Let’s be real. It’s freaking miserable in New York State right now. February is always a rough month, but for some reason, it’s particularly bad this year—“ridiculously stupid,” you might say. Although the snow totals aren’t as great here in the Finger Lakes as what our neighbors to the northwest experience in Buffalo, it’s not too much fun to be here in the winter. And anyone who tells you differently—aside from hardcore skiers and kids with a snow day—is lying.
But that’s not stopping national news outlets from talking about a small Upstate New York town today—and for once, the story isn’t about an impending snowstorm!
Visit Ithaca, the tourism board for Tompkins County—one of 14 in the Finger Lakes—decided that with the wind whipping outside and the temperatures dipping below zero, they’d rather be in Florida. And so should everyone else.
“That’s it. We surrender. Go to Key West instead.” That’s what the pop-up banner on VisitIthaca.com read on Monday, February 16. Despite how “gorges” Ithaca may be—and it is beautiful in the winter, too—the tourism folks aren’t sugar coating how much that fresh layer of powder actually sucks. It’s too darn cold to enjoy all that beauty. Come in the spring.
I’ve lived in Corning, NY, all my life—just under an hour from Ithaca. I love living here. It’s so picturesque. The 11 glacially-formed, crystalline bodies of water stretch out like fingers. 130+ wineries and vineyards dot their shorelines. Idyllic small towns that have been equated to Norman Rockwell paintings are in abundance, each one more charming than the last. It’s one of those gems of a destination. You come here, and you know you’ve discovered someplace special.
But there’s a reason winter is the slowest season.
I used to work in tourism marketing for the Finger Lakes region, and while there are a lot of things to do here in the winter, a mid-February vacation wasn’t always the easiest sell. Any talk about Upstate NY in February is about leaving it.
Except for today, ironically enough.
Sure, when the Today Show, CNN, Yahoo! Travel, People magazine, and a whole host of other outlets covered the story, they relayed Ithaca’s message to “visit the Florida Keys this week,” because “it’s for the birds here now.” But what that actually did was put Ithaca—a town encased in snow and ice—on everyone’s radar. Not convinced? Their webpage that typically has 1500 hits a day during the winter got more than 80,000 today!
It seems so counterintuitive. What tourism organization in their right mind would use those precious tourism dollars to promote another destination? Even a representative for the Florida Keys was surprised, calling it the “wackiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life from a tourism marketing standpoint.” But a county tourism office couldn’t dream of buying the publicity that Ithaca got today. It’s genius, and I bet there’s a lot of PR people out there who wish they’d thought of it first. Despite the fact that no one wants to come here in February, people may now be more apt to visit “when things thaw out”—just as Ithaca suggests. Which, let’s be honest, is good for the entire Finger Lakes region.
So, I tip my PR hat to you, Visit Ithaca, for suggesting people do exactly the opposite. What a brilliant way to ensure visitors to the region for many months to come.