- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota officials expressed optimism Monday that the state will have another strong tourism season this summer, even without major anniversaries that have drawn large numbers of visitors in recent years.

Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen said preliminary information for the 2017 summer season looks positive, even without landmark events. The 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was held in 2015, and last year marked the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the centennial celebration for the National Park Service.

“When we look at some of the stats that are coming in, we really feel very hopeful, despite not having these epic anniversaries, that it’s going to be another solid summer,” Hagen said.

The peak summer tourism period typically runs from about Memorial Day into September. Gov. Dennis Daugaard is hoping for the state’s “best travel season ever” this year, he said after a tourism event in Sioux Falls.

The state Department of Tourism says hotel revenue was up in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year, and visits to many national parks also increased.

Visits in the first quarter to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site are up more than 57 percent over last year, according to the department. Superintendent Eric Leonard said that the site drew roughly 100,500 people in 2015 and about 134,000 visitors in 2016, and he’s aiming for 150,000 this year.

Leonard in part attributes the growth to a highly visible visitor center finished in 2014 that has since been populated with exhibits.

“We’re really excited for the summer,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here.”

The tourism department has said last year was the seventh consecutive year of economic growth for tourism in South Dakota. A study by Tourism Economics found that 13.9 million people visited South Dakota in 2016, an increase of 1.4 percent from the previous year.

Visitors spent $3.8 billion last year - a jump of 1.5 percent - and generated more than $279 million in state and local taxes. The study also found tourism supported more than 53,000 jobs in South Dakota last year.

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