One of the points some of the pro-casino people tried to make was that, apparently, our tourism industry sucks, or something. Because we're not the spitting image of Las Vegas, we're "not fun," according to the testimony of the head of the AFL-CIO at this week's casino hearing. Obviously, it was a losing argument, as the House has just crushed the casino bill into smithereens. That said, to kill that argument once and for all, I figured I'd point out just how fantastic the Massachusetts tourism industry is - through the awesome and powerful website run by the State's Office of Travel and Tourism, massvacation.com.
Just going to the front page, you can see how powerful the website is - and how many options you can search by. There's a few neat features on the front page that I'll get to first. You'll notice a quick calender right on the front page, so events can be searched by date and time, or a range of dates (taking a week off?). There's also a few special offers on the sidebar, like Amtrack discounts, as well as free travel information that can be mailed to any home.
The best two features on the front page, though, are the two best ways to search for particular places. Let's say you're the type of person who's most interested by certain activities - not necessarily any particular location. Well, then, on the very top bar of the website, you can search by a number of categories: arts, history, outdoor activities, science and nature, tours and sightseeing, or "family fun." Just click one of those categories, and you're sent to a page dedicated to all those kinds of activities throughout the state - including featured places, and ways to search for particular subgroups of activities (for example, if you clicked on the "history and heritage" option on the front page, you can further break that down into looking for zoos, sport museums, etc).
Or, maybe you want to plan a day trip to somewhere relatively close by and want two or three activities in one small town - just click on the front page's state map, which is broken down by regions. From inside those regions, you can essentially cross-tabulate your searches: you can look for one of the already-described categories of activities inside particular regions. But the regional sections do more than that: they give a general description of the prevalent types of activities in that region, as well as "featured" activities and spotlight communities.
Alright, at some point you picked something you wanted to search - and finally found something that interests you. Is that all the state website does? Helps you find things? Absolutely not. I'll use an example. A new friend has been raving about Tanglewood to me lately - where the Boston Symphony plays during the summer. It's in Western Mass, and is apparently spectacularly beautiful. In fact, the entire area has become a tourist must-see in Massachusetts for several years now.
I wanted to find out more about it, so I clicked on "arts" on the western mass page, then checked off music and clicked search - finding Tanglewood quite easily. Now that I found Tanglewood, there's a brief description of what it actually is, as well as some important contact and general information, as well as the official website. But there's also a few links on the page to find nearby lodgings, and other nearby activities and events. Even better, there's a Google Map of where Tanglewood can be found right on that very page, complete with a quick button you press to get directions to it.
Spend a few minutes on that website, and you'll quickly realize why tourism is Massachusetts's third largest industry. Contrary to what certain people think, there's no shortage of people who come to vacation in this state, and there's no shortage of Massachusetts citizens who take full advantage of everything we have to offer. We're truly a state that's a cultural and historical icon, complete with beautiful New England architecture and landscape, with one of the nation's largest state park systems. There's plenty to do for any kind of person - sports, museums, beaches and hiking - so next time anyone says Massachusetts is boring, or needs some kind of a spark, be sure to give 'em