States Hook Tourists Online

Like their corporate colleagues, state travel and tourism agencies have rapidly developed sophisticated Web sites to promote travel opportunities in their respective states.

by / May 31, 1996
As summer approaches thoughts are turning to school vacations and travel. Computer users are increasingly turning to the Internet in search of things to do and places to visit. What they are finding is the travel industry has fully embraced the World Wide Web. A quick tour through the travel section of any of the major directories, Yahoo Excite , et. al., will give the browser access to enormous amounts of information.

Airline companies, hotel chains and bed-and-breakfast associations are all using the Web to market their accommodations and services.

The power of this medium as a marketing tool to attract tourists has also been discovered by state governments. Like their corporate colleagues, state travel and tourism agencies have rapidly developed sophisticated Web sites to promote travel opportunities in their respective states.

The initial effort of most states has been to produce sites that are remarkably similar to the kind of glossy brochures one might find at a visitor center. It is the kind of information that can be very effectively presented on the Web. It gives a potential visitor exactly what they want, specific information about attractions with accompanying pictures.

The only difficulty associated with the direct replication of brochures is that large photo images can make a site somewhat slow to access. Many travel-related sites are now dealing with this issue. Photos can be presented in a reduced size and are expandable for those with interest or with very high-speed Internet connections.

As state government travel sites have evolved, many have become extremely useful. The Arizona site includes a link to an online version of Arizona Highways magazine . Besides pictures of spectacular sunsets over the desert, the site promotes recommended hikes and backpacking trips, a calendar of events, a catalog of gifts and guidebooks, and of course an online subscription form.

The site also features a virtual tour of a specific attraction, an increasingly popular addition to many travel sites. The current edition allows visitors to see a picture and read a brief history of Boot Hill -- Tombstone's graveyard for villains.

The technology being used in many of the sites is also getting more sophisticated. Besides providing links to attractions, some are providing built-in search engines to provide easy connections to related sites.

The Florida Communities Network's One Stop Service Center for Tourism provides links to feature attractions like Disney World, Epcot Center, Sea World and others in the Orlando area, and a quick search provides links to other sites throughout the state.

Minnesota's North Star site features an Explore Minnesota section from the Office of Tourism . It includes a
comprehensive searchable database of places to stay and things to do in Minnesota. The database can be accessed by region and then further by places to stay, things to do, sports, arts and miscellaneous calendars.

The site also features links to an educational overview of the state, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota Historical Society, and numerous wilderness and locally based tourism organizations throughout the state.

The Ohio travel site, Tr@vel.Ohio , is particularly advanced in their use of Web tools. They have incorporated both frames and JavaScript into their site. Java is used to make the site's calendar of events particularly user- friendly by allowing for the retrieval of events occurring on a specific date chosen by the individual. In addition to lodging and trip information, the site features Buck's Connections that provides links to other travel related sites throughout Ohio. An online submission form allows Web sites the ability to directly apply for a link.

The Ohio Office of Tourism also recently sponsored an online contest section that awarded a free trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Travel-related sites are among the more popular areas visited on the Web. As travelers continue to use the Internet to plan vacations and other leisure activities, state tourism agencies will have this powerful marketing tool to thank for attracting visitors and
their travel dollars.

Michael Nevins is a co-founder and director of State Technologies Inc., a nonprofit research group. State Technologies publishes the Web service Government On Line: . E-mail address: .