You may have read or heard the story: on Sunday February 15, during a freezing upstate New York weekend, the director of the Ithaca-Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau put up a message on the bureau’s website (VisitIthaca.com) reading, “That’s it. We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West, anyone?”
That’s right — director Bruce Stoff was suggesting (and jesting) that, while temperatures were hitting ten below and the incessant snows were whipping around in minus 30-degree wind chill, people should forget about visiting Ithaca and head straight to the warmth of the Florida Keys. “Please come back when things thaw out. Really, it’s for the birds here now…P.S. Send us a postcard.”
Stoff even linked to the Florida Keys Tourism Council site.
As someone living in upstate New York suffering through similar weather conditions, and also a frequent visitor to Ithaca (where my mother and sister live), I can relate. I chuckled but also grimaced when my son (who lives in sunny Arizona) sent me a cartoon of a man shoveling out from several feet of snow who’s told he has a phone call: “If it’s my family in Arizona, I don’t want to talk to them!”
The News Goes Viral
Apparently a lot of people can relate — or at least appreciate the honesty of the “We surrender” joke — because the news, first reported by Jeff Stein of the Ithaca Voice newspaper, soon went viral. Regional, national and international news organizations all carried it, “Ithaca” started trending on Facebook, Stoff got numerous interview requests — and traffic started to flood, yes, the VisitIthaca.com site.
According to the Ithaca Journal, the website received nearly 150,000 visitors in a 48-hour period, compared to a typical February day of 1,500 visitors — 50 times the normal daily amount.
The Florida Keys also gained some added attention, but most people are already familiar with Key West. A lot of folks, apparently, knew nothing about Ithaca (named for the Greek island in Homer’s Odyssey), even though it’s the home of the Ivy League’s Cornell University — and has made numerous top 10 lists of America’s best college towns and best places to retire.
Stoff and his staff were glad to fill them in. Ithaca’s marketing tagline is “Ithaca is Gorges,” a play on words that refers to the city’s numerous dramatic gorges, which complement dozens of waterfalls, beautiful parks, an active arts scene, and a location at the southern tip of the longest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake. Hiking, boating, swimming, and scenic drives are all available in abundance.
Ithaca is within easy driving distance of a number of lakeside wineries and the Corning Museum of Glass, and is home to the famous Moosewood Restaurant, whose cookbooks introduced a generation of baby boomers to vegetarianism in the 1970s and ’80s.
It has some interesting history, too: The ice cream sundae was invented in Ithaca in 1892, and the city was a center of the silent movie industry in the early 1900s, serving as a kind of Hollywood east before Hollywood’s own heyday.
Not Everyone Laughed
Of course, many of Ithaca’s attractions are best enjoyed in warmer weather. Not so the county’s ski resorts, some of which didn’t see the humor in Stoff’s little joke.
Marc Stemerman, co-owner of Greek Peak Mountain Resort near Cortland, New York, told Syracuse.com that “We don’t say, ‘Go to Napa, screw the Cayuga wine country,'” referring to warmer-weather options. “To see (the bureau) promoting something else is nuts.”
But Stemerman’s annoyance is misplaced. People who come to Tompkins County to ski aren’t likely to head to Key West (until it’s to water ski.) And with Ithaca’s newly added recognition, it seems likely that more people will head to the region’s ski slopes as the weather gets a little less brtutal.
Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce President Jenn Tavares thinks so. “I think the response has been incredible…overwhelmingly positive,” she said, noting that when people call for information about Ithaca — as they’re now doing in record numbers for mid-winter — they’re often directed to local ski resorts.
So hat’s off (well, not until it gets warmer ) to Bruce Stoff and his counter-intuitive endorsement of skipping Ithaca and heading to Key West this week. It may have started out as a joke, but it turned out to be a brilliant marketing ploy.
As one potential future visitor posted on Facebook: “What a great approach! Might have to just visit Ithaca someday!”
And as an Ithaca resident put it, “Spring, summer and fall, Ithaca is the greatest City in the World. Winter is just the price of admission.”