Be Creative and Collaborate in Travel Marketing, with Kevin Costello

Episode 143

podcast photo thumbnail
Kevin Costello is the President of the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau, the official tourism promotion agency for Steuben County, NY. Kevin manages a team of five tourism professionals who tell the destination’s story with a strategic and research-based approach to increase accommodation occupancy and tourism expenditures within Steuben. In his previous position, Kevin served as Director of Economic Development and Tourism for the Town of Abingdon, Virginia. Kevin has developed several award-winning programs such as the Wine Trail of Botetourt County, the Upper James River Water Trail, the Abingdon Music Experience, and Rooted in Appalachia. Under Kevin’s leadership, the Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau was awarded Tourism Office of the Year by the Southeast Tourism Society in 2014. On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Kevin about how creativity drives tourism marketing and how being a better collaborator increases your destination’s chances of success.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Kevin’s hospitality journey and how he fell in love with working in tourism
  • How Kevin has invested his creativity to generate unique projects for his various destinations
  • The process of building and troubleshooting a tourist destination and how to properly market for it
  • The challenges of running a visitors bureau and how Kevin has creatively overcome obstacles
  • How collaborations have helped Kevin’s projects come to fruition
  • Tips for finding mutual assets and best practices for being a better collaborator
  • Evolutions Kevin has observed in destination marketing, what his company is doing, and how he thinks the field will continue to change

Creativity in Tourism Marketing

Kevin Costello is the current President of the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau. Kevin got his start in tourism marketing working at Montauk Point, Long Island, before earning a degree in travel management from Rochester Institute of Technology. He gained experience at resorts in Florida before pursuing his master’s degree in tourism management from the University of Tennessee. Throughout his career, Kevin has occupied tourism positions in unique places, such as Danville, Virginia (AKA the last capital of the Confederacy); Margarita Island in Venezuela (sounds like torture, right?); Disney World; and the Finger Lakes region of New York. Running through it all was Kevin’s creativity; the engine that drove him to start rural Botetourt County’s tourism industry from scratch, create a winery tour, and put together the Upper James River Water Trail. Since working for Steuben County, Kevin has learned the importance of navigating government bureaucracy, mastering tourism fundamentals, and using all available channels to reach tourist audiences. He draws on experiences overhauling Abingdon’s tourism industry by marketing the Creeper Trail without upsetting town traditionalists who loved its main attraction, the Barter Theater.

Co-opetition and Creativity

Despite his successes, Kevin acknowledges the X factor I always come back to: collaboration, or “co-opetition.” To assemble his upcoming project for the Finger Lakes area, a trail that involves over 200 agrotourism attractions, Kevin is collaborating with professionals in a variety of agricultural industries, including alpaca farmers and cheesemakers. Another collaborative project of Kevin’s, Rooted in Appalachia, saw collaboration with local nonprofits to increase sustainability for local farms. Using farmer’s markets, restaurant tours, websites, and more, Kevin’s team helped to push the farm-to-table philosophy to tourists and supported two different counties of 25 farms. In addition, Kevin’s team assembled a group of chefs to compete in the Cast Iron Cookoff in West Virginia and promote the area. As Kevin demonstrates, tourism marketing is equal parts hard work and fun reward! To be a good collaborator, Kevin stresses how vital communication, brainstorming, commonality, and responsibility are for successful partnerships in the tourism industry. Don’t be afraid to shoulder a heavier or lighter load if your partners have different assets than you do. As long as you continue to pull your weight, invest your creativity, and have a little fun, tourism marketing partnerships will be one of the best decisions you make.


Nicole Mahoney: 00:24 Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences of professionals in the industry. That is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guest, Kevin Castello. Kevin is the president of the [inaudible] Ben County Conference and visitor bureau, the official Tourism Promotion Agency for [inaudible] county in upstate New York. Kevin manages a team of five tourism professionals who tell the destination story in a strategic and research based approach to increase accommodation, occupancy, and tourism expenditures within the county. In his previous position, Kevin served as director of economic development and tourism for the town of Abingdon, Virginia. Kevin has developed several award winning programs such as the wine trail of by the tech county, the upper James River trail, the Abington music experience, and rooted in Apalasia. Under Kevin’s leadership, the Abington Convention and Visitor Bureau was awarded Tourism Office of the year I Southeast Tourism Society in 2014 team. And Kevin, I’m so excited that you decided to relocate back up into New York state right near where our offices are. And I’m excited to have you on the show today. Thank you so much for joining me.

Kevin Costello: 01:34 Oh, well, thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m a fullback. I used to be called a halfback when I lived in Virginia because I had moved to Florida and came halfway back and now I’m all the way back. So I’m a fullback even though I don’t look like one.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:48 You’ll have to tell, uh, tell our listeners where you started because that wasn’t in the bio, but you definitely started in upstate New York. And so I’d love to have you tell us a little bit about your story, um, and you know, what drove you to be the halfback and then the fullback. Um, but, uh, really kind of to give some context to our conversation, if you could share a little bit about how you got to where you are today.

Kevin Costello: 02:09 Sure, Yep. I am originally from New York state. I was born in Rochester, uh, over 50 years ago. You can believe it or not and uh, but grew up almost my entire childhood and high school days and skinny atlas. Um, so we were really fortunate to grow up in such a great community here in the finger lakes. And um, I still have great friends from Skinny Atlas even though my family doesn’t live there anymore. So, uh, my parents moved to the Hudson Valley when I was a senior in high school and a, I ended up going to community college there in Poughkeepsie for two years and a those two summers I went and worked the hospitality industry out in Montauk point long island, Long Island. I think that’s really where I got the bug for tourism. Uh, worked at Gasman stock, if you’ve ever been to Montauk. It’s one of those quintessential places in the little town of Montauk.

Kevin Costello: 03:03 And I had a great opportunity to make money and hang out and our routine was go to work at noon, work till about 10 o’clock at night, go home, take a shower, or go to the bars till about three o’clock in the morning, wake up at seven, go to the beach until about 1130 to take a shower and go to work. And uh, so that was a lot of fun. And that was my introduction really to the tourism industry. Uh, my last summer there I thought, you know, I really wanted to be, uh, in a career in tourism. So I looked around and saw the Rochester Institute of Technology, had a program in hospitality management and applied and was accepted there and stayed there for three years and got my undergrad in travel management. Uh, and so, uh, had a great program for hospitality management. I was on the hotel side of that management program and a right after college, a buddy of mine who I was working with in a restaurant up in Webster, New York, uh, said, hey, I’m moving to Florida.

Kevin Costello: 04:02 And it had, we had averaged maybe 26 days of sunshine, unbelievable amounts of snow in Rochester. And when he made that offer, I’m like, I’m in. So, uh, that’s when I became my left New York and you know, started my halfback and fullback career. So lived in Florida for a little while and the Florida keys and worked at resorts there. Lived in Orlando for a little while, working in the hospitality industry. So you got some great trainings through Marriott. And Hyatt also worked part time at Disney. So went through the Disney training, primarily worked at Disney for a, the free tickets to the park. And, uh, I had more people visit me, uh, once they found out I worked at Disney then I had previously. So it’s always good to keep in touch with my friends in New York as they found out I had access to park passes.

Kevin Costello: 04:53 But, uh, after about two years of doing the hotel side, I realized that’s not where my passion lied. Uh, I was really interested in working for a DMO, convention visitors bureau, the tourism side of it. So, uh, I thought I could go back to school and, and, uh, get a, some more education on that side. A same buddy who convinced me to move to the Florida keys was going to go back to college at the University of Tennessee and he convinced me to move to Knoxville and I had never been to Knoxville before. So, um, I went and got a job at the university and then, uh, started taking classes in their masters program for Tourism Management and ended up getting my masters degree in tourism management at the University of Tennessee. And even though, uh, I support the Tennessee volunteers, I’m still a Syracuse orange supporter.

Kevin Costello: 05:44 Um, but had a great time. They won the national championship in football when I was there. Um, I learned a lot to do my, I had to do a master’s thesis and so I did that on Margarita. I went and Venezuela, spent two months there, uh, living a buddy who I’d met at Rit, who was the tourism director on the island there. So, you know, tourism, that the industry is really kind of hard sometimes like that where you have to live on an island and do research, right. Someone’s got to do it. Yeah. And I had to explain all that to my parents to make them understand I’m not just goofing around, but I still don’t think they believe me. But graduated with a masters degree in tourism. Um, met my wife Maggie while we were there, she was getting her master’s degree in urban planning.

Kevin Costello: 06:28 And so we moved around for maybe the next three or years or so trying to find my tourism job and her urban planning job and the same community, which is always a challenge. I’m doing that. But we were eventually successful and I got a job in Danville, Virginia, uh, which their claim to fame was, they were the last capitol of the confederacy. So here’s this Yankee boy, uh, you know, trying to promote this community to a bunch of people interested in the civil war. Um, and that was the assistant director of tourism there for about a year and a half. Uh, and then, uh, took the job in [inaudible] county, which was my real full time, um, position as the tourism director there and bought a, Todd is a rural, uh, bedroom community outside of Roanoke, Virginia. And in Virginia, the state of Virginia, if a county has a lodging tax of over 2%, anything after that, 2% has to go to tourism promotion.

Kevin Costello: 07:28 And since they were on interstate 81 and had five or six hotels in a cracker barrel, uh, they started collecting all of this lodging tax money and thought, well, we need to hire somebody to kind of develop tourism product and to manage the money that are monies that are coming in through the lodging tax. So I was fortunate enough to be that guy. I was the first person they had hired and I did everything from scratch. So creating the first brand for the county, the first website, the first marketing materials, the first advertising campaign, um, they had three farm wineries. So we created a wine trail and they have the, the James River, which runs from Bodytech county all the way into the Chesapeake Bay was there. And I worked with a bunch of stakeholders and we created still today the upper James River water trail, which was a very successful project where we got people to come and canoe and Kayak on the river. [inaudible]

Kevin Costello: 08:23 after five and a half years there, um, I kind of got recruited to Abingdon, which is in southwest Virginia. Um, but it’s, uh, big small town with a lot of tourism attractions there. It’s about 8,000 people, but we saw about 400,000 visitors each year. About 200,000 of them went to the barter theater, which was the historic theater and the state theater of New York, which did Broadway productions. So we saw a lot of people for that. And then the other major attraction was the Virginia trail, which was a rails trail bike trail. We saw about 200,000 visitors a year on that. And then about two and a half years ago, uh, my kids started, you know, getting old enough that they were going to be going into middle school. And I’ve, I thought it was a good time to move and find. I had three criteria. One was a better job for, uh, for my career path, uh, a great educational system for our kids in a Wegmans. And so I lucked out and found all three of those here in Corny. That leads us to where we are today, I guess

Nicole Mahoney: 09:28 10 SAS. So my love. Yeah, I love it. Well, you’re really narrowing it when you say a Wagman’s, although that’s expanding now. I think there’s Wegmans in Virginia, so you could actually, yeah, right.

Kevin Costello: 09:37 The closest one was in Charlottesville, which was a three and a half hour drive,

Nicole Mahoney: 09:40 right? Yeah, exactly.

Kevin Costello: 09:42 So whenever we had a state tourism conference in northern Virginia, I always made a stop at Wagman’s and my Virginia friends were like, what’s the big deal? I’m like, man, Genesee cream, male and white hats.

Nicole Mahoney: 09:54 Exactly. That’s great. Well, I think that’s such an awesome story because, um, a lot of my guests on this show talk about, you know, how they, when I ask that same question, um, some of them share a story similar to yours in that they knew they wanted to be in tourism. You know, they discovered it young and they followed a path. Others kind of end up there, not purposely, right. And then find themselves there. And, um, I also know that there’s a number of, uh, listeners, um, who, you know, I know a number of professors whose tourism classes actually listened to this podcast. So I’m hopeful that if some of those students are listening and kind of hear, you know, what is possible. And so I just want to kind of highlight a couple of things that stood out to me. And that is the, you know, how you started in the hospitality industry with that hospitality degree.

Nicole Mahoney: 10:42 Um, I think it’s fantastic that you got the training background that you did with Disney, an area, you know, some of those, um, iconic hospitality organizations. What a great foundation, right? Start from. And then, um, to take that even further and work your way into getting that master’s in tourism management and then kind of transitioned over to the destination side. So I know that you’ve got a lot of perspective and you’re going to give us a lot of, you’ve already given us a lot to think about just in telling us your story. Um, but you know, a lot of perspective from different angles to share with us on, you know, topics of creativity and collaboration. So I’m, I’m excited for the conversation. Awesome. So, um, oh, and I have to also, I have to also give a shout out to the creeper trail because I’m sure you know this and you probably hear it all the time, but if anybody knows Berkley young, they hear all about the creeper trail.

Kevin Costello: 11:32 You did some research for us and made, uh, some really poignant points in, uh, his, he has a great ability to kind of talk, uh, on the down to earth level with politicians and whatnot. So he explained how important the trail was, a on terms that they could understand. And they’re still talking about it today. So, yeah. Yeah. That’s

Nicole Mahoney: 11:54 awesome. Yeah. Well good. So let’s, uh, let’s start on the topic of creativity and, um, you know, pull from any one of those experiences that you have in your background and, and I’m sure there’s many that you can pull from, um, but understanding how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry is. And when I think about competitive, it’s not just destinations competing for those visitors or attractions competing for those visitors, but there’s also, everyone’s time is so compressed, right? And there’s so many choices of things that you can do with your, with your free time, uh, choice even being to stay home and play in the backyard. So I’m, I’m just wondering what kinds of things you’ve done, um, in, you know, the various roles you’ve had to really help, um, those organizations stand out from the crowd.

Kevin Costello: 12:42 It’s funny when you say people can just stay home. Uh, I was so fortunate and tongue in cheek, uh, when I started in [inaudible] was during the beginning of the recession. And so that kind of played on and into Admin as well. I quickly realized that, you know, people, although they were budget conscious, we’re still looking for things to do and outdoor recreation with such an easy thing for them to do in terms of the finance of it. So inexpensive camping or kayaking. Um, so we really, uh, in creating the upper James River water trail, we’re doing it because it was a opportunity to not only just create tourism product but to create something that anybody could do inexpensively and walk away from it going, wow, that was one of the best things I’ve ever done. So, um, sometimes when we do things in tourism, it’s in response to the ebb and flow of the economy.

Kevin Costello: 13:40 Um, and so that was one of the things that we had to get kind of creative about. But a partnerships is always a difficult thing. Like getting people to participate to create projects like that, um, is not a short term past. I mean the whole upper James River water trail project too, three years from concept to a culmination. Even the wine trail, you would think we had three wineries and bought a dot county. Yet. They all pretty much felt they were in competition with one another. Uh, took me forever to get ’em all in a room together. And wineries are just like BMB folks. They’re very, um, I don’t know how to explain it, but you know, they’re very particular. Um, and they’re afraid that, you know, if they talk too much, they’ll steal one another’s ideas. So I got them together and said, hey, if we band together, I can go after this grant at the state level and we can produce something and you’ll get more business. They’re like, are you telling us that you’re going to write a grant for us? I’m like, yeah, that’s, I’m going to do. And A, we all put a little bit of money in and uh, the county matched it and then we got some money from the state and created the wine trail and it’s been very successful for all of the wineries. So it’s nothing like having a little money on the table to motivate people to participate on projects.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:56 Yeah, absolutely. I, um, I think that you make a good point in that, you know, as you’re doing this product development, um, you know, getting, getting all the partners on the same page and to understand, you know, why partnering makes sense and trying to break through some of those barriers of our perceptions, right. Competition or people are going to steal my ideas is definitely a challenge. Curious, can you share a little bit about the James River water trail? What’s that product look like and kind of take us through the process of how you develop that.

Kevin Costello: 15:30 Sure. Um, well it’s, it’s a water trail and that in essence, you know, you get out on the river, so it’s public access to the James River. We had seven, um, public access points on the river, uh, that were there. And they were primarily used by fishermen to put in there John Boats, which are small little boats with a small engine that they troll for bass fishing on the river. And it was really a, uh, a destination for local fishermen. And, uh, my boss, the county manager’s like, I need you to come up with a clever idea. I’m like this, I have made four or five ideas out and he loved the idea of the upper James River water trail and it was right when water trails were kind of starting to take off. No one had really ever heard of one before. Um, so I had to explain it over and over again in public meetings.

Kevin Costello: 16:18 So what I did at first was to set up a stakeholder group of people, like an outfitter that was in the next county over who rented canoes and kayaks on the James River. A couple of fishermen. Um, uh, the county planner, uh, the county engineer. Cause I knew that eventually I would need that person to help me to build access points. The parks and REC director and then my a shoe in was the editor for the local newspaper who was really into the outdoors, uh, because he was able to get that out in front of an audience by writing articles about our progress and what we were working on. So it, you know, we all got together and came up with a strategic plan on how we would pull this off over a couple of years and what funding mechanisms we would apply for. Um, we started with our six or seven access points and ended up at the end building four more.

Kevin Costello: 17:12 Um, and then creating a website in a brochure, uh, which was a map. Um, we built out branded signs at each of the access points that had a map on them. So like if you went to, uh, the access point at Springwood, you would know the next float down was a three mile float and that would take you two and a half hours. And there were two category two rapids in between. So, I mean, it was, it was very sophisticated and high tech. Uh, the key was to have an outfitter. So somebody there that would rent, people could use or kayaks or to take them to the access point and drop them off upstream so they

Nicole Mahoney: 17:49 can pick up their stuff at their own car further downstream. And without that, a trail system like that, you know, not a viable tourism products. So W I mean we put a lot of work into it. Um, but the outfitters there, they increased their business 14% each year for the last decade and a half. Um, they would routinely stop an Abingdon after I had left, bought a tod to buy me lunch on their way to North Carolina, bye canoes every year. Um, so no, it was very successful. Uh, and there were three or four little small towns along the river and they saw their economy grow incrementally, um, through people, you know, stopping to buy food, um, gas or whatever they needed. So a very rural area, highly important project. Yeah, that sounds awesome. And I love that you pulled together that stakeholder group, you know, that not only were people who were currently using it, the fishermen, um, but that key that you described the outfitter but then sounded like you are very forward thinking in terms of, you know, wanting to make sure you have the county engineer on the committee or even having the local newspaper on the committee thinking about, okay, how are we going to get the word out?

Nicole Mahoney: 19:07 So we knew we had to communicate to the landowners along the river, um, because they were already complaining that people would get lost on the river and then up knocking on their door in the middle of the night saying, hey, where’s the next access point? This is before our projects. And so we were, we knew that was an issue. We took that to them and said, hey, our project’s going to help deviate that problem because they’re going to be an educated user group before they even get your, we’re going to connect them with an outfitter who’s going to drop them off and explain how to get back. It’s going to be safer. They go through a safety video, there is no alcohol on the boats that they rent. Um, so, you know, we’re improving what’s already happening in a, it proved out to be, uh, that’s what happens. So, yeah, that, well, that’s awesome.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:59 Now this next question you already kind of touched on a challenge a little bit in your answer to the last question, but I love to ask. Um, you know, my guests to think about a time, um, when they faced some sort of a challenge or adversity and then the creative solution that came out of that. Um, I think we’re always at our best or I, I love to see our creativity when we’re really faced, you know, with a challenge and how we creatively solve that problem. And what comes from that. Do you have an experience that you can, um, share with us? Um, you know, the challenge is usually for, um, a CVB or a tpa in our case in, in New York state, um, governmental regulations and, uh, layers of,

Kevin Costello: 20:48 and trying to navigate all that. I think that’s always my biggest challenge. It’s happened in every community I’ve ever worked for is trying to, let’s figure out, you know, what, uh, the level of understanding of what tourism is, uh, from a governmental level and because primarily our support comes from tax dollars. Um, whether that’s a room tax or however else, you know, in other communities that works out, but they all feel a lot of ownership to that tax dollar. So being able to, I dunno, navigate those channels to get the powers that be, to understand and become a supporter of tourism is a really a fundamental thing that all BMO directors have to figure out one way or another. Um, you know, I had that kind of a challenge in Abingdon. Um, it was a small historic town and the theater was the big attraction in everybody’s mind because it had been there since the depression.

Kevin Costello: 21:47 It was called the barter theater because you could harder ham for hamlet. They said, so, you know, we had any money during the great depression, so you could come in with, you know, livestock or chickens and eggs and all that, and then get to go to see the show. You’d barter for the tickets. So it had been there forever and it was the big dog in the room, right? It was the, everyone felt like it was the driver to the destination. Um, you know, after a year and a half of working there, I quickly realized that, well, maybe not so much, um, because they were getting a lot of locals going to the shows. They had a lot of student groups go into the shows that we’re not staying overnight. I mean, it was great, great theater, great acting, great performances, did bring in a level of, um, visitation and overnight visitation.

Kevin Costello: 22:34 But really the Virginia creeper trail, the bike trail was generating the bulk of that in my mind. This was all, you know, anecdotal. I’ve, I just, from looking at it, so, you know, to get the buy in behind what I needed to, to be, which was [inaudible] present to the powers that be, that we need to be promoting the creeper trail, uh, more than the barter theater and not get everybody pissed off about that. I hired, uh, um, young strategies, uh, so a researcher to come in and interview, uh, you know, survey all of our visitors and, uh, show factually that that was the case. And as you mentioned, Berkley Young, who is the, uh, owner of young strategies talks about that experience, um, where he came into Abingdon and talked about the impact of the creeper trail. And so, uh, he boiled it down to the simple little phrase in that barters barter, but they don’t creep and creepers barter.

Kevin Costello: 23:34 So like if you come to the creeper trail and ride your bike, you’re also nine times out of 10, going to buy a ticket to the theater and go. But the audience that goes to the barter theater are primarily elderly or young, and they’re not riding the creeper trail. So they’re staying fewer days in the destination, uh, spending less money in the destination. So the real, uh, impact for tourism was by promoting the creeper trail. And once my biggest naysayer on town council started repeating that phrase, I was like, okay, uh, my job just got so much easier. Thank you. Berkeley.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:09 Yeah. What a, what a win

Kevin Costello: 24:11 search. I mean they couldn’t put it, deny it. It was just there. It was easy for them to say and understand. And so, uh, we got an increase in our budget and started marketing outdoor recreation when after used that money to go after some grants from the state to help the Virginia creeper trail club, which was a nonprofit create their own website and advertising campaigns. So it’s been very successful sense.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:36 Yeah, that’s awesome. And I love that. Um, you know, you let the research speak for it. So you had, you had some insights, right? Some firsthand insights just from observation, anecdotal information that you had. Um, but then you hired a researcher to help you prove that out because it is hard to argue with hard facts. Right.

Kevin Costello: 24:55 Well, and then my other problem is that I was a, from the north and I was just a halfback at that point. And so nobody likes a New York state. No. It all down. And uh, southwest Virginia, they wouldn’t take me at my word.

Nicole Mahoney: 25:11 That’s right. So, Kevin, I’m looking into the future, um, in your current role, is there any project that you’re currently working on that you’re particularly excited about that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Kevin Costello: 25:25 Oh, well, we’re working on a project regionally, um, with, so were it also in the finger lakes wine country region, which is stupid. And Skylar Shamong, Tioga and Yates County. And, uh, all of those five counties, CPAs have gotten together with our five cooperative extension offices and applied to the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC, which we, most of us sit in that the northern, the southern tier of New York state is in the northern part of the Appalachian Regional Commission, um, funding area. And we got a grant to create a, um, an agritourism project. So we’ve been working on that for about a year now and a thought that we would have maybe a hundred different, you know, um, corn mazes and farmer’s markets and roadside stands and farm stays and all of that kind of fun stuff. But, you know, we’ve put it all together. We have well over 200, um, uh, attractions and opportunities to participate in agritourism. So we’ve created a website for that and, um, we’re going to have an advertising campaign and a part of it is the cooperative extensions have developed a program where they can reach out to current farmers who might be interested in doing agritourism and help train them so they can participate in the project. So that’s kind of okay. A fun project that we’re working on right now.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:46 Yeah, that sounds awesome. What’s the A, is the website live?

Kevin Costello: 26:50 No, not yet. We’re putting our final touches on and we were hoping to be done by, you know, the, the fall season, the harvest season. So our deadline is a couple more weeks before it goes live.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:01 Okay. Well, well we’ll watch for that when it comes out and that sounds really awesome. I love it. There’s 200 attractions in agritourism in those five counties in the finger lakes wine country,

Kevin Costello: 27:14 and that does not include wineries or distilleries or any of that craft beverage. Uh, we decided this is all about agriculture. Um, you know, even though the wine industry is agriculture boat, they are, we already have wine trails and craft beverage trail. No, we were already promoting that, uh, component to it. So this is really more of the cheeses, the Alpaca farms, you know, just all of that strictly agricultural-based. That’s great.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:45 So I want to switch gears a little bit and that’s a perfect segue actually into this whole idea of collaboration because I’m, one of the things that I love to talk about on this show is a collaboration. What I like to call coopertition. Um, we’ve already talked a little bit about it, um, in these previous couple of questions, but basically where competitors or perceived competitors come together to create something bigger than they could do on their own, you just described one for us, um, with the Haeger tourism project. I’m wondering if there’s another, uh, collaboration that’s worked for you, um, that you could also share with us.

Kevin Costello: 28:21 Um, yeah. Well. So the, the water trail project, um, started off just in Bodytech county and then we expanded into Rockbridge county because the river just didn’t end at the end where our border was. So, you know, we expanded it and, um, we’re interested in sanding it further. Um, but then I left and I don’t know how all that played out, but, um, definitely, you know, collaborating with other counties when you have a, you know, a mutual, um, thing in common like the river or agritourism, that kind of thing is really easy to do. I think. Um, you know, we’re looking at maybe creating a water trail down here in the Cisco Hanna River Basin, so that would be a Chambong counties do Ben County, Tioga County, uh, even in towards, um, room county and all of that. So that, that’s going to take a little while. But, um, that is something that we’re thinking about doing.

Kevin Costello: 29:18 Um, and then, uh, down in Abingdon, Virginia, we collaborated, um, with a couple of different counties on that rooted in Appalachia, uh, program. I only say Appalachia because that’s how they pronounce it down there, you know, but, uh, and that was kind of a, not necessarily a foodie trail, but it was trying, I worked with this organization called Appalachian Sustainable Development Man, which was a, um, in that region that really their goal was to keep small rural farms sustainable. And I did that through like, you know, connecting them with farmer’s markets and restaurant doers and, uh, we put this project together where we came up with a brand and a websites and a marketing campaign for the restaurants that were participating that had a farm to table philosophy. It’s difficult to do that because you know, there’s no farm to table police that come around and say you’re not serving farm to table.

Kevin Costello: 30:16 So we had five different things that they had to do or attempt to do to participate, like serve local beer, wine, um, you know, go to the farmer’s markets to purchase products from farmers, um, take sustainable approaches. Um, so, you know, we, we partnered with the two different counties and maybe 25 different farms to start that project. Um, it was a bit of a bear to put together, but it was very rewarding in that, um, the farmers meetings with the farmers was a lot of fond. They’re great people. And, uh, hanging out with the restaurant tours was a lot of fun. And then we also put a team together of local chefs to go to Pete and the cast iron cook-off up in West Virginia at the Greenbrier. So, uh, again, tourism is a really difficult job when you have to do stuff like that.

Nicole Mahoney: 31:06 Yeah. Another example of somebody gotta do it.

Kevin Costello: 31:10 Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We had to stay at the Greenbrier, which is this beautiful resort in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Um, and it was a lot of fun.

Nicole Mahoney: 31:19 That’s awesome. I love how you talked about finding a mutual asset in common, um, you know, and how that makes it a lot easier to facilitate these collaborations. I’m wondering if you can share any kind of best practices or things that you’ve learned along the way, um, that help make a partnership more successful.

Kevin Costello: 31:43 I think a communicating up front is vital. Sitting down together and brainstorming ideas, uh, figuring out what you have in common and then getting the other stakeholders involved with that. So there’s a broader concept and then realizing that not everybody can bring the same amount of things to the table, whether that’s money or time and energy. You know, every tourism office has different budget, different number of people, um, and being willing, if you’re the bigger, broader, um, you know, better, bigger budget, more staff, it’s some of the responsibility and legwork might land on you and that it’s, that [inaudible] is not a problem. You know what I mean?

Nicole Mahoney: 32:26 Yeah. I think that’s a great point because you’re right there, there are so many different sizes. Uh, resources are different for different offices, whether it’s the human resource or the financial resource. And I think that’s a really great point to make because I think sometimes, you know, when you think about something, you tried to think, well, we’re all equally going to share in this. Um, but that might not be possible. And you’d hate to see a program that happened because it’s not equitable, for example.

Kevin Costello: 32:55 And I always try to think like the most, the two most important people in a project like that are the small business that you will help get more business and then the consumer. So the visitor, um, you know, I’m just doing my job by creating tourism proud products. Um, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. So it’s not an egotistical thing for me, it’s just a part of my job. Um, but at the end of the day, connecting people with, um, places to spend money in, uh, in particular mom and pop small businesses is a bit of a passion of mine.

Nicole Mahoney: 33:30 Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that the business that we’re in and probably the majority of destinations, um, destination marketers, you know, have those small communities, those small main streets. And, um, I think that’s a, that’s a great passion to have when you’re in this business for sure. Right? Yeah.

Kevin Costello: 33:48 Yeah. I mean, if you live in a small town like Abin and everybody knew me, right? So I had to, I’ve tried to shop actually outside of town, so I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes talking to somebody. In the aisle when it my ice cream melting.

Nicole Mahoney: 34:01 Right. That’s great. So this has been a great conversation. I’ve one more question I’d like to ask you before we go and, and this is a question we’ve been exploring on the show this year and it has to do with the, um, the evolution of destination marketers and kind of the expansion of the role of a destination marketer. And a little bit of it is kind of what we were just talking about. You know, that community manager, right? Being active within the community and that just focused on bringing on the, on outside the community, bringing those visitors in. And so I’m wondering, um, what you are seeing in terms of the evolution of your work.

Kevin Costello: 34:38 Yeah. Uh, well, um, you know, our mission statement is, uh, has a reference to the, we are the storyteller of stupen county. And I think that’s really the evolution that I’m seeing is that websites are, uh, becoming less and less about listings of individual businesses. And more about tell us the story of that individual business or what makes them tick or what makes them stand apart from the rest. So, you know, our website has really moved away from listings and really focused hard on creating those spotlight stories on individual brewers or um, you know, chefs in the destination and um, more content creation and curation. Um, whether that’s what we do in house or we outsource it to a third party company or we use user generated content, um, through other digital, it’s really about visual and contextual content and pushing that out about your destination and less about a brand anymore. Yeah. Which is maybe a bummer for all your graphic design folks out there.

Nicole Mahoney: 35:55 It could be, although I think their roles just evolve, it has to evolve like the rest of us. Right? Yeah,

Kevin Costello: 35:59 absolutely. Right. Yeah.

Nicole Mahoney: 36:01 Yeah. Um, I love that you pointed out, you know, it’s visual and it’s contextual, um, storytelling and that just, you know, the, the listings and kind of how, you know, how you used to, um, market. I think that’s just a really great, a great point. And I wanted to actually, I meant to ask you this earlier, but we haven’t said it yet, but could you talk a little bit about Steuben County, cause Steuben county isn’t necessarily, and you did mention you’re in finger lakes wine country, but talk a little bit about your destination for our listeners who aren’t, who aren’t familiar with where Steuben county is and what, what your destination represents.

Kevin Costello: 36:38 Sure. Uh, yeah, so Steuben is on the, the southern tier of New York state. Um, Eh, our lake is Cuculla Lake and so at the southern tip of Cucu Lake is the town of Hammond Sport, which one budget travels coolest small town. It was 2015 and I believe they tied. So, uh, I don’t know who the other community was, but regardless there, uh, it’s really cool. Small town. Um, the county seat is in bath. Um, and they have claim to fame. The, uh, county fairs been going on there for 200 straight years. So, uh, it’s, you know, really were, what much of the county is rural agricultural base. A lot of, um, you know, state forest land, public land. So we see a lot of hunters coming for deer hunting. Um, we’d see a lot of fishermen coming for our rivers and lakes and streams. Uh, and then Corning, which is the biggest community in a Steuben county is of course home too corny and incorporated, which is a fortune, um, 400, um, industry that everybody, you know, in New York state is familiar with.

Kevin Costello: 37:52 Pretty much anybody outside of New York state is familiar with as well. And they’ve invested a lot of money into, uh, the arts in the historic gaffer district downtown, which is our business improvement district that has wonderful shops and restaurants and hotels. And then of course the Corning Museum of Glass, uh, which sees over 400,000 visitors a year to come and learn about the history of glass and glass making. Um, and so we’re fortunate to have corny here, um, both from a tourism perspective and a community perspective. Uh, and then we have just such, I think a stupid county is maybe the second largest county in New York state. I could be wrong about that. Um, but geographic size, we’re bigger than Rhode Island population. Not so much, but graphic. So it’s a big county to promote. Uh, it has its challenges in that, you know, that’s very rural in certain places. So we have to think creatively on how we can promote those parts of the county as well as Corny, you know, the big dog in the room. So.

Nicole Mahoney: 38:51 Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you for, for that and uh, our listeners can find more information about you at which website.

Kevin Costello: 39:01 Oh, we’re corny in finger

Nicole Mahoney: 39:03 Awesome. Well thank you so much Kevin, for spending some time with us and well, look forward to seeing some of these programs. Roll out your agritourism program and we’ll check in with you again.

Kevin Costello: 39:14 Okay. And then just a shout out to those students. If they’re listening. We’re always looking for an intern and I’m always really open to giving back to, uh, you know, the college community. So if there are students that it’s easier if you’ll live in Corning, um, to, to work for us. But, uh, we’re looking for insurance for a anytime during the year. I’m glad to help out.

Nicole Mahoney: 39:33 That’s awesome. And a, what a great point. So thank you so much.

Kevin Costello: 39:37 All right, Nicole. Have a great day.

We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more o​f. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!

Related Podcasts