DEADWOOD | Black Hills Central Reservations will conduct its 15th annual meeting today and the 100 partners in the regional tourism business who are expected to attend will receive good news from a year filled with challenges, inclement weather and otherwise moderate industry growth.

The session gets underway at 10 a.m. at the Springhill Suites by Marriott adjacent to Cadillac Jack’s.

Founded in 1998 to provide travel planning and sales for prospective visitors to the Black Hills, the Central Reservations system did slightly more than $1 million of business in its first year, according to Chief Executive Officer Susan Johnson, a former state secretary of tourism.

In 2013, Black Hills Central Reservations did $5.3 million in sales, a 5.93 percent increase over the previous year, Johnson said. Spurred by more than 40 South Dakota tourism-oriented websites that feature BHCR’s booking engine, call volume in 2013 rose 7.3 percent over 2012, she said.

“Our initial focus was to provide fly-drive packages, negotiating contracts with airlines, targeting people who would arrive on a Boeing versus a Chrysler,” Johnson said. “Of course, 9-11 changed our world, the whole airline shake-up, deregulation, dotcoms, airlines quit giving commissions or allowing contracts, which completely changed our focus here.

“We still do air and provide all of those same elements, but it’s more about providing service to our customers,” Johnson said. “We have evolved with the market and added to our supply base. When we started, we had simply a handful of hotels and attractions in every community, which is what we sold.

“Today, we have increased our inventory of supply to include 7,000 hotel rooms, virtually every attraction, most ground transportation and tour companies and all the national parks, monuments and memorials,” she added. “Plus we have key attractions and hotels in eastern South Dakota.”

BHCR’s success can be tied to dedicated and knowledgeable call center staff as well as the leadership of Johnson, said incoming board President Joe Muller of Hot Springs, who will replace current President Pat Roberts of Deadwood at Thursday’s meeting.

“It all comes back to Susan,” said Muller, chief operating officer at The Mammoth Site and a BHCR board member since its inception. “The success starts with her. It’s huge to post an increase in a moderate year. She’s helped us grow the business by creating additional partnerships and gaining buy-in from the Sturgis Rally and new hotel properties.”

But Johnson deflects such accolades by recognizing her experienced staff of 11 who fielded 37,253 calls in 2013, while BHCR’s website tallied 449,499 visits for the year.

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