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Editorial: Tourism has its challenges for Morris

Good luck to the Morris Tourism Board as it starts a three-month tourism marketing campaign with DAYTA of Waite Park.

Morris and Stevens County have much to offer visitors but there are many challenges to attracting those tourists.

The brand slogan for the tourism campaign is “It Starts Here.” That’s catchy but one obstacle to attracting tourists is, where is it?

One demographic Morris tourism wants to attract is young families. There are young families (millennials and others)  who have no idea where Morris is. Particularly if they have spent all, or most, of their lives in the Twin Cities, Fargo-Moorhead, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or eastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin area. Throw in Iowa for that matter.

That’s not just a challenge particular to Morris. The same could be said of Mason City, Iowa, or Yankton, South Dakota, or LaCrescent, Minnesota.

Another challenge is that it’s a big world out there that keeps getting smaller when it comes to travel. Today’s travelers don’t blink at the idea of visiting China, or spending a few days in Brussels, Belgium, as the ability to rent another’s home or apartment,  hotel and airfare deals, and other creative ways to meet traveler needs become more affordable. Technology even allows the traveler to have applications that pretty much eliminate language barriers.

Still another challenge is, lots of places have hunting, fishing, hiking, biking and similar opportunities. Morris and Stevens County are not unique in those offerings.

Towns in South Dakota survive because thousands visit them each year to hunt pheasant, prairie dogs and fish.

Yes, there are challenges. But the tourism board has focused on more than the hunting, fishing and similar recreational opportunities. The board still wants folks to know those opportunities are plentiful in the area but, there is more. And the more can help overcome those tourism challenges.

Morris and Stevens County have treasures in industry and agriculture that invite people to visit. The West Central Research and Outreach Center has plenty of agriculture innovations to share with any visitor. A retired farmer or agriculture student may be, at first, more interested than another tourist, but a tourist interested in organic food, green energy or one who simply wants to look at cows up close would have fun at WCROC.

The WCROC horticulture gardens already attract hundreds of visitors each year.  There is certainly room to grow that audience. The tourism board won’t ignore featuring those gardens when it promotes Morris.

Riverview Dairy and Superior Industries have also opened their doors to visitors. Again, these are opportunities for tourists who may have an agriculture or industrial background and those who want to learn more.

Those are just some of the Morris and Stevens County features that create a niche in the tourism market.

But one of the biggest challenges to attracting tourists in this area could be our very own residents.

Nothing turns a visitor off more than hearing an employee at a local business say there is nothing to do here. Or hearing a resident mutter at a family gathering that Morris is boring.

So, one piece of any tourism marketing effort must include regular education to business owners, employees and residents about the features visitors can see while in Morris and Stevens County. Businesses need to join the chamber, follow the newspaper and the radio station to learn about the community and provide means to teach their employees about the community.

If the chamber or similar entity offers tourism training for front-line employees such as convenience store employees or those who work at restaurants, then Morris businesses need to take that training. Employees, business owners and residents need to be able to point out the parks, suggest a restaurant, mention the county fair, or suggest a visit to the university campus.

Yes, there are challenges to attracting tourists to Morris and Stevens County. But, knowing those challenges exist, capitalizing on features already in place and helping local folks better understand how to help with tourism, should result in more people understanding that it can start here.