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Published March 27, 2013, 09:29 AM

Murray County lodging study released

SLAYTON, Minn. — The results of a lodging study conducted in Murray County, Minn., were presented Tuesday to Murray County commissioners, Economic Development Authority members and other stakeholders.

By: Alyson Buschena, Forum News Service

SLAYTON, Minn. — The results of a lodging study conducted in Murray County, Minn., were presented Tuesday to Murray County commissioners, Economic Development Authority members and other stakeholders.

Requested by the Murray County EDA in November, the study examined the demand for additional lodging in the county and assessed its lodging market.

The study also gathered valuable information about the type of people that would use lodging in the county, the amount they would be willing to spend and how often they anticipated needing lodging.

A majority of the direct expenses and staff time for the study were covered by the University of Minnesota, Crookston EDA center, which in turn receives funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. Murray County also covered a portion of the cost.

Two groups — Murray County residents and Lake Shetek visitors, whose names were gathered from the DNR and state park records — were surveyed for the study.

Of the 250 randomly selected visitors, 166 (66 percent) responded to the survey. One hundred fifty-three (61 percent) of the 250 residents who received the survey responded.

Neil Linscheid of the University of Minnesota Extension presented the findings to the group.

After compiling the data received from the visitors’ survey, a map was created to show where the majority of them hail from.

“Is this surprising to anyone? Have you ever seen anything like this?” he asked the group, pointing toward the map. “It seems like there are two large clusters, southwest Minnesota and then the metro area — a third of the visitors are from the Minneapolis/St. Paul and metro area. Generally, people aren’t coming long distances.

“Visitors are likely to be younger and likely have a higher income,” added Linscheid, noting that slightly less than half of the visitors to Lake Shetek were first time guests.

“If you’re thinking about tourism, that’s something to think about,” he said.

When Murray County residents were asked, many said they would use more lodging if it were available, especially for special events like weddings and family reunions.

He also noted that when asked what an appropriate cost for a hotel room that met expectations should be, many visitors were willing to pay more than residents — on average $5 more.

Both visitors and residents seemed to place more value on price rather than a hotel’s amenities, and valued cleanliness over things like a pool and location.

In the open comment section of the survey, Linscheid said feedback both for and against building additional lodging within the county was received from residents.

Many of the visitor comments praised the state park and the camping in the area.

Based on survey responses, it was estimated that between 1,000 and 5,000 rooms are needed through the year.

“Even with that number, a 40-room hotel would have hard time,” Linscheid said.

For further investigation, Linscheid suggested Murray County explore other “hotel options beyond the 40-room hotel model,” such as bed and breakfasts or one-room facilities.

Linscheid also pointed out that the study was a market assessment, not a feasibility study. The “information could be used to inform a business plan or feasibility study” if one were done in the future, he said.

He added that there are many other factors that impact lodging success in a community, including costs, competition and operational efficiency.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

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