Wherever, Whatever, Whenever
originally published June 30, 1999 on http:www.travelthenet.com
copyright 1999 by Joe Harkins - all rights reserved
          The acronym WWW for "World Wide Web" might also stand for "Wherever, Whatever, Whenever." The Internet certainly offers all three. This is especially true when the subject is travel.

    Most of the world's countries, assuming they are not currently suffering political, military, security or public health disasters, have a viable tourism industry. The value of tourism is that visitors don't require the schools, public health care or other expensive services citizens need. Tourists spend hard currency and then go home.

    Tourism is such an important factor in many a nation's economic life that a Cabinet-level Ministry often reports directly to the head of state. In some countries, this dependence upon tourism revenue also is reflected in a state-of-the-art web site. Yet, you might be surprised to learn that the most lucrative tourist destination in the world has neither an official national tourism agency nor an official tourism web site. I'm referring of course to the United States of America.

    Despite the fact that tourists from outside the USA spent almost $19 billion here in 1998, our federal government seems to be disinterested beyond the gathering of statistics and (you're shocked, right?) the collection of taxes. The United States Information Agency (www.usia.gov) delivers some of the informational services that prospective visitors to the US may want. But, that still leaves the USA without official promotion of this country as a destination.

    This strange situation was brought to my attention recently by an exchange of email with the Association of National Tourist Offices in the United Kingdom (www.tourist-offices.org.uk). Their web site is a bridge between official government tourism agencies and the private sector within some 90 countries.

    Similar "umbrella organization" sites such as that of the World Tourism Organization (www.world-tourism.org/memstate/memstate.htm) provide directories of official tourism resources. However, since each country is responsible for its own Internet presence, the usefulness of those web sites varies from excellent to atrocious.

    For example, the official site of The Jamaica Tourist Board (http://www.jamaicatravel.com/) is clean and inviting. It's easy for a prospective visitor to find information and understand what the island offers.

    In the same part of the world, the site linked from WTO to the Dominican Republic (www.dominicana.com) is a self-indulgent mess. The page is a navigational disaster, overloaded with dozen of useless graphics that require a lonnnng slooooow download, followed by a lonnnng slooooow scroll.

    Here in New York, confronted with such excess, we cry, "All right; that's enough!" Dominican slang (I lived for years in that beautiful island) says the same thing better and with the force of one exclamatory syllable, "Ya!"

    To confirm the wisdom of checking more than one source, Governments on the Web (www.gksoft.com/govt/), an excellent directory with links to more than 12,000 governmental agencies within 200+ countries, offers yet another, totally different site for the same Dominican Republic at an almost identical address (www.dominicana.com.do). This one is bilingual, as nicely done as you could want, and probably is the real "official site."

    Just as the countries' sites are uneven in quality, directories too vary in comprehensiveness and completeness. That's not necessarily the fault of the directories themselves but of an Internet that is growing faster outside the USA, especially as regards tourism, than it is here.

    To demonstrate the size of the challenge, another well-presented resource, Tourism Offices on the Web (www.mbnet.mb.ca/lucas/travel) promises "Only official government tourism offices (national and the fifty states), convention and visitors bureaus, and similar agencies. No travel agents, no tour operators, no hotels." While it is the best resource I've found for the physical locations and phone numbers of various tourism offices, the web page links are incomplete.

    Likewise, 123 World (www.123world.com/tourism) is well organized but still not as complete as either of the previous two. However, as a fast and easily useable source, it may be your first and satisfactory choice.

    In sum, you may have to visit more than one directory to find the official tourism site of the country you want but if it's the USA don't even bother. Your tax dollars are not at work.