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Morris Tourism Committee considers consultants' communication plan

MORRIS, Minn. - Morris is a funky college town surrounded by the prairie's natural beauty. Morris is where rural meets innovation. There is plenty to do in Morris.

These were just three of the possible ways to market Morris as a tourist destination in the region, a consulting firm working with the City of Morris and the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce suggested this week.

Katrina Pierson, senior associate with HBH Consultants of Sauk Rapids, presented a draft of the communications plan the company has prepared, including four new logo and tagline concepts that members of the Morris Tourism Committee were able to weigh in on.

"We really want to define Morris' image and create a little bit more of a recognizable, distinct brand for the city of Morris," said Pierson.

The contract with HBH Consultants is for $9,000 and comes from a local lodging tax implemented when the tourism committee was formed around 2009, said City Manager Blaine Hill. Each year, the lodging tax brings in about $28,000 and is currently used to help fund Prairie Pioneer Days and other projects. Hill added that the city and the chamber would be working to develop a plan for how to pay for marketing efforts in the next few months.

To prepare the plan, Pierson said she and her team had conducted interviews with key community residents, held a "discovery session" with about a dozen community members and came to stay in the community "to hang out and act like tourists."

Pierson presented five key messages about Morris that could eventually be incorporated into all tourism publicity materials:

• Morris is rural. Visiting Morris gives you a chance to slow down.

• There are (indeed) many things to see and do in Morris!

• Morris offers visitors a chance to learn about cutting-edge technologies in agriculture and renewable energy.

• Morris is where rural meets innovation.

• Wildlife is plentiful.

The presented plan also emphasizes Morris' "rustic" tradition as a place where "simple is better," strong background in green technologies, peaceful nature and open landscape.

"The simplicity piece ... is becoming a lot more popular," said Pierson. "There's a trend going on in our culture - especially with young people - where they really want to live the more simplistic life. ... It can be a drawn for people - the idea of being able to live simply."

However, a concerted effort to increase tourism in Morris is not without challenges.

One thing Pierson said came up in her interviews is that "the Morris area is not used to having tourists or accommodating tourists - the mindset just is not necessarily there that we want people coming in."

"That's not something that happens overnight," Pierson added. "That's really going to require a lot of diligence and coordination on your part as the Tourism Committee to make sure that the community continues to be welcoming and strengthens that a little bit too."

Another recommendation is to identify a person coordinating the tourism effort from inside the Chamber of Commerce - "It just doesn't work to have a volunteer," said Pierson - and identify a clear chair for the tourism committee to follow up on efforts.

Paul Hendricks, interim director of the Chamber of Commerce, also expressed concerns about the timing of implementing a tourism effort, particularly whether there is enough available lodging space in the area to accommodate an influx of tourists.

"The last thing we want to do is put out money, effort, and have people come here and be ticked off in response," said Hendricks. "Timing is crucial ... as we think about how to actually roll this out."

Hendricks added that negative word of mouth about an unpleasant visit would be worse than waiting until sufficient infrastructure was in place.

"I think the question you want to ask is do we have a community that we want to invite people to right now," said Hill, "and I think the answer is yes."