Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays.The travel business in Charlotte, like everywhere else in the country, is suffering through some very tough times. Revenues are down dramatically, as are the dollars generated by the hotel-motel occupancy tax. Those dollars are the major source of funding for Visit Charlotte, the organization designated by city government to promote travel to the Queen City.

It’s a classic situation that calls for belt-tightening measures. But instead of that route, Visit Charlotte is making a major capital investment of $165,000. But it’s nothing that a visitor can touch, feel, taste or travel to. It’s for a major upgrade of the Visit Charlotte website (www.visitcharlotte.org ).

It’s been four years since the site has been changed, except for content update. Without an upgrade, says Melvin Tennant Visit Charlotte’s president and chief executive officer, “We are operating with one hand behind our back.”

An upgraded and expanded website is now a major part of Visit Charlotte’s long-term marketing strategy. Other travel bureaus are spending a much as $500,000 to upgrade their websites.

Travelers are computer-savvy

These days, travelers are researching their trips online before they leave home. Even in its current format, the Visit Charlotte site averages about 70,000 visitors and 1.5 million hits a month. But it needs to get better.

Says Kim Rickwood, vice president of marketing for Visit Charlotte, “If Charlotte wants to rise to a higher level on tourists’ radar screens, our site has got to be the best it can be. It needs to be vibrant and lively. People expect to get exactly what they’re looking for in two or three clicks. You can’t do that on our site now.”

Work on the site will begin with the new fiscal year that starts July 1. Features under consideration are giving organizations featured on the website the ability to update their own information, allowing people to purchase event tickets and make hotel reservations, and letting people sign up for particular kinds of information, which would then be automatically sent to them via e-mail on an ongoing basis

Not only will tourists be able to use the site, but meeting planners will have the ability to create their events online before talking to a salesperson.

New campaign underway

A summer promotion touting the website has just recently begun. It features billboards with nothing but a web address, such as www.Myinlawsarecoming.com; or www.Myweekendsarethepits.com. The most popular one being visited so far is www.Ineedfunnow.com. Visitors to these sites are connected to a splash page linked with the Visit Charlotte site featuring special offers at hotels, restaurants and attractions.

The focus on the web site doesn’t mean the end of people contacts to bring visitors to Charlotte. “We’ll still need people answering phones, and we’ll still produce written materials,” Rickwood says. “Our sales staff will still develop strong personal relationships. The web just makes it easer for everyone to be interconnected.”

In the news:

Who says there are no women in tech? At the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce’s Information Technology Charlotte (ITC), they’re playing major roles in this year’s Spring Speaker Series, which kicks off May 29 with William R. McDermott, CEO and president of SAP Americas.

Cherryl Pressley, who began the series, is now chair of ITC. The new speaker series chair is Karen McIsaac, and Julie Haas is coordinating publicity for it. Dee Means is the staff director of the group.

McDermott will speak at the Westin Hotel. For more information, e-mail dmeans@charlottechamber.com or call 704-378-2131. He will be followed on Aug. 12 by Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of J.D. Edwards CRM. Confirming women’s presence in tech, the final speaker will be Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett Packard, at a date to be announced. —

End II End Communications co-founders John Dwyer and Mark Phillippi and their 10 employees have discovered firsthand this past week just how fast its patent pending Broadband Network Optimization Process is. The company was scheduled to move into new digs last week, but a glitch occurred after they had already vacated their old location. That didn’t mean work stopped — everyone has been working at home and using the secure broadband services End II End offers up to customers via satellite. “There’s more throughput inside the VPN tunnel than outside,” Dwyer says. “You don’t really realize its speed until you actually use it.” Dwyer says they expect to have a new home by week’s end and are still planning to unveil their new web site (www.eeiiecomm.com ), on Thursday.