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City, state seek to build better tourism relationship

South Dakota Department of Tourism Industry Outreach and Development Director Kirk Hulstein presents tourism and travel data on Monday at the Chamber of Commerce's board room during a special meeting with the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

The Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce began its quest to build a stronger relationship with the South Dakota Department of Tourism on Monday during a special meeting at the Chamber board room.

In light of the Department of Tourism's recent March campaign—which included a stop at the Corn Palace where representatives unveiled new marketing campaigns to boost state-wide tourism—Secretary of Tourism Jim Hagen said Monday that he was working to fix "a disconnect" between the department and the Chamber, which oversees the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau Tourism and Marketing Director Jen Johnston, that revelation prompted the Chamber to begin building a better relationship and to utilize the marketing programs offered by the Department of Tourism.

"We have had a disconnect in the past with the Department of Tourism, but we took a hard look over the past year and decided we are going to enter a partnership and build a better relationship moving forward," Johnston said.

Johnston said previously the Convention and Visitors Bureau took on most of the marketing strategies for attracting visitors and tourists. But Johnston said the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce collectively agreed the state department's programs would produce better results and drive more tourists to Mitchell.

"We are trying to transition our promotional efforts to bring in more tourism after hearing the new programs being offered by the Department of Tourism," Johnston said.

Hagen explained the Department of Tourism's new cooperative marketing program, which is designed to increase the awareness of South Dakota's tourist attractions in order to reach more audiences. In the co-op program, communities can partner with South Dakota Tourism's advertising efforts and get assistance in advertising buys, technology and marketing methods with six-month ad campaigns that can range from $40,000 to $185,000. Chamber Director Sonya Moller said Mitchell will be in the co-op program this year.

"There is a whole new look here in Mitchell at the Chamber, and we are excited to begin working together with this community that has so many great iconic attractions," Hagen said. "We will be putting a new video content piece on Mitchell that will be going on our website as well, and it looks great. Making sure we are getting Mitchell plugged in to our website that's been getting more web traffic every year is just a nice side note to provide."

Another program being offered is the a la carte program, which includes partnering with South Dakota Tourism on an individual basis for direct mail, magazine, online and email marketing to potential consumers. According to Johnston, the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce is already involved in the program.

With the new partnership, Hagen provided an outline of what the first year of the co-op program will look like and said representatives with the Department of Tourism will be meeting with community members and city officials to identify specific areas in the city that attract visitors. During that process, Hagen said there will also be online advertisements on the Department of Tourism's remodeled "travelsouthdakota.com" webpage, which will feature the city of Mitchell's tourist attractions such as the Corn Palace.

"I want to put those areas that people in the community feel attract more visitors to Mitchell into a bucket list, so we can promote those attractions in advertising campaigns," Hagen said.

South Dakota Tourism's Kirk Hulstein, who is the industry outreach and development director, provided data and statistics on the tourism and visitor traffic the city of Mitchell experiences throughout the peak tourism season, which spans from May to August.

According to Hulstein, from 2017 to 2018, Davison County received $104 million in visitor spending, which provided $7.7 million in tax revenue and 1,691 jobs.

"With the iconic attraction of the Corn Palace, more people are stopping here and making Mitchell a part of their South Dakota vacation experience," Hulstein said. "When you look at similar-sized communities of Mitchell, they do not have the things Mitchell has to offer, such as the Prehistoric Indian Village and Lake Mitchell."

Hulstein said the Department of Tourism has been using a new data analysis service, which tracks visitor movement through cell phones, laptops and tablets, using data to provide insights into consumer visitation and behaviors.

"This allows us to have tools that we've never had before to help us identify where we need to market and where visitors are coming from nationwide," Hulstein said. "It also helps us identify if they were exposed to one of our advertisements on their devices."

The south side of Mitchell represented the area with the highest volume of visitor traffic. City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said she believes the completion of Burr Street's road construction will help direct more visitors to the Corn Palace.

Hulstein said last year's $4.5 million campaign produced solid results for boosting tourism to the state. Based on a survey conducted by the Department of Tourism to find out how many travelers were influenced by its marketing campaigns in 2018, Hulstein said the campaign resulted in $176 million in incremental spending, along with providing 1.3 million additional trips to the state.

"This shows that our marketing campaigns are significantly influencing visitors to our state," Hulstein said, noting it cost the Department of Tourism $3.24 to influence one trip to South Dakota.

Excluding Sioux Falls and Rapid City, Hulstein said Mitchell is the most visited community in the state, based on the figures he provided during the meeting.

According to Hulstein, Minneapolis, Sioux City and Omaha represent the cities with the largest number of out-of-state visitors making Mitchell a travel destination for at least 2 hours or more. He said out-of-state travelers that stop at the Corn Palace are likely to spend more time in the state.

"Being located by Sioux Falls and Chamberlain makes for a great location for out-of-state travelers to stop in Mitchell for at least two hours," Hulstein said. "Of course, the Corn Palace has a lot to do with those stops from out-of-state travelers."