The USA’s Southern states are outpacing the rest of the country when it comes to attracting pre-Covid numbers of visitors, delegates at the Travel South International Showcase in Memphis were told.
Held in early December, Travel South – a mix of business appointments, state and city tours and fun networking events – attracted 460 delegates from 17 countries.
Mike Mangeot, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Tourism and Chair of the Board of Travel South said the region comprising 12 states –Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia – was on course this year to record 105% of the visitor numbers it had in 2019, while the rest of the country was only tracking at around 70%.
“We are thrilled with the attendance (at Travel South)… I think the numbers here this week are close to a record…which just highlight the recovery of international travel and interest in the South especially,” he said.
Collectively, the region is targetting visitor spending of around $10 billion by 2026 – a goal that could be attained if every visitor stayed “just one more night” (in the region) urged Liz Bittner, Travel South USA President & CEO.
Before arriving in Memphis for Travel South, many delegates fanned out across the region on a series of three-day Super Fam trips that showcased the highlights and lesser-known attractions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.
Once in the city, along with conducting a collective 10,000 business appointments, many delegates were treated to several city highlights that included breakfast in Graceland and a tour of the site dedicated to all things Elvis; a private parade along iconic Beale Street that ended with a high-energy live music gig; and visits to several city attractions.
These included the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, STAX Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Records studio, where Elvis cut his first record, and the new Tom Lee Park, a 30-acre multi-use green space that runs parallel to the Mississippi River.
Music was a key theme that run through the show, with breakfast and lunch performances by Elizabeth Cook an American singer-songwriter, Jerry Phillips, son of music legend Sam Phillips the founder of Sun Records, and the multi-award-winning Tennessee Mass Choir.
Discussing his own state, Mangeot said that international numbers to Kentucky are not yet back to pre-pandemic levels but are fast accelerating on the back of British Airways’ new flight to Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Airport which was introduced early last summer.
“The BA service has changed the conversation for UK visitors, he said. We now have a direct flight from Heathrow into the north of our state interest and bookings are rising.
“Our data shows that once we get people to Kentucky they love it and are likely to return. They become advocates and ambassadors for us.
“Now, when I go to trade shows my dialogue with tour operators is different: “It is not ‘who are you and what do you offer’ it is more ‘tell me again about those great experience I had in Kentucky and tell me how I can work it into my itineraries’.
Next year’s Travel South USA International Showcase will be hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, from November 30 to December 4.