Sevier County native Fred Dixon is New York’s new tourism chief

Apr. 06, 2014 @ 11:59 PM

Sevier County tourism and New York City tourism are more alike than you might think.

“The scale is different,” said Fred Dixon, on the phone from New York. “But the ideas of good tourism are the same.”

Dixon would know. The Sevier County native, whose family owns Gatlinburg’s Gillette Motel, is the new president and CEO of NYC & Company, New York City’s official tourism and marketing office. He joined the organization in 2005 and, until recently, served as executive vice president of market development.

In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Dixon’s appointment to the post. “Fred’s been such a star since he joined New York City & Company,” de Blasio said. “With Fred, you’re going to have a leader of such energy and vision.”

Dixon, 44, oversees 140 employees at NYC & Company, a nonprofit organization that holds the city’s official marketing contract. NYC & Company operates offices around the world.

“It’s an über-agency,” Dixon said. It markets New York as a tourism and events destination, and also manages the trademarks of city divisions like the fire and police departments.

“These are all iconic logos,” he said of the city’s departmental brands. “How many NYPD T-shirts have you seen in your life?”

Dixon, whose parents are Fred and Clella Dixon of Sevierville, has deep roots in Sevier County.

“I think about it a lot,” he said, “and I get home as much as I can.”

His tourism career began in Gatlinburg, where as a youth he worked and, for a time, lived at the family business.

“I don’t think I would be here today if not for my early training in Gatlinburg,” he said. “Growing up in that environment, in the hospitality industry...put me on the path to where I am today. There is a line that goes all the way back.”

Dixon graduated from Sevier County High School in 1987, then studied political science and history at the University of Tennessee. After college, he worked at the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Much of what I use every day, I learned there,” he said of the bureau.

His professional peers in Gatlinburg included Brenda McCroskey, who now is CEO of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. McCroskey is not surprised at Dixon’s success.

“Fred has always excelled,” she said. “In spite of his humbleness, he was always so centered around other people. He makes people feel wonderful to be around him. That, combined with his professional demeanor, is a formula for success.”

Dixon’s resumé includes stints at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, Delta Airlines, the Biltmore Estate and Planet Hollywood International.

In 2002, he arrived in New York. “I remember landing at LaGuardia, and I immediately felt at home,” he said. “It was the strangest sensation. I’ve talked to other people who moved here and had the same experience.”

The city attracts tens of millions of visitors each year, Dixon noted, but it faces growing competition as a tourist destination. That’s where the marketing work of NYC & Company comes in.

“Tourism is an enormous business here, and we take it very seriously,” he said. “If people are looking for urban destinations, for cultural experiences, nightlife, dining, theater, they could go here, or London, or Chicago, or Vegas.”

As a tourist destination, New York has “100 percent brand awareness,” Dixon said. “But we compete every day for every visitor we get.”

New York never disappoints, Dixon said. “There’s never a dull moment. There’s always a million things to do. I never sit at home. I’m a doer-goer.”

Dixon especially likes exploring the city on foot. “Just walking around,” he said. “One of my favorite thing is, literally, walking home. Every night, I walk through Times Square, and it reminds me why I love being here, and why I love doing what I do.”

kburns@themountainpress.com