States Vie for Digital Super-Highway Travelers
By Nick Timiraos, Special to Stateline
Plan the road trip, book the hotel, see the points of interest, send a postcard, buy the souvenir and check the weather - all from your keyboard when you visit state tourism Web sites.
State tourism offices hope to lure millions of leisure seekers digitally this summer not only with practical aids - online reservations, vacation planners, exclusive Web deals and chat-room help desks - but also with gimmicks to entice out-of-state travelers and keep their own residents in-state. With more Americans expected to purchase leisure travel online than offline this year, according to a May report in industry magazine Travel Weekly , states are looking to use the Web as a cost-efficient marketing tool.
The click of a mouse takes you on a virtual trip from the Gulf Stream waters to the redwood forests:
- California and Texas offer maps for suggested scenic drives while Montana and Nevada post bike-trail guides.
- Georgia 's opening multimedia presentation takes online guests through a quick, animated photo tour of the state's five regions.
- Pennsylvania features actual accounts from six different leisure travelers - an outdoor adventurer, a history buff and a motorcycle biker, among others - posted on a live blog accessible from the interactive home page.
- Missouri 's "One Tank Trips" highlights short excursions that won't break the bank at the pump.
- Hoping to attract foreign visitors, Delaware presents tourist information in English, Spanish, French, German, Swedish and Japanese.
- Connecticut 's campaign aims to attract stressed-out 35- to 54-year-olds from New York. The campaign promotes the emotional rewards of a trip to Connecticut, and the Web site shows close-ups of smiling, relaxed women.
- Popular marriage destinations Hawaii and Nevada include comprehensive online wedding guides, complete with chapel listings and honeymoon destinations.
- Rhode Island offers a downloadable coupon book to help defray the costs of road travel and allows users to request a vacation guide.
"Since we have a small budget, this is one place where we can really compete," Brodeur said. Half of online visitors that request a guidebook will visit the state, he said.
Mark Brodeur, Rhode Island director of tourism operations, said the Internet has helped market the nation's smallest state without the high cost of television advertising.
If convenient online help brings travelers to the sites, creative online contests keep them entertained.
Nevada emphasizes outdoor adventure with an online raffle for a Haultent, a collapsible RV trailer.
Building off a similar promotion that began last summer, Kansas has revamped The Mega Gigantic Getaway Giveaway, offering a range of prizes - a flat-screen high-definition TV, various weekend and day-long trips, and mountain bikes - to residents and out-of-state visitors who travel at least 100 miles from their home to photograph designated Kansas landmarks.
North Dakota and Missouri have similar photo contests offering cash prizes to entry winners. Travelers that register online with the Nebraska Department of Travel and Tourism can win $100 of Omaha Steaks.
But the Internet allows for more than just deal alerts and promotional giveaways. Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation posted an online construction map to help summer travelers locate potential slow spots caused by highway roadwork.
Nearly 64 million travelers - 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - used the Internet last year to find travel and destination information, according to the Trade Industry Association of America(TIA). And of that group, nearly three-quarters, 44.6 million, booked at least one travel service or product online.
TIA reported that more than 36 million travelers registered with an online travel service last year to receive e-mail offers and promotions, and states have joined the panoply of hotels, airlines and online agencies using e-mail. At least nine states offer e-mail newsletters that alert prospective visitors to travel deals and seasonal events.
If Internet visitors are any prediction of actual summer travel turnout, Michigan tourism officials believe that they have a bright summer outlook. Anticipating the rush that traditionally begins with Memorial Day weekend, Travel Michigan boasted a site record 31,986 visitors to www.michigan.org on May 25, or an average 2.7 visitor sessions every second, according to a press release.