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TOURISM Businesses collaborate with cards



Published: Sat, April 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The cards offer discounts to tourist spots in several cities.

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Tourism businesses in an increasing number of cities are collaborating more often than competing as they try to recover from a slump, offering discount passes and cards good for a variety of attractions, hotels, restaurants and shops.

The electronic cards or ticket booklets allow tourists admission at reduced prices and without standing in lines at places such as the National Aquarium in Baltimore or the New England Sports Museum in Boston. They give businesses an extra way to advertise and allow them to track where consumers go, when they get there and other marketing information.

"I think more attractions, hotels and restaurants in Cincinnati and other cities have come to realize in the last few years that separately they may be strong, but collectively they can be great," said Scott Usitalo, interim executive director for the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network serving Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.

The travel industry suffered record losses since the peak year of 2000, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Total travel expenditures in the United States fell from an all-time high of almost $581 billion in 2000 to around $540 billion in 2002.

"This really hit home after 9/11 when travel dropped off dramatically and the economy spiraled downward," said Pat Moscaritolo, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We started looking at how we could package and do promotions for multiple attractions."

Online convenience

Increased use of computer technology by businesses and consumers also has contributed.

"Electronic delivery and sophisticated online management will be key in the years to come," said Rudy Ganna, founder and executive vice president of OmniTicket Network.

The company, which offers Connect passes and cards, entered its first U.S. city market in 2003 with the Baltimore Harbor Pass. OmniTicket is expanding to Cincinnati and Salt Lake City this year and says it is negotiating with convention and visitor bureaus in three other major cities.

Beginning this summer in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, visitors will be able to go online and print a paper version of the card, which can be exchanged later for a plastic version. The cards bear a bar code to be scanned at participating locations, such as the Newport Aquarium and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Kristin Zissel, travel media manager with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, said the city's Harbor Pass, which includes the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center, costs about $46 for an adult. Purchased separately, tickets to each of the five main attractions would cost a total of $55. Pass holders also get other discounts, such as $5 off a Baltimore Orioles ticket.

Ganna said that in the first year, more than 12,000 electronic passes were sold in Baltimore.

While there are no statistics yet to show whether the passes have directly increased tourism, Zissel said response was better than expected.

Smart Destinations said 10,000 of its Go Cards were sold in Boston the first year. The company, which is also in the San Francisco market, expects to enter six new markets this year, including Miami, Seattle and Chicago.

Cards and passes can be purchased through the Internet, telephone, mail or at participating sites.

Satisfied customer

Mark Smith, 41, of Saugerties, N.Y., said the Go Boston Card was a hit with his family last summer.

"I could do the planning online, and we were able to do a lot of things that we would not have even known about without the card and the information that comes with it," he said. "I think the card gave us about a 50 percent savings."

Roger Pille, spokesman for the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, has high hopes for the city's new card. The center includes natural history and science and children's museums and a movie theater.

"We have seen this concept work in other markets, and it gives visitors the opportunity to plan the exact trip they want with a variety of options," he said.

Some recent visitors to the Newport Aquarium liked the idea of electronic cards.

"It's compact, and you could keep it in your wallet rather than having to carry around a lot of tickets or having to stand in line to buy tickets each time," said Beth McCord, 25, of Maysville, Ky.




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