, hunting season isn’t that far away.

MEETING PEOPLE from outside South Dakota is a fun avocation, especially for some old, grouchy, crotchety, retired newspaper geezer-editor. Where they’re from, where they’re going, things like that. The other day while driving through the parking lot of the Redlin Art Center here in Watertown was a couple and a car from Illinois.

The middle-aged duo were from a “small town” near Chicago (approximately 10,000 folks isn¹t small to my why of thinking, anyway…) This was their first outing alone. One of their kids was getting ready to go to college and the high school junior thought he was now too grown up to travel with Mom and Dad.

The family had been to the Black Hills several times, they said. About every other year or so. But always before when they hit the state line, they’d dash across the state via I- 90. This time they’re alone WK (Without Kids). and decided to see South Dakota’s sites on its back roads to the Hills. They were impressed by Minnesota’s small towns. Would they be as impressed by ours? What could I say, but “Yes.”

I forgot to ask them what route they were going to take, but they may have been in your town.

SO, THE QUESTION is, was your community’s front door open to them? No, I wasn’t talking about a gate or a drawbridge. Was the entrance to your community inviting?

Was there an attractive welcoming sign awaiting your guests. Might there be well-kept flowers for them to see? Is there a sign telling your guests what may be an attraction in your town-like the thatched roof house in Wessington Springs? Are the lawns mowed and the homes painted? And the weeds – those blasted weeds – have they been cut down? Are your streets clean? And remember, friendliness is the axiom for South Dakotans. I ask this because I know when we are headed somewhere, these are things I notice along the way.

I SAY THIS because it was back in March when the South Dakota Department of Tourism kicked off the state’s tourism season by announcing its $3.2 million “Your American Journey” campaign. I didn’t like it at first, but when I saw it was a bird’s-eye view of scenes from across the state, I must confess the photography was more than outstanding.

Secretary of Tourism James Hagen said, “We were seeing South Dakota from a vantage point that none of us had ever seen before. It is like being an eagle and looking down at these amazing landscapes. When we saw the footage we decided we could use this in our new campaign.”

Though the campaign moved away from the familiar “Great Faces, Great Places,” they’re still using it in other marketing efforts.

“THE TOURIST industry is too important to the economy of the state,” Hagen said. “The competition out there is fierce for getting visitors so we always want to be making sure that we are molding campaigns that are truly reaching our visitors and keeping South Dakota at the forefront of vacation planning.”

The new campaign ads hit the markets across the Upper Midwest,as well as Colorado, Montana and Canada so we should have seen more cars from those states. If not this year it should be next year.

Hagen said the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial and Deadwood are the obvious attractions, but the focus is on working to promote tourist destinations across South Dakota. Remember my headline? Is your community’s front door open to visitors?

HE POINTED out when he announced the new campaign that tourism is the key to the economic success of the state. One in 11 jobs in the state are depending on tourism and travel. It also had a $1.8 billion impact on the state in 2011, with more than 180,000 people traveling from 39 states and 16 countries.

But the new campaign introduced in March and the jingle, “Great Faces, Great Places,” which has been around for a while, can’t draw folks from outside our state. We all have a stake in tourism’s success. The state is doing its share. Are you doing yours?….

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