It's not exactly vacation weather in most parts of the country this week, and no one knows that better than local tourism boards in the Northeast. Winter storms have made things so icy lately that the people in charge of attracting visitors in Ithaca, N.Y., have simply thrown in the towel. On Sunday, the city's official travel website decided to admit what everyone was thinking and posted a full-page welcome-message on their VisitIthaca.com homepage, directing potential travelers to Florida instead and prompting a flurry of social media reaction in the process.
"Due to the ridiculously stupid winter, Ithaca invites you to visit The [Florida] Keys this week," stated the banner's message. "Please come back when things thaw out." The site's typical "Visit Ithaca" headline was also crossed out. The website's official Facebook page also linked users in on the gag, with the tagline "We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West, anyone?"
It was an ingenious marketing move by the Visitor's Bureau director, Bruce Stoff, who told news reporters on Monday that the campaign, which was his own idea, was meant to share the sentiment of the local townsfolk who had had enough while simultaneously drawing in the public eye during the low-season:
It was 5 degrees below zero this morning when I woke up. Everyone in the Northeast is beaten by winter now, and we're dreaming of being someplace that is warm. ... We just reached the breaking point this last weekend. The skiing is great now, the best Ithaca has had in years, but we don't blame people for dreaming of palm trees.
The pop-up ad not only directed tourists to visit The Keys — it gave them the link to do it too. Stoff said he and his team were able to get the permission of The Keys' own travel website to link back to them and obtain a cover-image for the banner. Florida Keys Tourism Council spokesman Andy Newman told CNN on Monday that he wasn't sure what to think when Stoff made the initial call, but was definitely on board with what he referred to as the "wackiest thing" he had ever seen during his many years in tourism marketing. "I didn't believe he'd actually go through with it," he said.
Stoff did indeed go through with it — although it may have been to the chagrin of other tourist attractions in the region, including ski resorts who weren't pleased with the well-intentioned lighthearted gesture. The co-owner of Cortland County's Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Marc Stemerman, told Syracuse.com on Tuesday:
We don't say, "Go to Napa, screw the Cayuga wine country." I don't agree with it. I think it was short-sighted. Skiing is a billion-dollar industry in New York. ... Greek Peak thrives on it. To see him promoting something else is nuts. Why would you encourage people to not come to New York State?
For the most part, the reaction to the Ithaca tourism board's viral prank has been positive. Even the marketing team behind VisitFlorida.com got in on the action by tweeting their own hilarious response: