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 The Brancatelli File

joe FREE TRAVEL INFORMATION
WITH ENDLESS PROMOTIONS


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

June 15, 1997 --As Americans gear up for their summer vacations, tourists will be searching for lots of basic travel information: where to stay, where to eat, what to do, where to shop and which attractions are available for visits and sightseeing.

Some of the best sources of this simple information are the states themselves. Every state in the union now operates some sort of tax-supported visitor-information service that churns out a blizzard of promotional pamphlets, guidebooks, maps, events calendars and discount programs.

HOW IT ALL WORKS As you can see by the data below, 49 of the states operate a toll-free telephone number that visitors can call to order free information about visiting the state. Calls to Florida's tourist-assistance line require a long-distance call. And with the exception of Florida and Kansas, all the states now operate a World Wide Web site that offers travel information on demand.

The telephone "transactions" are simple enough. We called all 50 tourist-information lines, and, in every case, we were greeted by perky, upbeat phone operators eager to send us free "vacation kits" or "travel guides" or some variation on that theme. Many operators also volunteered to send us ancillary free materials: special-interest videos, multi-cultural travel guides, free arts and entertainment guides and discount-coupon books. However, not all the lines are manned by humans around the clock. After standard business hours, many states operate automated systems that allow travelers to request brochures and leave their name and address.

WHAT YOU GET Much to our surprise, all 50 states delivered their packets within 10 days. The material we received ran the gamut from blockbuster booklets filled with gorgeous color pictures (the Texas Visitor Guide runs almost 300 pages) to environmentally correct kits that sacrifice flash for recyclability (Vermont). Almost all packages included the following: cursory details of the state's tourists attractions, a state highway map and a 1997 calendar of events. All states also included some sort of lodging guide, dining listing and museum and arts coverage. And every package included lots of advertising: endless promotions for fast-food joints, chain hotels, and any other product or service a visitor might consume.

WHAT YOU DON'T GET It goes without saying that the quality of the brochures and guidebooks we received varied widely. Generally speaking, the vacation kits from New England and the Southwestern states offered the best combinations of service and high-quality editorial. On the other hand, the offerings from Florida, Hawaii and California were dreary: low in quality and clearly perfunctory. It's almost as if those states expected your business and didn't feel compelled to offer more than a minimal effort.

And what you don't get from any state's vacation package is the unvarnished truth. After all, these are promotional brochures: Every state's lakes are sparkling clean, every state's cities are the home of urbane sophisticates, every state's small towns are endearing and picturesque, all mountains are majestic and every state's ski lodges and beaches are pristine. Crime, pollution, overcrowding and crass commercialism simply don't exist in these state-supported paeans to their tourism attractions. And let's never forget that every state claims to be a "four-season" wonderland: It's never too hot or too cold or too rainy or too humid to visit.

THE BOTTOM LINE This see-no-evil viewpoint is regrettable, of course, but it shouldn't deter you from ordering the vacation package from any state you're planning to visit. The guides are free so you have nothing to lose and you'll almost always learn something you didn't know about the state's attractions. And the maps, at least, seem to be accurate.

ALPHABETICALLY
THROUGH THE STATES

ALABAMA
800-252-2262
www.state.al.us

ALASKA
800-667-8489
www.travelalaska.com

ARIZONA
800-842-8257
www.arizonaguide.com

ARKANSAS
800-628-8725
www.ono.com/arkansas

CALIFORNIA
800-862-2543
gocalif.ca.gov

COLORADO
800-265-6723
www.colorado.com

CONNECTICUT
800-282-6863
www.visitconnecticut.com

DELAWARE
800-441-8846
www.state.de.us

FLORIDA
904-487-1462
none

GEORGIA
800-847-4842
www.gomm.com

HAWAII
800-464-2924
www.visit.hawaii.org

IDAHO
800-635-7820
www.state.id.us

ILLINOIS
800-226-6632
www.enjoyillinois.com

INDIANA
800-759-9191
www.indianatourism.com

IOWA
800-345-4692
www.state.ia.us

KANSAS
800-252-6727
none

KENTUCKY
800-225-8747
www.state.ky.us/tour/tour.htm

LOUISIANA
800-334-8626
www.louisianatravel.com

MAINE
800-533-9595
www.visit-maine.com

MARYLAND
800-543-1036
www.mdisfun.org

MASSACHUSETTS
800-447-6277
mass-vacation.com

MICHIGAN
800-543-2937
www.travel.michigan.state.mi.us

MINNESOTA
800-657-3700
www.explore.state.mn.us

MISSISSIPPI
800-927-6378
www.mississippi.org

MISSOURI
800-877-1234
www.ecodev.state.mo.us/tourism

MONTANA
800-548-3390
travel.mt.gov

NEBRASKA
800-228-4307
www.ded.state.ne.us/tourism.html

NEVADA
800-237-0774
www.nevada.com

NEW HAMPSHIRE
800-386-4664
visitnh.gov

NEW JERSEY
800-537-7397
www.state.nj.us/travel

NEW MEXICO
800-545-2040
www.newmexico.org

NEW YORK
800-225-5697
iloveny.state.ny.us

NORTH CAROLINA
800-847-4862
www.visitnc.com

NORTH DAKOTA
800-435-5663
www.state.nd.us

OHIO
800-282-5393
www.travel.state.oh.us

OKLAHOMA
800-652-6552
www.otrd.state.ok.us

OREGON
800-547-7842
www.traveloregon.com

PENNSYLVANIA
800-847-4872
www.state.pa.us

RHODE ISLAND
800-556-2484
visitrhodeisland.com

SOUTH CAROLINA
800-346-3634
www.prt.state.sc.us/sc

SOUTH DAKOTA
800-732-5682
www.state.sd.us

TENNESSEE
800-491-8366
www.state.tn.us

TEXAS
800-888-8839
traveltex.com

UTAH
800-200-1160
www.utah.com

VERMONT
800-837-6668
www.travelvermont.com

VIRGINIA
800-932-5827
www.virginia.org

WASHINGTON
800-544-1800
www.tourism.wa.gov

WEST VIRGINIA
800-225-5982
www.state.wv.us/tourism

WISCONSIN
800-372-2737
tourism.state.wi.us

WYOMING
800-225-5996
www.state.wy.us/state/welcome.html

This column originally appeared in Frommer's Travel Update.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.