The Power of Conversation, Falling Rock, and Ice Cream, with Fred Bonn

Episode 110:

Fred Bonn of New York State Park, Finger Lakes Region, and his management team, oversee 29 facilities across 10 counties. In 2018, Finger Lakes Parks has welcomed over 3. 8 million patrons who enjoyed hiking, swimming, boating, golf, and camping. Prior to joining New York State Parks, Fred served as the director of the Ithaca-Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Currently, he serves on the board of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, and the State Theater of Ithaca. He also represents New York State Parks on the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Fred about regional collaboration from the perspective of a state-run entity. He has some fantastic success stories to share about working to enhance the visitor experience at the parks he and his team manage and paying attention to all the resources that abound beyond the park borders. He also ends with arguably our most delicious co-opetition story yet, so listen in for a truly special episode.

What You Will Learn:

  • Equipping all customer-facing staff with training to answer basic questions about your destination and region
  • Finding funding and working with key stakeholders to enhance the visitor experience at your venue
  • Tying your destination into the broader visitor experience of your region
  • How to manage huge maintenance projects at key attractions while protecting public safety
  • Empowering people to come up with solutions
  • Taking blinders off and working for a greater good
  • Best practices for successful partnerships
  • The power of face to face conversation in travel planning
  • Taking travel information to where people are actually going

Taking the Blinders Off

Even if you’re just a little cabin in the woods, you are part of a wider region where people are spending time vacationing. The more you can look beyond your individual business, the more opportunities you will find. For Fred Bonn and the Finger Lakes area state parks, that meant not just thinking about hikes and camping, but about the regional wines, craft beverages, history – everything that draws people to visit the Finger Lakes region. Travelers don’t pay attention to town or county lines when they are planning their itinerary, so the more local businesses, public entities, visitors bureaus, and DMOs can work together to market a region – the more pie there is to share. That is the lesson Fred continually learns and preachs to others in his work.

Lessons From the Ice Cream Sundae Wars

Controversy is sticky. People pay attention when there is a controversy. So when Ithaca, NY found out that Two Rivers, Wisconsin was trying to lay claim as the birthplace of the ice cream sundae, war may not have been inevitable – but it made for some good headlines. It was the perfect opportunity for some good old-fashioned co-opetition.

Both towns agreed to boast that they were the first, with the thought that maybe they would get some national media attention. Not only did it work, but when a media outlet would interview one town, they would call the other to give them a few clues about how to keep stoking the flames. “Reality” TV is not the only place where fake controversy can pay off- publicity from friendly rivalries can be a great way to garner attention and a win-win for both participants.


Episode Transcript

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