PROBLEM/SITUATION: Providing accurate, up-to-date tourism information to travelers.
SOLUTION: A centralized database of travel information accessible via web or kiosk.
JURISDICTIONS: Illinois Bureau of Tourism, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Agency, Illinois Department of Transportation.
VENDORS: Destination Marketing Group, Valassis Communications, Sybase.
Tourists rarely employ a travel agent for trips less than a week long, or vacations not involving major travel. Instead, they seek pamphlets and other information from the state. But while most states possess state or national parks, sponsor special events and festivals and maintain countless tourist attractions, not all are successful at providing accurate, timely information to the traveler. Most simply mail brochures or answer questions by phone.
Some states have automated their tourism marketing by creating static Web sites. There, tourists can download basic information replicated from the states' brochures. Unfortunately, glossy brochures and Web sites can be difficult and costly to produce and maintain.
ILLINOIS TOURISM CHALLENGES
Despite a lack of major national parks, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism (IBOT) has an amazing ability to promote its attractions. In the past, Convention and Visitors' Bureaus (CVBs) maintained relatively accurate and current tourism data, but the state lacked a centrally located clearinghouse where customers could access this information.
Like those of many other states, IBOT's "old" tourism system was generic and unresponsive. It was plagued by a number of problems, including a reliance on expensive third-class bulk mailing and outdated information. Tourism information can change quickly and the state was unable to provide the most current information to customers. This problem was compounded by the method used to update information. The CVBs regularly completed information survey forms and forwarded them to a central publication/information center, but this proved woefully inadequate at maintaining current tourism information.
In the past, IBOT implemented travel kiosks, a Web site, and a central call center, but each operated from separate back-end databases. The state lacked a centrally located database
to provide tourism information in a timely manner.
According to Desi Harris, the assistant deputy director of the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, IBOT's vision was to create a marketing approach "to link buyers and sellers in a creative and distinctive way that gave Illinois the competitive edge it needed. Illinois has a lot to offer, but it's been a well-kept secret compared to the well-known activities available in nearby states such as Michigan and Wisconsin."
TRAVEL COUNSELING SYSTEM
In response, IBOT contracted for the development of a system based on a single product database. The new system combines a call center, a dynamic Web site, and an intranet communication network, developed and maintained by the Destination Marketing Group -- a subsidiary of Valassis Communications.
The foundation for the system is the call center software, a client/server application running on NT with a Sybase database engine. The front-end client application was written in Powerbuilder, and an intranet contains CGI scripting, providing dynamic access to the database. Doug Parks, vice president at Destination Marketing Group, manages the account with IBOT.
Using an intranet, the state's 36 CVBs and four regional tourism development offices are connected to the main database. When tourism information changes in different regions of the state, the CVBs immediately update the information contained in the main database. This system has already reduced the state's workload and proved extremely cost-effective.
Most importantly, with 9,000 records in the system, vacationers now get excellent, up-to-date trip information.
The system provides a "personal counselor" to assist with travel planning. The personal counselor locates relevant travel information and sends it to the customer by first-class U. S. mail, fax or e-mail.
Information can also be obtained self-serve by using the