Web Site Eases Travelers Search

January 3, 2003
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LANSING — A snowmobiler speeds along a bright, snowy path lined with trees. And a winter sleigh glides by, drawn by two horses kicking up snow as they prance along.

So opens the winter season on www.michigan.org, the Web site of the state’s tourism-promotion agency, Travel Michigan. The site brags that it is the official “State of Michigan travel Web site.”

A survey will pop up before a user can travel the site. Enter a ZIP code and e-mail address so the people at Travel Michigan can learn more about their users and send a feedback survey about the Web site. The survey takes 10 to 15 minutes and gives Travel Michigan the tools to update and maintain its site.

After filling out the information in the pop-up window, information on Michigan in general can be found by clicking any of the numerous tabs that lead to deals, attractions, shopping, dining, lodging, events, outdoors, golf and driving tours. Clicking on each will bring up a search field, and there are more specific subcategories under each tab.

Kirsten Tava, Travel Michigan’s public information officer, has used the Internet herself to find hotels, airfare and rental cars and would definitely continue to make travel plans that way.

“Calling seemed so time consuming,” she said. “Technology is definitely having an impact. The entire tourism industry can have their information available any hour of any day, pretty much worldwide.”

However, Tava said, vacation-planning Web sites are taking the personal touch out of the industry.

“We still have our toll-free number, 888-78-GREAT, and still get quite a few phone calls, asking if we’ve ever been there, looking for other perspectives,” she said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever lose that.

“But it could be 3 a.m., (you’re) in your pj’s and you could be dreaming of a fall or winter trip; it’s right there (on the Web site).”

Travel Michigan’s Web site averaged 5,000 hits per day in November, according to David Morris, director of research and Web services. That average is up from just under 2,700 hits at the same time last year.

“It varies daily with promotions, but there’s definitely been an upward trend,” Morris said. “There’s just a growing presence of travel information on the Web.”

Morris said more people also are inclined to plan short, weekend getaways, for which, he said, the Internet is much better suited.

“The old days of the big, thick directory of hotels in the state aren’t really what people want anymore,” he said. “They want information for one destination, and you can get everything you need for quick weekend getaways.

“We couldn't afford to publish a publication with all the information on the Web site, but we can provide it on the Web.”

Much printed information is still provided at the 13 Michigan Welcome Centers, but they now serve a different function.

“People are on a trip and they stop to pick up a few individual business brochures,” Morris said. “It’s to round out the trip for somewhere they’re already going; the basics are taken care of.

“It has become much more of a supplement.”

Morris said the Web site affords the mom-and-pop industries to join in the big leagues.

“Anybody in the tourism industry can be on our Web site,” he said. “The benefit to the traveler is they have access to all information, big destinations and resorts, but also out-of-the-way, small businesses.

“It’s a great opportunity; we’re a much more small-business-oriented industry.”           

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