The Brancatelli File
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.
THROUGH THE STATES
This column originally appeared in Frommer's Travel Update.
Copyright © 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.