Wednesday AM January 21st, 2009

The city of Houston has launched an online concierge service called “Ask Veronica.” Ed Mayberry reports.


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The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau fields hundreds of inquiries from around the world through its “Ask Veronica” portal on the Visit Houston Web site.  Veronica is Veronica Neilsen, the bureau’s longtime visitor information manager.

“I’m looking at my screen right now. Questions that have come in this morning:  This is Brad from London: ‘where’s the best area in Houston to stay, the night life, the shopping?’  We give them the directions, how to find the information that they need.  ‘I just moved to Houston for medical school and I have a limited budget.  What are the things that I can be doing to enjoy the city?’  ‘I’m a teacher, I’m calling from Midland, and I want to get some post cards for my students’ so I told them about our visitors center.  We are loaded with information for the locals as well as people from outside the country.”

Neilsen has been answering visitor questions about Houston over the phone for eight years, before this expansion to the World Wide Web.  All mailouts are handwritten, adding to the personal touch.

“We’re the only ones, to my knowledge, at this moment, that has an actual person with a face on the screen that they feel connected with.  And that’s so important, because you know, you want to treat them like they’re visitors in your own home.  Today on my e-mail, we got 198 requests when I opened my computer this morning.  We send them the official visitor guide to Houston, the calendar of events, we put things on Space Center, things that are going on with Metro, things that will assist them once they get here.”  

Two others work with Neilsen on answering questions about the city. 

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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