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Energized. Inspired. Rewarded.

One Of Americas Greatest National Parks Is Virtually Empty This Winter Greater Zion

The Bright Future and Growth of Greater Zion

If you had suggested to early explorers that one day tourism would be one of the largest private sector employment groups in this area, they would have laughed you off the expedition trail. In the mid-1800s, Parley P. Pratt called this area a “poor and worthless” place. He described it as “a country in ruins turned inside out and upside down by terrible convulsions in some former age.” Today, people from all over the world are flocking to experience this “country in ruins,” and with them come millions of dollars in economic prosperity.

The transition in public perception got started back in 1909. That’s when President William Howard Taft traveled the bumpy roads to the tiny town of Springdale to designate the Zion Canyon area as Mukuntuweap National Monument. Ten years after the dedication, the National Park Service changed the name to Zion National Monument and a short time later, expanded the boundaries to make it a national park. In 2017, Zion became the third most visited national park in the country, welcoming 4.5 million visitors.

Access to air conditioning in the late 1950s played another big part in the transition. Then, in the early 1960s, a group of city fathers came up with the controversial concept of creating a golf course in St. George. Traditional farmers were taken back by the idea, thinking it was a travesty to use vital water for recreation, but in 1965, Dixie Red Hills Golf Course opened and started Washington County’s transformation to a golf destination.

Sporting events, such as the St. George Marathon (1977) and Huntsman World Senior Games (1987), helped change the image of the community to a more active recreational mecca. In 2010, the IRONMAN Triathlon exposed our striking landscapes to a global audience of endurance and outdoor recreation fanatics like never before. By hosting these events, we introduce new visitors to the area, and because of the welcoming attitude of our communities, they want to come back. 80 percent of first-time participants say they plan to return for a vacation.

With the proliferation of social media and internet marketing capabilities, the colors and contrasts of the area are being shared all over the world. People like what they see in southern Utah, and when they come here, they like what they experience. Today, the “poor and worthless” lands of Washington County are some of the most enviable places to visit in the country.

Tourism is a dynamic economic driver that infuses fresh revenue into the local economy from outside sources. It is also a prime component in Governor Herbert’s economic development plan. When visitors stay in local hotels, they pay a transient room tax (TRT). The hotel collects the tax and remits it to the state. Washington County then receives 4.25% of the total cost of the room. In 2017, this amounted to $7. 7 million dollars.

Usage of TRT funds has strict guidelines. To begin with, all TRT spending must be approved by the Washington County Tourism Advisory Board. By law, 2.25% of the revenue must be used by the county tourism office for marketing and advertising efforts to promote the area. These marketing efforts have been extremely successful. Since 2006, TRT revenue has grown by an average of 13% every year. The remaining 2% of the TRT funds are used by the county to help fund tourism­related facilities such as the Dixie Convention Center, St. George Regional Airport, Tuacahn Fine Arts Center, and other tourism-related projects. These types of facilities are crucial to the growth and development of our tourism product. They play a vital role in attracting new visitors and ensuring a positive economic cycle.

The economic benefits of tourism are far-reaching. The continual churn of these dollars in our economy keeps local businesses thriving and creates energy and inspiration in our communities. Tourism revenues create jobs-nearly 8,500 in Washington County­and they spark investment in additional tourism-related assets that residents get to enjoy. For example, if we relied on revenue from local residents only, Washington County could sustain only two golf courses; we currently enjoy twelve. Without tourism, residents wouldn’t have nearly the variety of restaurants, shops, and recreational facilities that they now enjoy. In fact, we would each be paying more taxes to maintain some of the basic services like health, education, and public safety. Studies show that tourism in this area provides $1212 in tax relief per household each year.

At the Washington County Tourism Office, our vision is a community that is energized by nature, inspired by achievement, and rewarded through the opportunities of tourism and outdoor recreation. This vision will influence our decisions as we strive to enhance opportunities for visitors and communities and maximize the tax revenues generated by the exponential growth of tourism. Because our tourism product is like no other, we have a profound responsibility to ensure that the future for residents and visitors is rewarding and successful.