Students to launch tourism website this summer

REED CITY – Equipped with technical skills, passion and big ideas, a pair of Reed City High School seniors and a teacher are aiming to revolutionize an industry in its infancy when they launch a tourism advertising website this summer.

The website, www.ConquerMichigan.com, was created as a way to aid tourists traveling in-state and those coming from far away in effectively planning a vacation in Michigan. The site will utilize Google Maps and Paypal and have a user-friendly site design to link business advertisements to a map of the state.

“People don’t know there are a lot of things in the state that they could do instead of going to Ohio or Florida to spend their money,” said RCHS senior Nate Kailing. “It could help our economy if there was something that showed people that there are other things to do in Michigan.”

Kailing, RCHS senior Eric Minaker and science teacher Jerry Hoppes designed the site with the motto of “Putting You on the Map.”

Site guests can select a start and end date for their trip and choose the category of businesses they would like to see on the map.

A sidebar will show the average gas price for their trip as well as the weather forecast.

“(The site) keeps everything on the same page and it’s user friendly,” Kailing said. “Anyone can use it and anyone can advertise on it.”

Unlike the typical results from a Google search for area businesses, www.ConquerMichigan.com will show exactly where each place is on the map, Kailing said. Businesses such as dining, housing, retail, parks and also festival and event planners can advertise on the site.

The idea began when Hoppes and his family were planning an out-of-state vacation. After struggling to find attractions and plan the trip, the family decided to look in-state for their travel destination.

“I said, ‘There are so many things we can do in Michigan. We need to conquer Michigan first,’” Hoppes said.

When later he learned of Kailing’s entrepreneurial skills buying and selling items on the Internet auction site,

www.Craiglist.com, Hoppes pitched the idea to his student.

“I told him, you could utilize your skills to help people advertise for tourism,” Hoppes said.

The pair discussed the venture, but it wasn’t until Kailing took entrepreneurship class this semester, that his passion was sparked to go forward with the idea.

“When we got to the part where we started talking about advertising and marketing, I started thinking that this was a really good idea,” Kailing said.

Lacking the technical experience to move forward with the site plans, Kailing asked his classmate for help.

Minaker, who attends the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center for graphic design and creates business websites in his free time, had the technical know-how to design the website and agreed to help Kailing and Hoppes launch the site.

When guests select their desired trip dates and location, businesses and events advertising during that time period will be pinpointed on the map. Guests can click on a business shown on the map and will be directed to an advertising page with business information including hours, specials, photos and anything else business owners want to include.

“It will basically be like making a Craigslist ad, but for a business to advertise,” Kailing said.

In the future, the team plans to let business owners have a profile on the site to create and manage their own ads, but in the beginning stages of the project, Kailing and Eric will create the ads for each business.

“After September when we have our final launch, (business owners) will be able to log in and post an ad. It will automatically post and automatically bill, recurring once a month or once a year,” Minaker said. “For the summer, to make sure there are no bugs, we’re going to do all that manually.”

Using the Google Maps directions feature, guests can also access directions on how to get to the advertised businesses.

“You can custom search too, so if you searched ‘horse camp’ it would bring up all the horse camps in the entire state,” Kailing said.

The only businesses that will be pinpointed on the map are those who have chosen to advertise with the site. The group has already begun soliciting businesses for the soft launch in the summer, offering businesses a rate of $15 for advertising during the summer.

“After August, the site will shut down for about a week then it will come back up as the actual site where all the bugs are worked out and everything is fine-tuned and then it will be $30 a month per ad,” Kailing said.

With the typical business allotting 3 to 5 percent of their total budget for advertising, the team hopes their venture will have a large impact for a smaller than normal advertising cost.

The site also will highlight featured destinations, which will include a permanent pin drop on the map that will show up no matter what category is searched. The City of Reed City will be a featured destination, an idea driven by the team’s hometown pride.

Kailling, who plans to attend Ferris State University for marketing in the fall, said the potential for the site is unlimited.

Michigan chambers of commerce include 920,161 businesses, not including franchises. The team hopes many of those businesses will participate in the site.

The trio hopes to expand nationwide as the site gains interest, and launch the same site on a larger scale, www.ConquerUnitedStates.com.

Individuals interested in advertising on the site can e-mail conquermich@gmail.com for a form to fill out or contact Kailing at (231) 250-2331.