Can South Dakota attract summer tourists with presidential mascots?
Tourists take pictures of the Mount Rushmore National Monument in South Dakota. Eric Fredericks / Flickr
South Dakota’s largest tourism push is in nearby driving markets, but doesn’t expect unusually high gas prices to impact what it sees as the start of a strong summer seasons.
South Dakota tourism officials expect a good summer season despite high gas prices that are putting a slight damper on travel over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, generally considered the kickoff to summer.
Travel nationwide is expected to drop about 1 percent from the 2012 holiday, according to Triple AAA.
“Gas prices will have an impact. They have already cut into people’s budgets,” AAA South Dakota spokeswoman Marilyn Buskohl said.
Gas prices across South Dakota have jumped by about 50 cents over the past month, and AAA expects about 1 percent fewer travelers this holiday weekend. But many of the expected 110,300 South Dakota travelers are expected to stay close to home.
“This weekend is bigger than Labor Day, because it’s really the first time to get out with the family and go,” Jacquie Fuks, executive director of Southeastern South Dakota Tourism, told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan newspaper. “People have been trapped all winter and are ready to get out.”
The state Tourism Department says early indications are that South Dakota will have a good summer season. There is strong demand for vacation guides and e-newsletters from a digital marketing campaign, and traffic on department-run websites also has been on the increase, department spokeswoman Wanda Goodman told the Capital Journal.
One travel firm projects about 75 percent of Americans planning a vacation this summer, and “we certainly hope we are attracting a strong number of those people,” Goodman said.
The Tourism Department has launched an eight-state tour of Mount Rushmore mascots as part of the effort to draw people to not only the national memorial in the Black Hills but also to other parts of the state.
The 2,500-mile tour of the mascots dressed up as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln began this week. It will hit cities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The mascots previously made appearances at major league baseball games and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re 2 or 102, everyone can relate to the presidents and they’ve been great in not only promoting Mount Rushmore but our whole state,” Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen said during a stop in Pierre on Thursday. “Our goal is to generate interest in South Dakota and to get people talking about our state.”
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