Illinois Launches Tourism Campaign State Uses Database to Help Plan Vacations

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IF DONNA SHAW had her way, every Illinoisan would take a vacation in the state to "get a million miles from Monday" from now until the millennium. Shaw, the state's director of tourism, has set a goal of increasing tourism revenue to $29 billion by the turn of the century, a solid increase from 1995's $17.2 billion, and up 5.6 percent from the previous year.

At the Illinois Governor's Conference on Tourism in April, Shaw said the state questioned its customers to see what help they needed to vacation in the state. The replies cited by Shaw included: "Make my trip easy; don't ask me to figure it all out" and "Get me the information I need when I need it."

The result, according to Shaw: "the largest single tourism database in America - millions of bytes of travel information on attractions, events, restaurants, lodging, routes, historic sites and much more. It's now accessed 24 hours a day by customers calling from throughout North America looking for help on planning a trip in Illinois." Added Shaw: "Our counselors, operating computers that house all our tourism products, can plan custom trips and deliver information by fax, e-mail or snail mail." A family might be sitting at home, wondering where to go in Illinois. A call to 800-2-CONNECT (226-6632) can generate a lot of information. They may have seen a television commercial or an ad in their Sunday travel section, say "18th Century France by Car," a reference to the French Colonial District, mainly in Southern Illinois along the Mississippi River. "Our counselors, looking at their (computer) database, might say, `Let me tell you about some of the French colonial areas in Illinois that you may not know about.' Then the counselor would go through a sales message on those destinations," Shaw explained. "And the beauty is, as the counselor is talking to the caller, he or she can find out whether they're traveling as a family or a couple, if they're interested in bed-and-breakfasts, antique shops, dining or golf. All of that information can become part of a custom itinerary." A mapping capability is scheduled to be added to the database July 1. Within 20 minutes of a call, you can have the material in hand via fax or e-mail, or days if it goes by regular mail. How smoothly a phone query goes depends upon the counselor's experience. When I called to get information on the French Colonial District, the response wasn't as smooth as I thought it should be. First, the counselor was puzzled by "French Colonial District," concluding it was not in the Chicago area. "Let me look here real quick. We'll do a search." Pause. "Is it Fort de Chartres State Historical Site? They have different French subdivision things. Do you know what I mean? It's throughout the whole state. It's not just one central station." Then the counselor read a description of Fort de Chartres, built by the French in 1753. "Awesome," the counselor said as she found the town of Prairie du Rocher. "Is there a place to stay around there?" I asked. "Sure. I'll look that up for you," she said. Long pause. …


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