Every once in awhile, a new idea comes along that promises to make the challenge of branding your community a little easier. The Tourism America – Discover the USA program is one such idea. The basic concept is to provide people with a one-stop portal where they can locate information to learn more about a community. The primary intent is to help them have the best experience possible when visiting your community. But, a secondary use is also to enable people who are either 1) trying to decide whether to move to your community or 2) may have already moved there, to have the best possible experience. When Bernard Metzger (Founder & Director of the Travelindex Network) shared the website with me for review, I thought the concept had merit. Consequently, I reached out to Bernard for an interview to learn even more about the project and where it is going.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have no business relationship with the Travelindex program or Bernard. I am sharing insight into this program simply for your awareness and hopefully benefit. Net, I just think it is a cool idea.
1) Your company has just launched a new resource called Tourism America – Discover the USA. What was the driving reason behind creating the website and how has the usage been to date?
www.TourismAmerica.org is part of Travelindex which is a human-edited, open-source information marketplace and an interconnected network of data distribution hubs of the world’s travel and tourism resources.
The information revolution has been a major contributor to growth by facilitating the opening up of new markets through the wider and faster flow of information and knowledge. However, data collection and dissemination remain extremely fragmented, in particular across the travel industry, leading to incomplete and inconsistent information being circulated. Today, a lot of information is stored on proprietary information systems, inflexible and expensive to access.
I believe, that even in the US, this fragmentation of travel information has a major impact on what travelers and consumers can find and view. One of the reasons for developing TourismAmerica.org was to create an open, free and direct information hub for the US. Today, the largest number of companies listed at Travelindex.com are American; a solid base for www.TourismAmerica.org. In Asia, several destination marketing organizations approach us with the request to publish our “local” data on their destination via a specific country branded website, therefore it was only natural to create one for the world’s largest tourism market as well.
Since we launched TourismAmerica.org we have seen a substantial traffic increase to US listing pages and the number of American companies adding their business has increased fivefold. For some of the very competitive keywords and key categories, TourismAmerica.org ranks already in premium positions on all major search engines.
2) Who is the target audience that you have designed the website to serve?
TourismAmerica.org is open, free and direct. It offers travel professionals and marketers a powerful marketing platform and help travelers cut through the clutter of information with fully human-edited content and a structured, multi-dimensional navigation. www.TourismAmerica.org makes it easier for visitors to find trip information and professionals can easily browse all suppliers at the national, regional and even local level while building direct, interactive relationships.
3) How would you envision economic development professionals taking advantage of your website to help them increase awareness about their communities as a destination location? Can you give a few examples of best practices you would envision?
Economic development professionals can take advantage by first listing their own organization and then by inviting all their members to list at TourismAmerica.org. Remember, at Travelindex.com and TourismAmerica.org, full detailed listings are completely free of charge and all contact links are direct and never to a third party or intermediary. Members should also complete their affiliation information (name of the Chamber of Commerce, CVB, etc.) allowing a real-time, one-click search of all members from that organization. Of course, if the organization gives us access, via an xml feed or a file, we can import members in bulk with the same listing advantages. By expanding the presence to all members, the organization will inevitably gain a much greater visibility across our network of websites, for the benefit of all.
An economic development organization will get the greatest benefits for the organization, the members and the community by following these few simple recommendations:
1 – List your organization; add all information and make maximum use of “description” and “additional information” fields.
2 – Communicate with your members; inform them and highlight the benefits of a listing at TourismAmerica.org.
3 – Remind your members; more members listed means a wider footprint and broader exposure for the whole community.
4) The “Events & Trade Fairs” and “Real Estate” sections look very interesting. Are there any plans to connect with community economic development organization websites and access their GIS services?
TourismAmerica.org is a tourism focused directory but the “Events & Trade Fairs” and “Real Estate” sections are essential components of our directory as both encompass key sectors of the travel and tourism industry. Events and trade fairs by attracting business travelers and visitors are major revenue generators for any destination. The real estate sector plays a key role in a local community and is linked to travel and tourism through the development of hotels, conference centers, retirement communities, golf courses and more.
All our current listings have already an address matching geo-coding function but we are increasingly updating our database with the exact geo coordinates, in decimal degrees, for geocaching and other uses such as geo-intelligent tools and for location based functions in our new mobile applications currently under development.
At present, we are not connected with GIS services of an economic development organizations but have no doubt that an interconnection between our respective data is inevitable and will happen in the near future. It will allow the production of content rich and publishable quality maps showing member listings while enhancing the usability of our information marketplaces.
5) What is the vision behind the “Information and Media” section? Is this an area where a community might submit material for your consideration in making available to visitors to your website?
“Information and Media” section is where we publish details about companies and organizations providing online or offline information resources. The vision is to have in one place, accessible in only two clicks all information about a community. A community can list all its local resources from public libraries to local newspapers and magazines, online and printed directories and even radio and TV stations. By listing all local businesses the community will get a much wider footprint and gain broader exposure not only locally but globally as well. By wording descriptions with carefully chosen keywords, the community and listed businesses will enter at the early inspiration stage of the travel decision lifecycle.
The community can take advantage of the wide reach and distribution of Travelindex by submitting press releases and local news in our News section. These are published and distributed at no costs. By submitting regularly news items, a community can create a constant stream of updated, local information.
6) What are some of the enhancements your company is considering that might be of additional interest to economic development professionals?
Today, information is globalized, which means that local clusters cannot exist in isolation; to succeed they need to be connected to other information hubs. The challenge for economic developers is to inter-connect with these hubs in ways that contribute to local innovation and the creation of value and jobs over the long-term. Travelindex’s vision is to create information nodes covering all five continents, interconnected on a virtualized platform allowing creative collaborative work.
In its quest to build a worldwide network of information nodes, Travelindex needs to partner with local organizations to accelerate data mining and validation. Leveraging the expertise and methodology of Travelindex we are able to provide economic development organizations with a fantastic information hub faster than ever before and, we call on all organizations to contact us.
7) If a Chamber of Commerce or other local economic development organization wanted to learn more about your website, what is the best way to connect?
Economic development professionals and all involved in community or destination marketing and branding can find more information at our dedicated website: www.BestDestination.net [editorial note, under construction scheduled to be available in August 2012]
We welcome all feedback, comments and suggestions and are open to discuss the benefits of having a local information hub interconnected with our platform. Organizations or any of your readers can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; alternatively one can also use the contact form at our website (www.Travelindex.com).
Interview first published by The Burghard Group at www.StrengtheningBrandAmerica.com