I’m on the road this week, giving a speech about Patch in Champaign-Urbana, so I thought this would be an excellent chance to try out Enjoy Illinois, the official app of the Illinois Department of Tourism.
Right now, as I type this from the Illini Union, this free app tells me that nearby “Top Attractions” include the Tanger Outlet Center (22.44 miles away) and the Kickapoo State Park (26.10 miles away). So, if I want to hike in brand-new surplus sneakers, I’m set. It also lists more than 25 restaurants and hotels within a mile radius. The app allows me to filter and refresh these results by type (shopping, sports, nightlife, etc.). Pretty nifty.
Developed by Evanston-based SIM Partners, this free app is a close sibling to the Department of Tourism’s EnjoyIllinois.com website. Thankfully for users, it doesn’t try to replicate the full website and instead integrates the information into a smart, sleek design that’s intuitive.
On the main screen, users may browse by interest, region, events, deals and nearby attractions. Of these, I only wish that the “events” tab was more robust. If I search, “Chicagoland,” for example, I often don’t get timely, single-day events, but rather long-standing “events” (a in Oak Park) or places (Glencoe’s Model Railroad Garden in the ). For a bustling metropolis and its burbs, there should be far more events available.
A prominent, type-in search field on the front page would help as well, but users should keep in mind that the app is not encyclopedic—the Yelp! app might be a better search engine, if you’re looking for something specific. For example, Enjoy Illinois directed me to both the John Phillip Sousa Library and Museum and the Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, but I could not find—even through the search function—my favorite Champaign bookstore ( Jane Addams Book Shop, for those who care).
The app already links to the Department of Tourism’s YouTube channel, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter accounts — but there seems to be a lost opportunity here to integrate with FourSquare, or at least link to it, so tourists can pick up special badges through the locations they visit.
That’s largely where the criticism ends. I like the EnjoyIllinois app, especially the “Near Me” feature, and look forward to using it in Chicago's north suburbs and as I drive around the state. That said, I must be going.
I wonder what the app will recommend I see near Des Plaines? Check out these three spots recommended near me by the Enjoy Illinois app: