South Dakota Dodges Bullet: Tourism Boycott Won't Hurt Meetings

Pierre, S.D. — After Gov. Mike Rounds passed the nation's strictest abortion law here last month, some planners in the state wondered if a tourism boycott recently proposed by a Wisconsin pro-choice group in reaction to the new legislation could have a spillover effect on meetings.

In Sioux Falls, Carol Rosenthal had been working for more than a year organizing a 100-person regional conference in April for Hadassah, a Zionist women's organization that is pro-choice, when some out-of-state delegates began expressing misgivings about attending because of the abortion ban. "This was the first time Hadassah was meeting here in 38 years," Rosenthal told MeetingNews. "It was very disheartening to think my work might go for nothing."

But in Rapid City, where meetings and conventions contribute about $192 million annually to the economy, the CVB's executive director Michelle Lintz said she had received only a handful of emails from people supporting the boycott — all leisure travelers. "As far as I know, there have been no cancellations of conventions," she added.

Similarly, Teri Ellis Schmidt, Lintz's counterpart at the Sioux Falls CVB, had received about 15 emails from potential vacationers supporting the boycott but none from meeting attendees. "We also received one from someone who said he was coming to South Dakota because of the abortion ban," she added.

In Sturgis, which every August receives about 500,0000 motorcycle enthusiasts for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Mayor Mike Zeigler predicted the boycott would have no effect on attendance. While acknowledging he had received about twice as many emails from people supporting the boycott as from those against it, he noted that none of the former indicated they were motorcycle riders.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal of Hadassah decided to challenge potential attrition by incorporating into the agenda an activists' training session led by the state director for the local Planned Parenthood clinic. The strategy seemed to work, she noted: "Now [attendees] are saying they have to come to the meeting."