ST. GEORGE — As the newly appointed Washington County tourism director, Kevin Lewis said he hopes to keep the county beautiful while continuing to be welcoming to visitors.
“I think we’re happy to share this area with others,” Lewis said. “But we want to make sure it stays the remarkable destination it is.”
Lewis, who will now oversee all tourism-related functions for the county, was selected from more than 60 applicants for the newly created position of tourism director. He was previously the director of sports and outdoor recreation for Washington County.
“We expect Kevin and his team to keep our momentum going by conveying our unique blend of excitement, relaxation and adventure to out-of-town guests,” Washington County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom said.
Long term economic development in the county can be boosted through tourism. Tourism can introduce people to the area who can then bring more businesses to the county, Lewis said, and more businesses means more opportunities to sustain tourism.
“We want to responsibly grow the tourism economy,” Lewis said. “I think we do that by prioritizing quality — not quantity — of visitors. We want to attract the kind of people who will make our community a better community.”
One of the key tourism aspects of Washington County that Smith said he is focusing on is outdoor recreation. Through a recently created trails committee, Lewis said he hopes to connect and expand the trail systems in the county, including trails for mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and driving off-highway vehicles.
“We’re trying to unite those things in a master plan where we have information available for what is here,” Lewis said. “We’re also starting to develop the connection points to bring all these trails together.”
Washington County is also partnering with the city of St. George to fund projects like the St. George bicycle skills park and Canyon Softball Complex renovations.
“By uniting the county resources, the city resources and the positive impact of tourism, you can start to see how it will benefit the community,” Lewis said. “The people that live here will enjoy the fruits of the revenue and the tax breaks that comes as a result of the tourism that is going on here.”
According to data from the Utah State Tax Commission, Washington County receives $6.1 million in tax revenue annually from visitor room rentals, which is more than all but two counties in Utah. Tourism-generated tax revenue also provides more than $1,200 in tax relief per household each year.
The increasing level of tourism activity brings a continued boost in employment, as well. Data from 2016 shows tourism-related jobs made up 16.6 percent of the total job base in Washington County and tourism-related employment opportunities grew by 22 percent from 2012 to 2016.
Lewis has not wasted any time starting to work on his vision for tourism for the county, he said. Overall, Lewis said his biggest goal is to “energize, inspire and reward the community through tourism.”
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