April 18, 2004
Destination: Dallas

You know, if there's going to be a large city in Texas that feels misunderstood and underappreciated by those who don't live there, it may as well be Dallas.

Dallas is going through an identity crisis.

With no singular defining characteristic -- no Golden Gate Bridge, no French Quarter, no Space Needle -- the city is stuck with an image that's not only inaccurate, it's badly out of date.

"The perception of Dallas is J.R. Ewing, women with big hair and cowboys. There's certainly much more to Dallas than that," said Phillip Jones, who took over as president and CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau late last year. "My goal is to reintroduce the new Dallas. The way to do that is have an aggressive new branding campaign."

The bureau hired The Richards Group, a nationally known Dallas advertising firm, to craft a new, catchy "brand" that the bureau hopes will bury memories of the prime-time soap and bring back some of what the city lost since the show made it famous -- conventions and tourists.

Dallas was the host of just 10 of the nation's largest 200 trade shows in 2002, down from a high of 22 in 1988, said Adam Schaffer, publisher of Los Angeles-based Tradeshow Week magazine. Las Vegas was the big winner with 35. The Dallas-Fort Worth area was also dropped from a list of "America's Favorite Cities" by Travel and Leisure magazine in March. Adding to that insult, three other Texas cities were featured: Austin, San Antonio and Houston.

Jones said that after he took office, the bureau did a complete analysis of Dallas as a tourist destination and tried to figure out why people were bypassing the nation's eighth-largest city. One of the reasons travelers cited was that there was nothing to see and do in Dallas, another misconception, Jones said.

He said the city needs to do a better job in touting its restaurants, shopping, sporting events and museums.

"We have more four- and five-star restaurants in Dallas than New Orleans, but nobody knows that story," Jones said.

Speaking for everyone in Houston, I feel your pain.

Seriously, there's no doubt in my mind that the TV show "Dallas" warped perceptions about the whole state for generations to come. I'll be damned if I can think of anything to do about it, though.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 18, 2004 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

But they have light rail! That should automatically make them world class! ;)

Posted by: Laurence Simon on April 18, 2004 2:30 PM

I remember when Dallas was big on prime time, and at one point TV producers were considering a similar program about the San Jose area, where I lived at the time. I believe the working title was "Midas Valley." I guess the reason it never made it is that they couldn't figure out a way to make nerds sexy for TV.

Posted by: Tim on April 18, 2004 3:25 PM

I've lived in Dallas for 23 years and I love it to death, but... There isn't anything to see or do here.

Wait, I take that back - I just went to the Dallas CVB website, and I see that if you come to Dallas, you can go see Southfork Ranch. I guess that settles that.

I went to the "Sights and Attractions" page on the Dallas CVB website, and got the whole list of attractions - 126 in all, including such highlights as a Dave & Busters (and not the oldest Dave & Busters in the area, either), "The newest addition to the Coyote Ugly chain," and a "90 minute DVD set to music about the City of Dallas."

Posted by: kodi on April 18, 2004 6:40 PM

We went to Dallas for a few days last year and I must admit that I wasn't terribly anxious to go there. I had a better time than I expected. Their mass transit system was surprisingly easy to use and (unlike METRO) I found that it ran on time. The art museum is fabulous. The shopping is good (they have a Crate and Barrel outlet!) and the food was good.

Dallas does sort of strike me as being similar to Houston, in that there's no real tourist area, which makes people think that there's nothing to do in either city. I guess having "stuff to do" being spread out throughout the city decreases its visibility.

I will admit that I expected to see lots of big hair and a few cars with longhorns on the front. With the exception of maybe one or two women at Highland Park Village, I saw neither.

Posted by: Sue on April 18, 2004 7:25 PM

I was born in Dallas and I now live in Sugar Land.

Dallas has a lot to offer--like people hitting and spitting on Adlai Stephenson and of course there is the Kennedy assassination and the Dallas Cowboys and mudhole called the Trinity River...

Houston has violent drivers, and dirty air, and of course the filthy water of Galveston Bay.

What a Chamber of Commerce kinda state, huh?

And then of course there is Waco.

Posted by: Jaye on April 18, 2004 10:19 PM

Oh yeah, I love that phrase, "world class." Can you imagine Paris saying it is world class? Or perhaps London or New York.

If a place has to say it is world class, it isn't.

Posted by: Jaye on April 18, 2004 10:21 PM

Texas cities all have a very distinct image. To me Dallas has an image of being plastic and artificial. I'm not really sure why they built a ciy there. Fort Worth on the other hand has an "Old-West" authenticity, a little second fiddle gravitas that makes it the more appealing of the pair to me. Without FW, D-FW is a real cipher.

And Houston? Houston is a big, ugly, but ultimately real city. It's like a gangly, dirty, smelly mutt...that's friendly and loyal and despite the smell, you end up loving it anyway. It's real. That why despite all of the traffic and smog, I prefer Houston.

And as far as Dallas' claim to more 4 and 5 star restaurants than New Orleans. The number may be right, but New Orleans is a much smaller city, and has it's high-end restaurants clustered in the French Quarter and Central Business District making it so much easier to go on a culinary vacation than Dallas.

Posted by: Patrick on April 19, 2004 9:52 AM

It's hard for me to say this about my hometown, but Dallas does suck. There's zero leadership here...these guys could screw up an anvil. It's been that way since the city council went to single-member districts, and it became necessary for each council member to fight every other council member for their place at the trough. Therefore, absolutely nothing gets done for the city as a whole. Everything that gets done right any where near here is done by the 'burbs.

Trying to be World Class while failing to even try to be Texas Class is a problem, too. God knows I've railed about the psychology that doesn't allow Dallasites to embrace our Texas roots but will gen up a city-wide lickfest for random Italian handbag manufacters and French shoe salesmen and Spanish architects selling bridges that don't go anywhere but across the cesspool of the Trinity. Bah humbug.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on April 19, 2004 12:41 PM

I've got to echo the negative comments about Dallas. I was born and raised there, leaving at 17 for UT-Austin in 1989. I've lived in Austin and NYC since my departure.

1. Dallas has no real compelling attraction that can't be found in some other city.

2. As someone already mentioned, Dallas lacks a concentrated area that's easily accessible to tourists. I suppose there's the West End, Lower Greenville and Deep Ellum, but none are particularly compelling and it's not easy to access all three.

3. I had the misfortune of being at that huge mall in Frisco over the holidays. To me, that mall is a perfect snapshot of Dallas. No soul. It's got basically nothing organic or unique. It's all suburbs and chain stores.

I've been in Austin for a total of 12 years and would never live anywhere else in Texas.

That being said, I agree that the Art Museum is nice and that it's good that they've made progress on their mass transit.

It'll be one impressive feat if that ad agency can find anything compelling to drive people to that wasteland.

Posted by: ttrentham on April 19, 2004 2:13 PM

True story: Several years ago, we went to Ireland for two weeks. Just driving around in a rent car, soaking up the sights and visiting as many pubs as possible.

In some small village in the west, we stopped for lunch. While waiting for the food, I visited the restroom. A local stood at the next urinal. Clearly, I appeared a foreigner.

"French?" he asked.

"Beg your pardon?" I replied.

"Are you from France?" he said. "We get a lot of tourists from France this time of year."

"No," I said. "I'm from Texas."

"Oh," he said. "Who shot J.R.? eh?"

I was in a blue funk the rest of the trip.

Posted by: Dave In Texas on April 19, 2004 4:18 PM