By Mac Lacy
Travel South executive director Liz Bittner was proactive about planning this annual interview. She had a number of themes she wanted to address. Those included the addition of new, emerging sites as the choices for upcoming Travel South Showcase events; reaffirming the organization’s commitment to generating domestic group travel into the South; how her organization works to leverage individual state travel offices’ tight resources; and how international inbound travel fits into her group’s plans.
“Our big announcement is that Travel South Showcase is going to West Virginia for the first time ever,” said Bittner. We’ll be going to Charleston, West Virginia, in 2014, and we couldn’t be more excited about that. I think West Virginia will get behind this event and make a huge name for itself with the tour operators that attend.
“In 2015, we head to Shreveport, Louisiana for the first time ever, and then in 2016, we go to Winston-Salem, North Carolina,” continued Bittner. “We’re excited about showcasing some very different and very cool new Southern cities that are deserving as potential new destinations for tour operators in the years ahead.”
“What is our purpose in bringing Travel South Showcase to a city?” she asked rhetorically. “The purpose is to showcase that destination and to create new group travel business to that city. Our board has made a long-term commitment to domestic group travel, and these new sites reflect that.”
Bittner said the purpose of Travel South USA becomes more relevant each year as budgets in the public sector get increasingly tight.
“We’re an organization of state tourism offices,” she said. As these states’ budgets get tighter, it becomes ever more important to get together and leverage assets for the common good of these states. That’s our barometer. Whatever we undertake as an organization has to be good for the individual state travel offices. In flush times, you can do a lot of things on your own — not now.”
Travel South USA oversees a cooperative advertising purchase program it calls Ultimate Ad Challenge. As opposed to the individual states’ own co-op programs, this media strategy is regionwide. It allows our member states to “find a bigger voice” said Bittner.
Major consumer magazines and media companies such as the Meredith Corp., Family Circle,and the Food Network attend the meeting and bring third-party partners to the table to help the states leverage their advertising dollars in consumer travel campaigns.
“This has become one of our best values for our states,” said Bittner. “We did a major promotion in New York last year with the Food Network that generated a lot of publicity our states could not create on their own. In order for the group travel market to be strong in the South, there has to be public demand for our destinations. Consumer promotions help to create that demand.”
Bittner also sees international inbound tourism promotion as an emerging role for Travel South USA. The organization is partnering with Brand USA in its efforts to sell the United States overseas and held its first International Showcase November 26-29 in Atlanta. Travel South USA will follow that up with similar events in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2013 and New Orleans in 2014.
“The South is America’s No. 1 travel region,” said Bittner. “We have international gateways and internationally known destinations like these cities and others that will continue to grow in influence as the Brand USA program becomes successful. Inbound visitation to the South is deserving of our time and attention in the years ahead.”