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Knoxville should market itself for what it is: a great place to do nothing

The cynics among us have long suggested, usually from a perch on a downtown bar stool, that our slogan ought to be: "Knoxville, a great place to visit on your way to Pigeon Forge." Knoxville has long searched for an identity and the discussion often comes back to losing Music City to Nashville and the aquarium to Chattanooga and the Gateway to the Smokes to Gatlinburg.

People have their panties in a wad because a travel writer suggested in The New York Times that Knoxville is "The Couch." But I think Shakespeare had it right: To thine ownself be true. We've had a succession of slogans and marketing ideas, most of them an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. Knoxville is a wonderful place. I love it and most of the people who live here do as well. The ones who don't will be going away to college soon and will never come back.

My thoughts on what Knoxville ought to do to establish an identity are a variation on the "Couch" concept. I once presented this marketing plan to a committee when I was deputy to Mayor Victor Ashe, but the short-sighted city department heads rejected it out of hand.

You have to understand that vacations are often stressful and people get home broke and tired, going back to work in worse shape than when they left. They have trooped through amusement parks in the summer heat, been stung by jellyfish at Myrtle Beach, and been bored silly by the Big Ball of Yarn Museum.

But Knoxville is a place where we simply say: Welcome Home.

We start by putting rocking chairs in the downtown hotel lobbies, along Gay Street, and on Market Square. You arrive in Knoxville and park your car. From that point on, you are not required to do a damn thing. You sit in a rocking chair at your hotel or some place downtown and people will bring you food and drinks. If you want a change of scene, you get on a trolley and we take you to Blount Mansion, Ramsey House, or the zoo. There you sit in rocking chairs while people tell you about the attractions. Walking around is discouraged.

In the evenings, the trolleys will take you to any one of 3,000 fine restaurants in the greater Knoxville area. You will be required to walk from the front door to your table, but other than that it's all about shoveling down some quality victuals.

Then you get back to your hotel and snuggle up in the bed to rest from an exhausting day of rocking in a chair and bending your elbow.

Now, you might consider this a silly idea, but think back to your last vacation. Did you have a good time? Or did you just do it all in order to produce pictures to show your friends and family? We have a number of fine photographers in Knoxville well versed in the latest technology. We can put together a team of them to come to the hotels and take pictures of the tourists. They can then Photoshop the tourist standing on top of Mount LeConte, skateboarding at Tyson Park, or riding the roller coaster at Dollywood. A wide variety of options are available and the tourist can take the photo disc home with proof they had a good time—without ever leaving the rocking chair.

For a deeply discounted price, we can also produce and give the tourists ticket receipts to fabulous exhibits—which they don't even have to go and see. Since we don't have to actually put on the exhibits we can be creative: How about a flyer for the Mona Lisa exhibition at the Knoxville Museum of Art?

I know this idea will be rejected out of hand. First of all, I didn't solicit $100,000 to do a study; I'm just offering it for free. I also understand it is hard to just ask people to give you money and offer them absolutely nothing in return. But then, you aren't asking them to DO anything either.

Play to our strength. It's a win-win.