On Thursday, January 18, Governor Kristi Noem and Travel South Dakota honored tourism industry members and businesses from across South Dakota for their loyalty, commitment, and passion for the state’s tourism industry. Governor Noem presented various awards to recipients from across South Dakota.
The Ruth Ziolkowski* Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award is given annually to four industry members, each representing one of the four tourism regions in South Dakota. This award recognizes tourism industry professionals who provide remarkable service to visitors and whose work demonstrates an outstanding spirit of hospitality. These awards were given to Kelly Larson of Dakota Indian Foundation/Dakota Plains Gallery & Gifts in Chamberlain; Susan Kaiser* of Spearfish Canyon Lodge & The Latchstring Restaurant near Lead; Zane Lodmell* of Hampton Inn in Sioux Falls; and Dianne Larson of Ingalls Homestead in De Smet.
The Rooster Rush Cacklin’ Community Award was presented to the Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau for going above and beyond to make in-state and out-of-state hunters feel welcome. From greeting hunters at the airport to distributing legendary pheasant sandwiches throughout the community, Aberdeen encouraged young people to become the next generation of stewards of the land.
In its third year, the Governor’s Tourism Rising Star Award was presented to Taryn Reidt* with Chamberlain-Oacoma Chamber of Commerce. This award recognizes an individual who has worked in the tourism industry for two to four years, is excelling in their career, and whose work is demonstrating a bright future in the tourism industry. In her four years as chamber director, Reidt is credited with helping create the Hometown Hero Banner Project as well as increasing chamber membership by 346%. She is known for her positive attitude and for consistently exceeding expectations.
The Peter Norbeck Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award was given to Holy Terror Days/The Haunting of Keystone. This award recognizes an industry partner for their innovative thinking in making their destination, business, event or attraction even more appealing to visitors. Created by a cooperative of Big Thunder Gold Mine/Big Thunder Inc, Rush Mountain Adventure Park/Rushmore Cave, and the Traveler Magazine/1899 Keystone Schoolhouse, The Haunting of Keystone is composed of three “haunted” attractions featuring more than 100 actors. In its 13 years of existence, the event has grown in popularity, making it an important economic boost each year to Keystone while devoting 10% of the annual gross to community improvement.
“As the event’s popularity has grown, so has the impact on this small town, in terms of motel reservations and restaurant business. In 2023, event attendance was up 34%,” said Gov. Noem. “For their efforts in providing a haunted good time for visitors, it’s my privilege to present this award.”
The A.H. Pankow Award recognizes a representative of the media for showing superior interest in and coverage of South Dakota’s tourism industry. This year’s award went to Jeff Carrino* of KMSD Radio in Milbank. Jeff and KMSD consistently promote TravelSouthDakota.com, events across the state, and the economic impact of tourism on South Dakota.
Black Hills Adventure Tours of Rapid City took home the George S. Mickelson Award. This award honors businesses, communities, or organizations that exceed visitors' customer service expectations. This business added a new 3,500 square-foot building, upgraded vehicles, and designed new business cards with a QR code that goes directly to a review website. They also monitor visitor feedback daily, making sure that everything is done to ensure a magical South Dakota visit.
“These are the kind of people who embody the essence of customer service in South Dakota,” said James Hagen, Secretary of the Department of Tourism. “Their profound dedication, resilience, and talent are what put our state’s hospitality above all other competitors.
The Ben Black Elk Award is a prestigious honor recognizing an individual who makes outstanding contributions to the state’s visitor industry. This year’s award was given to Lucille Holsether* of Wall. For 30 years, Lucille has been a dedicated and passionate travel counselor at visitor centers at Wasta and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Her exceptional knowledge and zest for hospitality have left countless travelers with pleasant, lasting memories of their visit to South Dakota.
“Lucille’s contributions have boosted our tourism industry and enriched the lives of those who have had the pleasure of meeting her,” said Gov. Noem. “Her dedication and passion are an inspiration to us all.”
The South Dakota Department of Tourism is comprised of Travel South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council. The Department is led by Secretary James D. Hagen.