AP NEWS

Visit Spearfish celebrates 10th anniversary

March 15, 2019

SPEARFISH — It’s been 10 years since Visit Spearfish, Inc., became a reality, and from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 at the Black Hills State University Joy Center, the nonprofit destination marketing agency hosts an anniversary celebration.

“Our beginning was much different,” Executive Director Mistie Caldwell said, recalling that at its start, Visit Spearfish had one employee — Caldwell — with a single office in the engineering department at city hall.” We did not yet have a visitor center to call home, or any additional employees, for that matter. In the beginning, the city was trying to redefine its tourism industry after decades of the Black Hills Passion Play – a staple in the tourism community of Spearfish – held its final performance the summer prior. The Spearfish Rec and Aquatics Center opened for the first season in 2009. Everything was new and different.”

Caldwell said that relationship-building with the city, chamber of commerce, economic development corporation, and downtown business association was a major focus.

“Prior to the inception of Visit Spearfish in 2009, tourism promotion, advertising and visitor services were performed by the Spearfish Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (that co-existed in the same building as the chamber and SEDC currently house),” she said. “There were many growing pains, but overall, it was an exciting time to

become the recognized destination marketing organization for the city.”

Today, Visit Spearfish is in its ninth year in the historic building at 603 N. Main St., open seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and five days per week the remainder of the year. The staff includes a part-time office and visitor center manager, director of special events, director of marketing and public relations, and executive director.

“Our original budget included $410,000 in city allocations and S.D. Tourism cooperative monies,” Caldwell said. “The 2019 budget includes $455,000 in total allocated monies between the two organizations. In the simplest of terms, that means Visit Spearfish has realized an inflationary increase of 11 percent to support the total operations of the organization over 10 years. We are proud to share that over the same time period, the revenue earned through the hospitality tax has increased 44 percent!”

Caldwell remembered that in 2009, the bulk of the calls she received had to do with the Black Hills Passion Play and wondering what there was to do without it.

“In 2019, we still receive the occasional Passion Play call, and we celebrate the importance of that iconic attraction putting Spearfish on the map as a tourism destination, but now, the bulk of the calls have to do with our outdoor recreation and adventure,” she said. “In 2011, we made the decision to go head-first into marketing Spearfish as the premier outdoor adventure destination in the Black Hills. It was definitely met with resistance, but now we see that the town is embracing this culture. It is not only the focus in the tourism industry but has advanced the community in its livability and has encouraged others to start businesses here. Everyone starts as a visitor; many come back, or move here, or start business here.”

Mayor Dana Boke described that 10 years ago, “Spearfish was having an identity crisis. The Passion Play had their final performance and, as a community, we were wondering, ‘What will come next?’” she said. “Many businesses and individuals relied on those visitors for their livelihood. The question was, ‘Who are we now?’”

Boke described that Visit Spearfish was able to recognize the community’s strengths and assets and develop a strategy to engage people and draw them in.

“Through excellent management of social media and marketing strategies, they have captured the heart of Spearfish – a community that not only enjoys our picturesque setting, but takes full advantage of all the recreational, cultural, and historical activities it has to offer,” she said. “This transition has not been easy. Misty Caldwell has put in her blood, sweat and tears to make this shift possible. Through building strong relationships with South Dakota Tourism, and Black Hills and Badlands, she has partnered to position Spearfish as the premier location in South Dakota for outdoor enthusiasts.” “Tourism and visitor attraction are important components of Spearfish’s economy,” Kory Menken, SEDC executive director, said, adding, “SEDC looks forward to continuing to work closely with Visit Spearfish on achieving our common goals.”

Caldwell explained that on the surface, Visit Spearfish’s mission, which states, “Visit Spearfish, Inc., promotes and markets Spearfish as a convention, tourism and leisure destination to visitors from outside the Spearfish region for the economic benefit of the community,” may appear simple.

“While many people see our location and think we just run the visitor center on Main, in actuality, the visitor center represents only about 15 percent of the organization’s total operations,” she said. She described that other aspects of the Visit Spearfish operations include, but are not limited to: mailing thousands of visitor guides to potential visitors, sitting on local/state/regional boards currently, monetary and in-kind donations to large groups, attending local, regional, state governmental meetings, providing advocacy and industry-related information to our stakeholders through a monthly newsletter, researching/creating/ placing advertisements to viable visitor audiences through print, digital, television, social media and more.

“We maintain an industry-leading website that showcases all businesses that collect the hospitality tax, as well as showcasing the natural beauty of the area,” Caldwell said. “Visit Spearfish does not collect membership fees, but rather utilizes a portion of the hospitality tax allocated to the organization on an annual basis to support who collect the tax.”

When asked what she is most proud of over 10 years of Visit Spearfish, Caldwell said, “Everything! Everyone!”

She said she is proud of the community for taking the chance and being an industry leader in becoming a destination marketing organization back in 2008; she is proud of the board and its commitment to moving tourism forward; she is proud of the staff of Visit Spearfish — past and present; she is proud of the community support of the efforts of the organization; she is proud that the agency is a good steward of the taxpayer’s money; “and I am proud of a community that is always looking to the future and how we can be better tomorrow than we are today — and increasing the hospitality tax by 44 percent in 10 years isn’t too bad, either.”

In the beginning, one of the goals the organization was tasked with was working with the city, chamber, SEDC, and downtown business association to create consistent messaging and development of a community brand, Caldwell said.

“While the focus on this goal has ebbed and flowed over 10 years, Visit Spearfish has stayed the course,” she said. “As we head into 2019, we are optimistic that we are moving in that direction with purpose. That is the big-picture goal.”

With respect to goals that would bring about a more direct financial impact to the community more immediately, Caldwell said, the board and other community stakeholders speak often of the need for more affordable and available large-group/sporting facilities, preferably of the multi-use variety, because the focus is events.

“We recognize that with an increase in facilities, comes the need for more employees,” she said. “We will be working with our other community partners to advocate for workforce recruitment and development and affordable housing options. For the time being, our focus is developing large group events that utilize the current available assets – primarily the outdoors, year-round. Look for exciting new events from Visit Spearfish and its partners in the near future!”

Boke described that Visit Spearfish has helped foster big ideas and assists to fund, support, and develop ideas into great events that continue to propel the community forward with a new energy and purpose. “On this 10th anniversary, I want to say thank you to the staff and the members of the board, both past and present,” she said. “Through your grit, determination, and passion for the community, we are realizing the fullness of our future in tourism and ‘Finding Adventure in every Season.’”

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