So let me start this discussion with a bit of a backhanded compliment to our neighbors in Vermont.
When I drive through many of their gorgeous valleys and quaint communities, I see many of the same problems that we have here in the North Country.
There are eyesore junkyards, old trailers, dilapidated homes, sagging barns. But here’s the thing: I don’t notice it as much.
Vermont has marketed and “branded” itself so effectively, that I’m conditioned to focus on the cool stuff: the fall color or the maple buckets on the trees or the white picket fences and old stone store fronts.
As I report this morning, the Adirondacks has never quite managed this feat. Unlike other national-caliber tourist destinations, we haven’t packaged ourselves very effectively.
Even though Lake Placid is a globally known village, the rest of the Park doesn’t register in people’s imaginations.
Before I moved to the North Country, I thought “Adirondack” was a kind of chair.
By contrast, Vermont is a brand and a lifestyle option almost as much as a real place. So is Hawaii. So is New Orleans.
Visitors are enticed to go there not by a laundry list of possible things to do, but by an overall impression, a concept.
It’s the same reason that a lot of people choose the Gap over other clothing stores. They’re not just buying blue jeans or a tee-shirt. They’re buying into a pre-packaged narrative about the experience.
In a way, it’s kind of cool that the Adirondacks has avoided this kind of Madison Avenue messaging. This may be one of the few A-list places in America that people really can discover for themselves.
But unfortunately, a lot of potential visitors don’t even know enough about us to begin that journey. They don’t know that there’s something here worth exploring.
So it’s kind of a Catch-22. We’re authentic in part because we’re undefined. But because we’re undefined, we’re also undiscovered.
Which means that a lot of our tourism businesses struggle, especially in the interminable “off” seasons.
Is it possible to market the Adirondacks differently, so that this place becomes as concrete a brand as, say, the Colorado Rockies or Maine? If so, what would that brand look like?
Or should we stick with the grassroots, muddled, down-home approach? As always, your comments welcome.