South Dakota Department of Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen took a handful of play money and tossed it up in the air.
That is what tourism businesses are doing, he told them at a meeting Monday in Rapid City, if they don't have a focused marketing plan - except it is real money they are wasting.
It was the first of four meetings around the state at which Hagen and his staff are sharing new research about the typical visitor to South Dakota. They said their department and independent operators can use that information to focus marketing dollars for the biggest payoff.
Hagen said he planned the meetings in response to a statement from the operator of a Black Hills tourist attraction who said she was spending a lot of money on advertising but didn't know if it was in the right markets.
"We just take our money and throw it to the wind," Hagen recalled the woman saying.
Hagen told the crowd of more than 100 local tourism operators including those from Mount Rushmore and Reptile Gardens, along with economic development officials and officials from the Rapid City Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, that his department has used data to define the three most common types of visitors to South Dakota, and to market specifically to those groups.
The most common visitor is typified as "Mobile Mom Molly," a 42-year-old married woman with children and an $82,000 household income, who travels three times a year by car and takes trip-planning inspiration from family and friends, television shows and magazines.
The second is the "active and ageless" couple - the department calls them Al and Alice - who are over 50, have an $80,000 or higher income, travel year-round, take trips with their children and grandchildren, and especially enjoy visiting national parks and monuments.
Finally, South Dakota sees a lot of "Hunter Henrys," men 35 to 65 who take hunting trips with friends and spend a lot doing so. "Henry" is involved in agriculture or small business, has a family and a household income of more than $82,000.
Market research about where these people live, what publications they read, what TV shows they watch and what websites they frequent is allowing the department to develop targeted ad campaigns.
For example, Sunday newspaper insert ads with sweeping views of families enjoying South Dakota scenery attract "Molly." But a campaign in hunting magazines featuring sad-eyed Labrador retrievers begging, "Take me hunting," has proven popular for "Henry."
Through its new website and through targeted emails, the department is also walking potential visitors through every stage of the trip planning process, responding to their requests, sending useful information at the right time, and reminding them when it is time to purchase the trip, said Carrie Burns, account executive with Lawrence & Schiller.
Hagen said the Department of Tourism wants to serve the industry, and will start sending bi-monthly email newsletters to operators with the latest tourism industry data.
"The more information you have, the better decisions you can make," he said.
Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or email@example.com.