driving record numbers during a pandemic

South Dakota Tourism

Way back in March 2020 (it feels like decades ago, doesn’t it?) COVID-19 changed everything about everything, especially how we travel.

South Dakota was no exception, and we quickly found that peak season would never be the same. Working with L&S, South Dakota Tourism pivoted quickly to change our strategy from telling people to travel to telling them to stay put with “Great Places are Waiting.”

  • Telly Award: Gold, Online Commercials
  • American Advertising Award: Best of Show
  • American Advertising Award: Best of Class, Print
  • American Advertising Award: Best of Class, Sales Promotion
  • American Advertising Award: Judges Choice Award
  • American Advertising Award: Gold, Online Video
  • American Advertising Award: Gold, Direct Mail
  • American Advertising Award: Gold, Print
  • American Advertising Award: Silver, Microsites
  • District 8 American Advertising Award: Silver, Direct Mail
  • District 8 American Advertising Award: Silver, Magazine Spread or Insert

a strategy for staying put

The goal was two-part. Step one: educate potential audiences about future travel to South Dakota. Step two: inspire these audiences to travel responsibly when they were ready.

While Americans couldn’t travel, “Great Places are Waiting” prepared them for adventure. It gave them something to look forward to. And it positioned South Dakota as a safe place to explore when ready with wide-open landscapes, state and national parks, and abundant outdoor activity.

We launched our first ever national TV buy to support the campaign. Inspiring imagery showed our natural landscapes where visitors could find room to roam, while advertorial copy educated them on socially distanced activities. In lieu of events, we promoted safe road trips in the great wide open. We also played on the permanence of our attractions – after all, Badlands National Park has been around for millions of years. Surely it would still be there when people were ready to travel again.

Badlands National Park has been around for millions of years. It would still be there when people were ready to travel again.

SD Great Places magazine mockup

For students and parents stuck at home, we launched online lessons about South Dakota’s history and natural wonders, complete with printable activities, fort-making instructions and ice cream recipes.

travelsouthdakota.com on mobile
Online Lesson kid creating tipi
Online Lesson kid creating tipi
Zipperzine for Great Faces Great Places

We also targeted resident South Dakotans with a “Travel Local” micro-campaign, urging them to explore their own home state for safer, shorter weekend trips. An innovative direct mail piece used a perforated zipper to reveal beautiful landscapes and hidden gems, and a content partnership with 605 Magazine promoted the state’s Great Places to readers.

Zipperzine for Great Faces Great Places
Zipperzine for Great Faces Great Places
Zipperzine for Great Faces Great Places

Through additional partnerships with print publications and media vendors, we gave our message extra legs. Fire sales and publisher response programs helped us exceed target goals by more than 56%. Through all efforts, we showed South Dakota could be a worry-free getaway. For whenever the world is ready to travel, “Great Places are Waiting.”

Whenever the world is ready to travel, great places are waiting.

Great Places Golden Hour magazine spread

an evolving approach

As travel restrictions loosened in 2021, we evolved our approach to match. Using a stoplight system, we analyzed travel readiness research and conducted message testing to evaluate how open people were to travel. We then changed our creative to match, from red (nope) and yellow (wary of travel) all the way to green (let’s go!). From here, we transitioned our “Great Places are Waiting” message to a more active message of rediscovery: “Go Great Places.”

Great Results

It may seem hard to call anything in 2020 a win, but our visitation numbers crushed the national average. After TV launched on June 15, travelers opened up to the idea of wide-open spaces in South Dakota. Adara booking data showed South Dakota bookings were only down 26% between June and Labor Day. The national average for booking decreases during that timeframe was 68%.

Over seven million people visited South Dakota state parks, a state record up 30% from the year before. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, web sessions for TravelSouthDakota.com rose 95% and visitor guide inquires rose 47%. Even Mount Rushmore saw a 1.6% increase in visitors. Gaming revenue in Deadwood, South Dakota, saw record numbers during the latter part of the year. Finally, we outperformed national hotel occupancy rates every month from July-October, often by double digits.

Record Monthly Gaming Revenue
Tourism Tax down 17.9%
Record State Park Visitation

But the biggest payoff showed in peak season tourism revenue. In March, South Dakota anticipated a 30-40% drop in tourism promotion tax. However, by the end of September, the year’s promotion tax was only down 17.9%, compared to a national average decrease of 45%.

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