With interest in visiting British Columbia expected to increase dramatically in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, Tourism British Columbia has launched a consumer Web site for the North American market.

A provincial Crown

corporation, Tourism BC uses hotel tax dollars and other revenue to market BC as a tourism destination around the world. HelloBC.com will be followed by web sites geared towards visitors from the UK, Australia, and other markets.

Nigel Collet, Tourism BC’s director of information technology, said the organization has tried to make the Web site more interactive, and the first phase includes 2000 pages of travel information and more than 2,600 accommodation listings.

“We invested two years learning what our stakeholders and consumers expected from a destination Web site,” says Collet. “This is the start of something big.”

William Bakker, Tourism BC’s online market development manager, said they researched how their target group uses the Web, what kind of technology they use, and focus groups were also conducted across Canada and the U.S. as part of a user-centred design process.

 “We tried to build a Web site around the objectives and tasks of our users, and how they plan a trip,” said Bakker. “We need to connect them to a specific tourism product relevant to that consumer. It could be a whale-watching trip or a ski vacation.”

From a technology perspective, Bakker said the site was designed with the most robust and current technology available, with Microsoft Content Management Server and widespread use of XML, to allow them to scale up and add new content and functionality in the coming years.

“The technology is a leap forward, we tried to build as much as the technology allowed,” said Bakker. “We’re trying to make the site future compatible, using technology so as new Web browsers and Internet-enabled devices come on the market our Web site is ready for it.”

Separate Web sites are currently being developed for the UK and Australia, using the same user-centred design approach. Bakker said the content will be similar but it will be organized differently, to allow for the different starting points a visitor to BC from those countries would have.

Tourism BC is working with Toronto’s T4G Ltd. to develop the Web sites and also to develop MyTravelHost for British Columbia, the content management system that is driving it.

Dave Hyndman, T4G’s director of tourism solutions, said MyTravelHost is designed to manage all aspects of content for a region, taking the information in from destinations within the region and feeding it to multiple channels including Web sites, print guides and call centres.

“It’s about gathering and managing all the information needed to launch something like the consumer Web site,” said Hyndman. “It includes an extranet for industry to log-in and manage their relationship with Tourism BC, purchase Web site or print guide listings and provide and manage their listing information.”

In the first phase accommodation operators self-registered through MyTravelHost and are now online, and the next phase will expand the system to non-accommodation providers, such as tour operators. Future phases will also let hoteliers set rates and availability, and will be standards-based to allow hotel reservation systems to link directly into the engine.

“Our goal is to adhere to the Open Travel Alliance (OTA), an XML-based industry standards group, so systems that speak that language could interface with our system,” said Hyndman.  “With an eye to the Olympics in 2010, we’re making sure what we put in place isn’t just a one-off Web site but a platform they can grow, add content and functionality.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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