LETTER TO THE EDITOR — Nearly 30 years ago I moved to Washington County. Like so many others, I immediately noticed a different kind of feeling here. The characteristic spirit of our local culture is a large part of what makes living here and visiting the area, so special — no matter what we call it. As the conversation over the use of the word “Dixie” in southwest Utah continues, I’ve been asked to describe the position my office has on use of the word. In my role as tourism director, I appreciate the opportunity to provide insights on the topic from a tourism perspective – specifically in relation to the Dixie Convention Center.
For me, our community is defined by an overwhelming spirit of hard work, determination, perseverance, kindness, charity, compassion, respect, community, camaraderie and volunteerism. Some in the community refer to these characteristics as the “Dixie Spirit,” a phrase coined by early pioneer ancestors who braved and endured the harsh environment to carve out an existence here. In that context, the phrase connotes the attitude of a people who unite against adversity, meet challenges with optimism and purpose, honor their elders and forbearers, celebrate the fruits of their labors and share their fruits, talents and assets with others. I have experienced these qualities while living here. I have felt the beliefs and aspirations of this community lived out on a daily basis, I’ve witnessed them in action, and over the years I have done my best to understand and live them.
The Greater Zion Convention & Tourism office is one of the strongest proponents for celebrating the local characteristics I just described. We talk about these attributes, we write about them and we promote them extensively. They are vital components of our tourism product because when lived by the people here, they represent one of the most distinguishing features of our destination.
Our goal is to inspire people to come to explore the incredible place we live, to discover what we are all about and to experience it first-hand. When they do come here, people begin to understand the attributes and character of the wonderful people who live here.
Tourism is an essential part of our local economy contributing more than $9 million in tax revenue and hundreds of millions in economic impact from visitors to Washington County annually. The economic impact and tax revenue generated by visitors significantly reduces the personal tax burden of our local residents and provides a huge stimulus to the lifestyle and amenities we enjoy here by paying for community enhancements such as bike trails, the convention center and other recreation resources. Bringing visitor revenue into the area creates a positive economic cycle that fuels our businesses and enhances our livelihood. This helps accomplish the mission of our office which is to maximize the revenue generated by visitors to create a superior experience for both visitors and residents.
The use of the word Dixie as it relates to the Dixie Convention Center is one part of the conversation that directly involves our office, but it certainly isn’t a new topic of discussion. I started work in the tourism office nearly 13 years ago, and the discussion about using the word Dixie to market the area was going on even then. That said, our office doesn’t decide what name goes on the building. That decision is in the hands of the governing board for the facility. Our job is to market the building and the opportunities it provides in the best possible way, and to provide input and insights that will influence success. I wouldn’t be doing my job, and our office wouldn’t be fulfilling its purpose, if we didn’t provide insights to help our community leaders make decisions about how to best accomplish our mission – now, and in the future.
As a building, the convention center has little connection to the history and culture of the area. The convention business got its start in St. George utilizing shared space on the campus of Dixie College. The shared space was called the Dixie Center. In an effort to attract additional tourism revenue to the area a new facility opened in1998 and the Dixie Center name came with it.
Construction of the new convention center was funded almost entirely by tax revenue generated by visitors. In 22 years of operation, less than 10% of the total cost of building, operating and maintaining the convention center has come from locals. To date, it has been highly successful — generating more than $60-million in economic impact for the area each year. The convention center has become a valuable component of the overall economy, it has produced numerous benefits in tax relief for our residents and it has been an important asset for local events as well.
Tourism research and input from visitors clearly shows that to people from outside of this area, the word Dixie is either unknown or confusing. As we’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the discussion over the years, we are also learning that for many, the word is actually hurtful. Based on research and traveler sentiment, having the word Dixie as part of the convention center name provides little, if any, positive value to the facility, and going forward it will likely produce stronger and stronger negative reactions. From a tourism perspective, any value associated with the word for our community will only come from what we do to demonstrate the positive characteristics it is said to represent in this area.
For me, the spirit we exude and the feeling that visitors get when exploring our destination is greater than just one word. Over and over people who come here for the first time tell me they feel something different here. They are deeply influenced by the incredible scenery, they thrill in the recreational opportunities, and they are inspired when they learn what it took to temper the elements in an unforgiving land. But the comments that resonate the strongest to me are about the amazing support they get from the community and the enthusiasm of the people here. Visitors may not fully understand the spirit of our community or where it comes from, but they can’t help but feel the authentic emotion that resounds when we live the ideal characteristics we’ve been talking about. So for me, the discussion about what to do with the word Dixie isn’t about changing the ideal characteristics of our culture, history and forbearers — it’s about living them. From a marketing perspective, we have to acknowledge that visitors won’t feel those emotions until they get here.
In the larger context of the discussion about retaining or removing the word from our community, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer. My invitation is to consider every case based on its own merits. With the paradigm shift throughout the world, every institution, every business and every entity will need to consider its purpose and individually determine what is best. Those decisions shouldn’t be about caving to outside pressures or trying to cancel history — they should be about doing what is right as each entity considers its vision, mission and purpose.
The core attributes I see in our community suggest an attitude of connecting, building and lifting — not dividing or tearing down. I think we can live these attributes as we navigate through the changing dynamics of the world, and I believe as we focus on living them, we’ll discover that we can step back from the fervor and calmly consider the factors of each case individually. In a global society, our ability to look beyond our own experiences, visualize the situation from a broader perspective, and empathize with others is critical to navigating a successful and meaningful future.
Submitted by KEVIN LEWIS, director of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office.
Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.