Dr. Ignatius Cahyanto, Black Hills State University assistant professor of tourism and hospitality management.
For early two decades, the mountain pine beetle has spread across hundreds of thousands of acres of the Black Hills National Forest leaving behind millions of dead pine trees. While much has been studied on the ecological impact of the pine beetles, little has been done on the effects the infestation has had on the tourism business – one of the South Dakota’s main industries. Dr. Ignatius Cahyanto, Black Hills State University assistant professor of tourism and hospitality management, is taking steps to change that.

Cahyanto along with two student research assistants has spent the last several months conducting a baseline study examining the perceptions of tourism businesses with regard to the infestation and their preventative behaviors. Dorothy Collins Aurand, business administration – tourism major from Belle Fourche, and Jonathon Horner, business administration – marketing major from Aberdeen, assisted Cahyanto with the research.

“We host 4.6 million visitors annually. They are coming to the Black Hills to see Mt. Rushmore but also because of the image of the Black Hills as an area with pine trees all over,” Cahyanto said. “If we lose those trees, we lose our defining attraction.”

He will be presenting the findings at the World Research Summit for Tourism and Hospitality next week in Orlando.  Cahyanto also plans to submit the paper for presentation at the 2014 Travel and Tourism Association Annual Conference in Bruges, Belgium, in June.

“This is the first step to fully understanding the severity of the impact on the tourism businesses in the vicinity of the Black Hills National Forest,” Cahyanto said.

The study included two stages. The first was a qualitative study where 29 Black Hills businesses were interviewed and asked two questions: have you experienced an impact from the pine beetle infestation, and if so what has been the impact; and how do you cope with the situation if you have felt the impact.

“We found some interesting findings that we never saw before,” Cahyanto said. Perceptions differed between Northern Hills and Southern Hills businesses, he said. While Northern Hills businesses were concerned mostly with the aesthetic impact of the infestation, the Southern Hills, which has been more severely impacted by the beetles, were worried more about the fire risk associated with the infected trees.

Cahyanto said there were also differing perceptions among the nature of the businesses with campground owners being more concerned than restaurant owners.  And not all voiced concerns, he said. “Some (businesses) said they know it is just a cycle, and it is how nature rejuvenates itself,” he said.

As far as how businesses cope, the research found area businesses are taking actions such as allocating money to spray trees on their property, thinning trees or advocating the matter to the regional and state tourism business association.

The second stage of the study is just finishing up with a quantitative survey of 400 Black Hills tourism businesses to further learn about risk perception, perceived impacts, assessment of communication messages, and preventative behavior. Results will be analyzed during winter break.

“The project will provide crucial data for policy formulation by local and state policy makers and tourism associations in order to mitigate impacts of pine beetle infestation to individuals and the tourism sectors, Cahyanto said.

He sees the research as the beginning to a larger more encompassing study. “Hopefully by presenting the findings we can secure a larger grant to see the impact on the state level. For this one we were only looking at the Black Hills area,” he said noting that the information may also provide insight to other areas battling the pine beetle. “This situation is not necessarily unique to this area. It would be a valuable study because a lot of areas, especially in the forested areas, also depend on tourism for their local livelihood.”