Be Creative and Collaborate in Travel Marketing, with Kevin Costello

Episode 143:

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.


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Episode Transcript