Your Vacation Paradise Awaits on the Other Side of the Tunnel

In This Age of 'Staycations,' Long Island Offers a Case Study of How to Plug What You've Got

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"Aloha, baby!" That's what the ad says, complete with a picture of a giant wave. A campaign for Hawaii, right?

Try "The Island Next Door" -- Long Island.

Yes, Long Island -- and not the glamorous, gazillionaire Hamptons part. The Nassau County part, humbly attached to Queens. It's a land of 1.4 million souls, many of whom schlep to the city each day. For decades, Stan Bratskeir was one of them.

"My relationship with Nassau County was by and large a relationship with the Long Island Expressway," the president of Blue Wolf Communications says. But after he sold his Manhattan agency, he met Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Tom's dream? Make Long Island a mecca for tourists.

"If you like bedrooms, you'll love Long Island!" "Come for the traffic, stay in the traffic." "Long Island: It's Buttafucco-rific!"

Guess that's why they didn't tap me for the job. "Two million Billy Joel fans can't be wrong," suggested David Parmet at PerkettPR, when I asked him for slogans. "See the beautiful Marriott off of Exit 58 -- Convenient to the historic Smith Haven Mall!"

They didn't tap him either. The fact is, it's hard to think of Long Island as anything but suburbia writ large. "It's not really known as a tourist destination," Bratskeir admitted -- which is like admitting, "Most people really don't go to Bangladesh for the spas." But in this age of "staycations," Long Island decided to go for it.

Mayors of America, take note: This is a case study in how to plug whatever you've got.

In Long Island's case, they've got a lot of shopping, beaches and bad PR, mostly propagated by the people who left.

"You cannot make Long Island a destination," said publicist Shira Dicker, a native. "It is something to run from, screaming."

But from a potential tourist's point of view, things are different.

"We've got the Atlantic Ocean and phenomenal mansions and assets like 'Museum Row,'" said Bratskeir. True, it's just three museums, one of them for kids. But call it "Museum Row," and it becomes a destination.

Long Island also has some great golf courses. Package them as a golf vacation, and you've got a whole new tourist demographic.

The county is trying to appeal to gas-strapped locals as well as foreign vacationers. But how do you persuade either group to spurn the shops of Manhattan for the malls of Manhasset? Find a strength.

"If you are not 'somebody' in New York, and you want one of the coveted bags that aren't on the shelf, they say, 'Oh we don't have any of those,' and of course they have about a dozen waiting for who's who," says Lisa Jurick, the Nassau campaign's "shopping ambassador." Suddenly, Long Island's "less chic" translates as "less intimidating."

Believe it or not, Long Island -- land of the souped-up Camaro -- is promoting nature, too. "You have, like, one red-tailed hawk," Suozzi said, comparing Manhattan to his county. "We've got red-tailed hawks and osprey." It might be hard to base a tourist economy on osprey lovers, but Long Island is playing up its beaches and greenery as trip-worthy.

"Suburbia sur la mer?" mused Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners Chief Creative Officer Richard Kirshenbaum, a native Long Islander.

At first he laughed. But then he thought about it some more. "Honestly, it's the same beach in Nassau as in East Hampton, and it's within 45 minutes of New York." Hmmm.

Becoming a staycation location may be just a matter of marketing. Play up what you've got.

And try not to mention the expressway.
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