RAPID CITY, S.D. - The COVID-19 pandemic apparently is not discouraging as many visitors as previously expected, but home rentals, campground spaces and hotel rooms remain available for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that starts Aug. 7.
“It’s the 80th rally, so people are coming,” said Kimberly Roberts, owner of Kickstands Campground and Venue outside Sturgis.
Roberts said some primitive tent camping and self-contained RV spaces are still open because of cancellations, but full-service RV spots are full.
“This is our fourth rally. What’s different I’m noticing is people are trickling in. People are showing up,” she told the Rapid City Journal.
Gina Huiet, manager of Sturgis RV Park in Sturgis, said that park is usually fully booked by October for the following summer’s rally. The park rents sites for five or 10 days at a time. As of Friday, July 24, the park had some openings because Canadian travellers were forced to cancel due to COVID-19 border closures.
“Yes, I have had some people cancel because of COVID-19, but all those spots, we’ve booked them,” Huiet said. “People are coming anyway.”
“We do have an overflow camping lot. We do allow one- and two-night stays for motorcycles and tents. We’ve never filled it up before but it could happen this year,” she said. “All those people that waited until the last minute, the only good thing about COVID-19 is it opened a rally spot for you.”
As of Friday, July 24, sturgis.com still listed a variety of rentals open throughout the Black Hills. Options ranged from high-end luxury homes to rustic cabins and campsites.
Meanwhile this week, Airbnb.com shows its rentals throughout the Black Hills are 81% booked during the rally. Several entire houses for rent during the rally have not yet been reserved.
Julie Schmitz Jensen, executive director of Visit Rapid City, said she’s optimistic about visitor numbers this summer.
“Nothing about this year is normal, but I think there are some that had already made reservations, and some are still contemplating reservations,” Jensen said. “We all know things could change overnight; we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
By mid-July, she said Rapid City area hotels, motels and campgrounds were reporting between 65% and 85% reservation rates during the rally, with the two weekends being more booked than midweek.
“There have been some cancellations recently because some states are implementing stay-at-home rules. … I’m not seeing that as a huge trend yet,” Jensen said. “Canadians have always been a really big part of the rally market so (with the border closure) Canadian numbers are either nonexistent or way down.
“We’re all dipping our toes into regional marketing. We’re not telling the world to come visit this summer. We are telling (those who are within driving distance) we are open, we are safe, we are following all the Centers for Disease Control regulations,” Jensen said. “We are coming back up. We’re aren’t out of the hole yet, but we are getting back. … We’re getting a lot of interest.”
Meanwhile, at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, last-minute guests are always invited.
“We always have room at the Chip for more people and this year is no different,” said Buffalo Chip founder and President Rod Woodruff. “We’d welcome anybody that makes up their mind at the last minute. We always have a lot of people who make up their minds at the last minute.”
The Buffalo Chip has RV sites and primitive camping sites available. Cabins there are fully booked. The Buffalo Chip also rents campers and if it runs out will work with a camper company to bring in more from out of state. The Buffalo Chip also has added a new garage and will have mechanics on site to help visitors whose motorcycles break down.
“We always have room for another million,” Woodruff said. “We’re conscious of COVID-19 so we’re changing the amphitheatres (for the concerts) to accommodate for COVID, but we still have room for people.”
Reservations have been increasing for the past couple of months, he said.
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“South Dakota has fresh air, lots of space, beautiful roads, nice little mountains and wide open prairies” that visitors love, Woodruff said. “People are wanting to get back to living a normal life and we’re sitting pretty well out here. … It’s good to see people getting out and goofing off.”
Woodruff said he’ll encourage people to “goof off responsibly” and take precautions, but at the Buffalo Chip everyone’s going to focus on fun.
“We call it partying like it’s 1982. The folks that are worried about COVID-19 aren’t going to come. The people that are coming are coming to have a good time, see other people and socialize,” he said.