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Inside ABC’s Approach to Tourism

In preparation for the upcoming New York State Tourism Industry Association New York State Tourism Conference, we decided to look back on some of our most successful campaigns over the past 20 years. Here’s a past conversation with ABC Owner and Creative Director Travis Bort about that experience.

How did you get into tourism?

I’ve been very, very fortunate to work with the Central New York Travel Region and I Love New York since 2003. Back when we started our partnership, it was the Central Leatherstocking Region. We actually helped them rebrand to “Central New York.” During all this time working with them, we’ve constantly developed new ideas and strategies to help them stand out with projects like CNYFresh, an agritourism campaign, and Brew Central, an initiative focused on craft beverages. These are just a couple of ways we united these eight counties behind the features that make them truly unique.

It’s incredible to think about, but we’ve been with this client for two decades now and we’re still going strong. That’s really something rare in our industry and I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve been partners for so long. I think it’s a real testament to our agency’s commitment to continuously generating new ideas and my team’s ability to dream up successful concepts.

For example, one of the most successful and fun ideas we’ve executed for CNY has been Brew Central, which goes back to the challenge of marketing eight unique counties as a single entity. The area had a very long history in hop-growing and beer production. It was also exceptionally dense with microbreweries making really, really great craft beer. It was a hot trend at the time and a growing one that remains very much relevant today in the 11th year of the initiative. We wanted to transform Central New York into America’s Craft Brew Destination and we did it creatively with Stories on Tap, a collection of video and editorial content as well as photography featuring the stories of producers that has proven to really resonate with craft beverage enthusiasts throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and maybe even the country.

It’s been marketed internationally, and our work has been used to inspire travelers as far away as the U.K. and Germany. We built that project from the ground up. With Stories on Tap at the core, we’ve extended that storytelling to many media – website, social, print. It’s just a great example of how we can create the idea based firmly on client goals and execute it in every and any way necessary.

What are some other favorite projects?

When I think back on all the destination marketing projects we’ve taken on – and there have been many – one that sticks out is a lesser-known project we did for a rural county with a limited budget. That’s precisely what makes it so special, I think.

Social media was still in its infancy. Mad Foods was a culinary-themed initiative designed to draw foodies to Madison County, New York. We noticed the surprising amount of culinary artists throughout all these small towns and villages. There were damn good restaurants with great chefs practicing some amazing culinary arts.

We wanted to draw attention to this, so we hatched the idea and named the concept Mad Foods. A lot of these kinds of tourism projects come off as inauthentic, something presented by what in essence is a government organization. To make Mad Foods work, we camouflaged it as a grassroots effort. We created a website, naturally. We invited foodies to write their own reviews about the amazing culinary experiences they had in Madison County.

That and the promotion – Mad Foods-branded coasters, takeout bags and even a billboard. The whole thing was a lot of fun and documented success.

What is your favorite recent project?

Cortland Curiosities. While most tourism trails tend to focus on food and drink, this one has an alternative twist. Turns out Cortland County had some secrets to share in the form of forgotten history that is mysterious, creepy and just plain weird. It’s the kind of theme that appeals to tourists attracted to the paranormal, for instance, but also the general masses just interested in a different experience.

Cortland County put together a dozen trails centered around murder mysteries and oddball stuff like an old-school circus and the Cardiff Giant and asked us to create the website and collateral. We dove right into this one, integrating the spooky vibe of the campaign into all the art elements that the designers just ran with. We topped it off with a video series called Tales from the Trail that we just released. We’re really excited about moving this project forward with even more assets.

The website is one of our coolest examples of destination marketing digital. It includes an interactive map for each of the trails that reveals not only the locations, but the extensive stories Cortland County put together for the campaign.

What is something you always keep in mind when doing marketing for tourism?

I constantly remind my creative team to look at the area we are promoting as if they don’t know it. Sometimes we tend to take the amazing things around New York for granted and don’t understand how incredible it could be to someone from another part of the country or world. Like I said, we take so much of this stuff for granted. We work with some of the most beautiful environments in the country with some even cooler attractions.

The research piece is an essential part of what we do. It’s the foundation of my idea-based marketing philosophy. And while we’re doing that, it’s important to become completely immersed in the subject matter – even if it’s something we’re already familiar with.