VisitIthaca.com’s Self-Deprecating Destination Marketing

These past couple weeks have seen some pretty heavy snowstorms and bone-chilling temperatures hit the Northeast, and while it’s been tough for many businesses trying to work through the snow, I’m sure it’s been especially hard for tourism and visitors bureaus in those areas trying to do their jobs. Aside from avid skiers, most potential tourists do not find a destination with a wind chill of 20 below and buried under several feet of snow to be a particularly attractive weekend getaway spot.

VisitIthaca.com, located in central New York, therefore decided to have a bit of fun with their predicament. Starting on Sunday, February 15, the VisitIthaca.com homepage switched to a photo of sandy tropical beaches with the headline:

“That’s it. We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West, anyone?”

The homepage was fully committed to encouraging tourists to just go to Florida instead, including hotel and flight information for the Florida Keys, where it was 77 degrees and sunny.

According to Bruce Stoff, director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the majority of Ithaca’s visitors come from nearby Northeast cities, such as Boston and Philadelphia, that were just as snow-covered as Ithaca. So there was little benefit in pretending like it was just as great a time as ever to take an excursion to the Finger Lakes region.

The joke became so popular across the wintery United States that VisitIthaca.com started receiving 80,000 visitors per day (as opposed to its usual 1,500), and the website inevitably crashed. The viral Key West campaign has since been removed, but I’m sure VisitIthaca.com is continuing to receive more visitors than normal—thanks to an ongoing wave of news stories and blog posts (like this one) about the stunt—and those website visitors are now seeing beautiful photos of Ithaca’s waterfalls and wine country.

It seems to be conventional wisdom that visitors bureaus should only publicize the positive aspects of their destinations. But after Visit Ithaca’s self-deprecating antic, I guarantee that Americans are now more aware of Ithaca, New York, than ever before.

Further reading:

http://www.newsradio1290wtks.com/onair/laura-anderson-48761/listen-now-why-visitithacacom-told-folks-13269381
http://www.cnbc.com/id/102431795#