outh Dakota's Black Hills region has
turned to the Internet to help it attract travel agent business to
the state, making information, training and commissionable packages
available at a new, agent-only site.
Billed as an "online guide for travel agents," the site, at www.blackhillsagent.com, includes links to booking
assistance at the Black Hills Central Reservations Service.
An interactive learning module and test can earn agents
continuing education units from the Institute of Certified Travel
Agents (ICTA). The site explains how to gain accreditation as a
Black Hills specialist.
The state also is relying on more conventional tools, including
an agent reservations line for the Black Hills at (800) 344-7095,
an agents-only guidebook and a quarterly travel-trade
About 4.5 million visitors flock to this forested region of
southwestern South Dakota each year. Long regarded as a classic
motor vacation destination, the Black Hills hosts nearly 600
motorcoach tour companies.
Black Hills tourism officials began to rethink their marketing
tools after becoming aware that the old reliable family vacation
paradigm was being eroded by new market dynamics and trends, such
as scarcity of time, multiple minivacations close to home, higher
energy costs, single-parent households and fewer kids.
Two years ago, the Black Hills visitor industry began courting
airlines and travel agencies as a way to attract affluent,
long-haul tourists via fly-drive trips and packaged vacations.
Meanwhile, South Dakota promoters adjusted consumer travel show
appearances and consumer magazine and newspaper ads to help create
demand for both airline flights and travel agent reservations.
All publications and Web sites now offer details geared toward
agents on airlines, vacation packages and central reservations --
all features unseen in Black Hills promotions two years ago.
In August, the Black Hills hired field sales reps to conduct
agency calls and trade shows in the Chicago and Dallas markets.
Both cities are important feeders into Northwest's and United's
major hubs, which are also Black Hills gateways.
The Black Hills is home to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial,
Badlands National Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park
and the Deadwood frontier gold camp.
Visitors come to enjoy mountain scenery, Old West history,
Native American culture, state and national parks, family
attractions and abundant outdoor recreation. The Black Hills'
Online Guide for Travel Agents debuted July 16.
"Most destination Web sites that target agents are
one-dimensional," said Bill Honerkamp, president of the Black
Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association in South Dakota.
"They mostly provide information about current commissionable
packages and area attractions and events only," he said. "Our site
goes beyond that by allowing them to also sign up and participate
in online training for our destination-specialist program."
Agents navigating the site will learn about Black Hills package
vacations, transportation, communities, events and national parks
as well as activities billed as "family fun," "outdoor adventure"
and "winter fun."
After exploring the site and its links, agents can then click on
the Become a Black Hills Specialist icon that provides an
opportunity to obtain ICTA continuing-education credits.
Agents are asked 25 questions about the area and become
certified specialists by answering a minimum of 20 correctly. "We
already have certified more than 200 Black Hills destination
specialists in our program," said Honerkamp.
"After the launch of our travel agent Web site, we expect to
double the number of agents in our program."
For details on the Black Hills Travel Agent Marketing Program,
contact Honerkamp at (605) 355-3600; by fax, at (605) 355-3601, or
visit the site.