Visitor Bureaus Provide More Than Brochures
One of the best-kept secrets in the travel industry, it seems, is the existence of city, state and foreign visitor bureaus, which offer travelers a variety of services such as informational literature, event calendars, discount coupon booklets and maps.
While obtaining literature is a key service, bureaus can also provide advance itinerary planning as well as additional advice on sightseeing once travelers have arrived at their destination.
“There may be a perception that we just provide brochures and little else, which isn’t always the case,” said Gary Sherwin, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Many travelers fail to find out about the full range of services provided by a bureau. They don’t ask enough questions, or the right questions,” Sherwin said.
Most major foreign countries have visitor bureau offices in Los Angeles, while most state bureaus have toll-free telephone numbers. Some city visitor bureaus, such as the Phoenix & Valley of the Sun Convention & Visitors Bureau in Arizona, can make hotel reservations for travelers free of charge, when travelers call in on the bureau’s toll-free phone line. Consumers are more likely to find such hotel booking services in resort areas and in conjunction with major special events, such as the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Super Bowl.
Consumers should keep in mind that when a visitor bureau books hotels, it may only handle reservations for dues-paying members of the local convention and visitor bureau or chamber of commerce. These hotels may be more expensive than the smaller inns or hotels that often are not members of a city’s visitor bureau or chamber of commerce.
Since many city visitor bureaus are at least partially funded by their member establishments, one common perception by consumers is that bureaus only steer potential customers to member establishments. Not true, says Sherwin, adding that most city bureaus today are private, not-for-profit organizations that contract with a city to provide services. Other bureaus, he says, are divisions of the local chamber of commerce.
“The brochures and other material we send out and have in our racks is that of members, but even if a bureau doesn’t have material about nonmembers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t provide information about them,” Sherwin said.
State tourist offices are an underutilized resource. Unlike city convention and visitor bureaus, which may focus most of their attention on member establishments, state tourist offices have information covering a wider range of establishments, throughout the state.
“We represent the entire state, and it’s not on a membership basis,” says Lori Gwynn, a spokeswoman for the tourism division of the Texas Dept. of Commerce in Austin. The office has a toll-free number--(800) 888-8839--to call for generic information on Texas, and a regular office number (512-462-9191) to order an annual brochure containing a list of accommodations throughout the state.
Most foreign government tourism offices are excellent sources of complimentary information, including brochures, maps, shopping guides, accommodation listings and details on special events and activities.
“We’re government-funded, so we represent the entire country and all aspects of travel to France,” says Jean Michel Harzic, director of the Beverly Hills-based French Government Tourist Office.
Specialized literature is one visitor bureau service that has grown, according to Richard Newman, president of the International Assn. of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, based in Champaign, Ill.
“At the larger bureaus, you might be able to get separate brochures on various activities and services offered in the area, such as antique stores, arts and crafts, camping, fishing, golf and other sports,” he said. “But you have to ask.”
Bureaus have also come up with more and better maps of their areas, Newman said.
Many bureaus also offer discount-coupon booklets, which generally feature two-for-one deals at restaurants and sightseeing attractions, plus other discounts or complimentary gifts with purchases at stores.
In addition to a central office, some visitor bureaus may operate information kiosks/centers at key points in a city, including shopping centers and airports. Such centers may also be open during evenings and weekends, when the central bureau office is closed.
Free copies of an International Assn. of Convention & Visitor Bureaus brochure that lists addresses and telephone numbers of domestic bureaus are available by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the IACVB, P.O. Box 758, Champaign, Ill. 61824-0758.