By Mac Lacy
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “Yesterday, we were rocking in here,” said Tara Walton, director of tourism for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We had great appointments. We started with 36 appointments and we had four more walk up. And Mac, since you just walked up, you make five!”
I had stopped by the Birmingham booth to check on their new campaign to promote the 50th anniversary of many important civil rights events that kicks off in 2013. And when Walton began speaking about how great her appointments had been, I realized that the 2012 Travel South Showcase held March 4-7 in Louisville had delivered for its attendees.
Louisville and Kentucky outdid themselves with a gala opening event at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. Louisville also treated attending media to a grand evening of a taping of “Secrets of Louisville Chefs LIVE,” a local culinary program for television at Sullivan University.
Travel South USA partnered with Tourism Cares to raise more than $20,000 for the Old Friends thoroughbred retirement farm in Georgetown, Ky.
Executive director Liz Bittner announced the organization’s new International Showcase, which takes place Nov. 26-29 in association with Rhythms of the South cities, Atlanta, New Orleans and Nashville, Tenn.
And a media contingent of more than 40 writers and publishers brought new influence to the venerable Southern travel event.
“We put a real emphasis this year on inviting and bringing in very qualified travel writers to supplement our trade media contingent,” said Bittner. “It really paid off, and I think we’ll see a lot of consumer media develop for our host city and state as a result. And it’s great for them to know who we are as well. We can help them with other stories in the South as a result of this.”
After an afternoon of local sightseeing and The Group Travel Leader’s annual bowling tournament, the event kicked off with a media reception intended to update the press attendees with new items in the 11 Southern states that constitute Travel South USA.
Among just a few of the highlights mentioned by individual states were several new promotional campaigns.
“We’ve designed a campaign to highlight what you can’t see or do anywhere else — it’s called There’s Only One,” Kentucky deputy commissioner Hank Phillips said. “A few of the opening items to be featured include the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky bourbon and the Muhammad Ali Center.”
North Carolina is promoting a new campaign, Deeper Connections, designed to bring travelers back to the country’s sixth-most visited state to discover deeper ties to its culture and beauty.
There are 100 places in Alabama that you have to eat at before you die, says that state, so a new campaign called Alabama Road Trips touts those culinary sites and more.
Arkansas, site of next year’s Showcase, is all about art this year. The new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville has helped to spur a campaign titled Arkansas – A Work of Art.
— www.travelsouthusa.com —