We pass popular tourist sites like the City of Presidents statues every day; we may not even think of how these sites support our community. But the City of Presidents, Prairie Edge Trading Post, Stavkirke Church (Chapel in the Hills), The Journey Museum & Learning Center and other local attractions are the backbone of Rapid City. These places define our community, provide our families with jobs and have given over 3.5 million annual visitors a lifetime of memories.

Travel matters, and it improves Rapid City in ways that have a wide-reaching impact on Rapid City residents. Travel supports upwards of 10,000 jobs in Pennington County and it also has an impact that we do not always see: Travel can strengthen families, foster hometown pride and build bridges that connect us with one another.

Travel is powerful nationally, but easier to relate to is how it impacts Rapid City and other Black Hills communities. Visitor spending in the Black Hills and Badlands region is more than $1.5 billion, and in Pennington County alone, more than $788 million. Without tourism, each South Dakota household would pay $865 more in annual taxes. That is a big deal.

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Think back to your first job. Maybe you worked at Storybook Island or Bear County USA, or maybe your kids or grandkids work there now. For many, travel is the front door to a promising career. Nationally, Americans whose first job was in the travel industry now have an average career salary of over $81,000. Think about how travel matters to Reptile Gardens. Travel dependent leisure and hospitality is the largest small business employer in the U.S.

Rapid City will celebrate the effect travel and tourism has on our community during National Travel and Tourism Week May 5-11. The annual tradition for the travel community is a celebration of the value travel holds for our economy, business and personal well-being. Join us on Tuesday, May 7, at 4 p.m. at Main Street Square to show your support of the visitor industry. We will present our annual awards including the Black Hills Hero Award, the Extra Mile Award and the Frontline Representative Award.

So, get ready Rapid City. Company is coming. Visit Rapid City knows how important it is to treat all our visitors as family. We need to help them navigate our city and Black Hills. Be patient when they seem lost. Share your favorite attractions or things to do with them. And let them know how pleased you are they decided to visit our area, because they truly do have options. It’s not just because of the financial impact visitors have on Rapid City, it’s because we are so proud of what we have to offer. Treating a visitor well is our best marketing tool. They will tell their friends and family and they will return. This is why travel matters.

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Julie Schmitz Jensen is the president and CEO of Visit Rapid City, a non-profit destination marketing organization promoting travel to Rapid City and the Black Hills area.

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