Congrats: Susan Johnson Retires | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota

Congrats: Susan Johnson Retires

  • Congrats: Susan Johnson Retires

After 24 years at Black Hills Vacations, Susan Johnson has retired. Susan dedicated her career to establishing the Black Hills and Badlands as a year-round travel destination while increasing the tourism industry’s economic impact on the region. We wish her all the best in this next chapter in her life.

Read more about how Susan has greatly influenced the Black Hills visitor industry throughout her career.

Susan Johnson got her start in the travel industry in 1981 when Governor Janklow hired her as the Division Director of Tourism — a post she held until 1994.

That same year, the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Tourism Directors named her the State Tourism Director of the Year. This award would be the first of many distinguished honors she would receive.

In 1995, Governor Mickelson created the Department of Tourism. As the governor carefully assembled the team for this new branch, he appointed our recipient as the department’s first Secretary of Tourism. And she did not disappoint.

As Secretary of Tourism, she launched:

  • the South Dakota Film Commission
  • the international marketing program,
  • the Giant Step Industry Co-op Initiative,
  • the Outdoor/Sports Marketing Program,
  • and the statewide hospitality training program, all while raising $300,000 annually for cooperative marketing programs.

And of course, you all know our state slogan. It’s the one that once you hear it, you can’t get it out of your head. GREAT FACES, GREAT PLACES. She was part of the creative team behind that timeless branding.

After the Department of Tourism, she brought her expertise to the South Dakota Parks & Wildlife Federation. During her three years as director, she planned and executed major recreation projects that positively impacted outdoor experiences and encouraged travel for visitors and locals.

These projects included:

  • the George S. Mickelson Trail,
  • the Fort Sisseton Historic Park,
  • the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus,
  • and the Adams Homestead & Nature Preserve.

For the past 22 years, she has been at the helm of a state-of-the-art reservation and packaging company that serves western South Dakota. She took the challenge head-on and became the CEO of Black Hills Central Reservations.

She has continuously navigated the challenges presented by changing technology and travel purchasing patterns while still offering visitors fantastic vacation packages.

She describes Black Hills Central Reservations as a “customer service organization to take care of people planning their vacation to our state.”

This emphasis on customer service has always been at the forefront of her mission.

Often when a visitor calls, it’s Susan who answers and helps them plan their perfect vacation. It’s obvious why she won the Governor’s Great Service Award.

During her tenure, she garnered Black Hills Vacations:

  • the contract to sell Jewel Cave National Monument and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site tours
  • and the contract with the South Dakota Department of Tourism to take South Dakota Vacation Guide calls.

Her impressive track record is driven by her devotion and passion and has made a lasting impact on the Black Hills visitor industry. Congratulations on your retirement, Susan.