Illinois Is Boosting Service for Industry, Visitors

CHICAGO -- The Illinois Tourism Bureau continues to harness technology to provide better service to the state's tourism industry as well as potential visitors to Illinois, according to Donna Shaw, the bureau's director.

At the Illinois Governor's conference on tourism here, Shaw said a new intranet, for example, now links 36 convention bureaus and four regional tourism development offices to the state's tourism information database.

The intranet provides an easier and quicker way for the bureaus and tourism development offices to make additions and changes to the database.

The database contains millions of bytes of information on attractions, events, restaurants, lodging, routes and historic sites and is the largest single tourism database in America, Shaw said.

It is used by travel counselors staffing the state's toll-free line at (800) 2-CONNECT to help callers plan an Illinois trip and send out information by fax, E-mail or regular mail.

Beginning in May, Shaw said, counselors also will be able to use "cutting-edge" mapping technology to print out customized maps for callers.

"When a customer asks us how to get to a particular gallery in Alton from Cahokia Mounds or find their way to the state fair from Indianapolis, we will fax or mail them a detailed map showing the best route and all the attractions they can see along the way," Shaw said.

Prospective visitors also will be able to access maps on the state's tourism Web site at http://www.enjoyillinois.com, Shaw said.

The site also is being upgraded with pages devoted to group tour activities, meetings and conventions and "Cultural Chicago," a program of activities and advertising aimed at promoting the city's cultural attractions.

Also in the works are "format pages" that will enable convention bureaus and tourism development offices on the intranet to conduct "do-it-yourself economic impact research," Shaw said.

"Our innovations have put us in position to stay on the cutting edge as useful new technology comes along.

"This is a huge competitive advantage, and no other state has it," Shaw said.

She also said that a nontraditional advertising vehicle, called the Illinois Cyberbus, will make its debut next fall.

The bus will be outfitted with computers hooked up to the Internet; cellular phones for dialing the toll-free information line; uniformed, on-board travel counselors, and a giant inflatable Lincoln hat on top to make it easy to find.

Shaw said Cyberbus will serve as a mobile billboard, promotion call and direct sales opportunity all in one, traveling to major festivals and attractions such as Taste of Chicago, the Illinois State Fair and Gateway International Racetrack.

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