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Stating a Case for Domestic Travelno - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut                      back to TTN home page
by Joe Harkins - Apr 20, 99

    The NATO-Serbia conflict is starting to make tourists nervous. Recent reports in trade publications and the national press are citing noticeable shifts in the coming summer's vacation plans from foreign to domestic destinations.

    This week, to serve those interested in vacations closer to home, we'll examine the travel and tourism departments of the states themselves. Most states embrace the idea that tourism dollars are a cleaner source of revenue than taxes or lotteries. With few exceptions, states have built web sites that respect that opportunity.

    If all you want is a list of the official state tourism agencies and traditional contact information (mail, phone, fax) but no email or web addresses, you'll find that information at Technology Management.

    Yahoo has links to the states' tourism web sites however the list includes not only governmental agencies, but also contains a few hundred non-official sites. Further, because of the way its directory is organized, you'll have to dig down through a series of pages within each state before you get to a link for its travel and tourism department.

    If you are trying to decide on a vacation destination, that can make comparison-shopping a bit tedious.

    This week's Travel The Net simplifies that process. I've posted links to all the states' official tourism agencies in the panel to your left. I've also sweetened the list with links to web sites for US National Parks as well as the Canadian Tourism Commission.

    Typical of most official tourism web sites is alphabetically first on the list. The Alabama site is fairly informative and appropriately colorful but the navigation system is a bit old fashioned.

    Were that site being built today by an up-to-date programmer, the menu buttons that must be clicked on to open other pages of menu buttons that then, in turgid turn, also must be clicked before getting to a page of useful information, probably would be presented as "rollover sub-menus."

    That technique uses a software tool called "JavaScript" to make a single menu link do the work of many. You may see a not-quite-right version on the Florida site. Whoever built the page knows the technical side of making the concept work but doesn't quite get what it's for. Florida uses the technique merely to repeat the same information that the menu items titles already provide. (Duh!?)

    A better use would have been to cause each item on the main menu, as you roll the cursor over it, automatically to open a set of sub-menus that invite a user to make a single-click jump through three layers of pages to the one being sought.

    The Alaska page shows how this works. Just roll your cursor over the menu item for "Most Requested Visitor Info" and you'll see a second menu of ten items. This is not just a cute trick. It also makes navigation easier and faster.

    The web sites for California and North Carolina are typical of another approach, one that professional web designers agree is an annoying waste of a visitor's time and attention. They, and an unfortunately high number of states' travel sites, open to a useless and self-congratulatory "splash screen". That's a billboard in the form of a slow-loading postcard photo that lacks a menu of useful information.

    News Flash for Web Builders: People come to informational web sites for information not postcards.

    Illinois has the same pesky splash screen and then compounds a visitor's problems by delivering a second "home page" with a slow-loading menu that uses Java (not the same thing as JavaScript) to open a secondary menu that requires clicking down through multiple levels.

    Finally, I know 10 year old kids who build better web sites than the embarrassing Empire State Tourism Agency's "I (heart) New York".

    I've always thought that California, Illinois and New York were the most technologically advanced states in the nation. Alaska, with a total population smaller than some neighborhoods in those states' big cities, just showed up all of 'em.

    Maybe I'll head there this summer instead of taking that cruise along the lower Danube River through romantic downtown Belgrade.

-30-


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