An impressive array of static information can be accessed from the award-winning IBOT Web site, including seasonal information, maps, weather updates, links to various theater pages, Illinois sports and transportation schedules.
Travelers will find the Web site trip planner especially valuable. Working off a detailed search engine that accesses the database, the trip planner
THE STATE'S INVESTMENT
Currently, IBOT maintains the system through regular yearly appropriations. Overall, Harris estimated that "the new system is far superior to the old in terms of cost-effectiveness. For example, the reductions in mailing and printing alone has made the system worthwhile. In addition, by instituting a single product database, IBOT has eliminated manpower costs associated with maintaining numerous smaller databases around the state."
To attract more domestic and international tourists, business travelers, and convention and trade show attendees, Illinois' 1998 fiscal year budget includes a $2 million increase -- to $18,716,500 -- earmarked for marketing. This money will be directed toward local tourism and CVBs located throughout the state. The Tourism Promotion Fund is also being increased by $741,800. That will enable IBOT to respond to the increasing number of calls currently handled by the call center.
While certainly cost-effective, the new system also allows IBOT to target market and advertise through response indicators in the software. IBOT can monitor the number and kind of queries made on the Web site and the call center. For example, if query statistics show customers are no longer accessing information about the Lincoln Home, IBOT can focus advertising away from areas of current popularity, such as Chicago or Lake Michigan, and devote more resources to promoting the Lincoln homestead.
According to Harris, "The new tourism system has completely changed how the Tourism Bureau targets promotion of Illinois attractions."
So far, IBOT and its customers seem satisfied with the new system. "Eighty-five percent of users surveyed indicated that they were either very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the tourism system," Harris said.
"The state has been visionary in its willingness to invest in new solutions that actually meet customer needs," said DMG's Parks. "But they're being practical by using the database in multiple ways to make certain they're getting a return on that investment."
Although the current system is impressive, Harris said it's still a challenge keeping up with the explosion in information technology systems. Each year, it becomes more difficult to stay ahead of other states, especially in the cutthroat tourism business. Illinois has come up with some interesting solutions for keeping its edge in the future.
One is launching a geographic information system (GIS) component in the system. This will provide accurate maps via the Web site, and allow the customer to plan hotels, meals, and side trips along the designated travel route, mapped-out in detail for the weary traveler.
For value-conscious travelers, another future attraction will be a coupon program on the Web site, where customers will be informed of special values offered at events, restaurants, and other Illinois attractions. This will give prospective customers, especially those with cost-cutting in mind, the "best deals" in the state.
IBOT is also currently developing direct e-mailing and faxing of database information to customers who show a special interest in particular areas. For example, if an outdoor enthusiast regularly canoes on Illinois rivers and periodically accesses the database for river information, the bureau may establish a direct link to that customer. After the customer specifies canoeing as a category,