Under normal circumstances, this would be the time when travelers across the country would be finalizing vacation plans and maybe even hitting the road for some spring adventure.

But as we know all too well, these are definitely not normal times.

Everyone in South Dakota is feeling the effects of COVID-19. Things are tough right now — really tough — and there’s no blueprint or playbook on how to best handle this virus and the impact it is having across the country.

From a tourism perspective, the impacts on travel to and in our state have been devastating. For the week of April 11, visitor spending in South Dakota was down 75% from the same time year ago, a cumulative decrease of $205 million in visitor spending for the year. Smith Travel Research surveys show that South Dakota hotels now have one of the lowest occupancy rates in the nation. Despite these negative numbers, we at the Department of Tourism are confident that this will pass and a new normal will return to the world. We’re also confident that people will be visiting our state when the time is right.

Part of our responsibility as a department is to be looking ahead and figuring out how to bounce back once this pandemic has ended. It’s why we’ve adjusted our marketing efforts to keep people excited about the upcoming South Dakota adventures they’re not able to take at the moment. Using multiple media channels and efforts, we are sharing a message of planning for when things are back to normal. We are telling folks that “Great Places Will Be Waiting,” encouraging potential visitors to use this time to plan for the ultimate South Dakota adventure.

Using proven marketing techniques and cutting-edge research, we are carefully targeting our message to those most likely to visit and explore South Dakota. Things may seem bleak at the moment, but we know there are thousands upon thousands of people hungry to surround themselves with the open spaces and welcoming faces for which our state has always been known.

Even as this situation continues to disrupt our lives, potential travelers are still requesting vacation guides, visiting TravelSouthDakota.com, and maintaining an interest in exploring our state. I am receiving comments every week from people around the globe telling me that once this pandemic is over, South Dakota will be their first destination. When they do come, they’ll be dining in our restaurants, staying in our hotels, visiting our attractions, enjoying our beautiful state and national parks, and soaking in our wide-open spaces, blue skies, fresh air, and unbeatable outdoor views. These visitors will be providing economic support that’s vital to South Dakota, its residents, and our economic recovery.

The Department of Tourism wants all South Dakotans to know that we are here for you. We will continue to do everything in our power to bring this industry, your businesses, your communities, and our economy back to what they were before the COVID-19 virus began to dominate our every waking hour. We are laying the groundwork to make sure that we are ready to roll when things get back to normal and we can once again welcome visitors to experience our Great Places.

This is an unprecedented time in our history, but South Dakota isn’t just the land of “Great Faces, Great Places.” It’s also the home of strong, hard-working people who will remain steadfast in the face of adversity. When the time is right, businesses will once again open, travelers will come, and the roads will be filled with visitors looking to experience South Dakota’s beauty. We will be so eager to welcome them.