NASHVILLE, Tennessee — During the same week that Australia Travel Awards named the Travel South USA region as its top destination for 2018, 125 international travel buyers met with 350 Southern destinations in a busy marketplace during the organization’s seventh International Showcase in Nashville, Tennessee, November 26–29.
Travel South USA president and CEO Liz Bittner was straightforward in laying out her organization’s initiative to increase the South’s share of business generated by the nearly 40 million overseas travelers who come to the United States each year.
“This is not a one-and-done strategy,” said Bittner. “It’s not a trade show. This is a tactic in our overall marketing plan to make the South a major destination for international travelers. Every international delegate in that room was invited to attend based on our criteria and our target markets. We get inquiries from travel companies in other countries that are not in the plan, and we turn them down.”
Nine global marketing partners under contract to assist the organization’s Southern destinations with their sales efforts were in attendance. Markets like Australia, Brazil, China, the Nordic countries, France, Germany, Italy and the Middle East were all represented. That level of ongoing in-country marketing support overseas is also a key component of the overall marketing plan.
Coline Chazaux of Express Conseil in Paris said 1.7 million French travelers visited the United States in 2017, and 76 percent were repeat travelers.
“French citizens have six to nine weeks a year for travel, and they’ll come to the South on their second or third visit to the U.S.,” she said. “Once they’ve done New York and the West Coast, they’ll consider coming to the South. If they do, they’ll come for two weeks on average. The French are very drawn to culture and history. They’ll come for music, and they are interested in the new Civil Rights Trail. Many are more interested in your country’s history than some of your own citizens may be.”
Peter Hannaford represents one of Travel South’s newest markets: the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
“We started in July and were able to bring four travel companies here this week,” he said. “Next year, we’d like to double that. There is absolutely no language barrier for these countries. They are very English literate. They’ll start in music centers like Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. For quite a few years, Thailand was Scandinavia’s No. 1 long-haul travel destination, but now America is.
“Success for us would be getting these travelers beyond the music states into places like the Carolinas, Kentucky or Arkansas,” said Hannaford. “Scandinavians are used to multiple flights because they have very little long-haul service from their cities. So they think nothing of taking a connecting flight in the U.S. to get further into the heart of the South.”
“In all honesty, anything beyond the United Kingdom and Germany is an emerging market for us,” said Bittner. “There is still so much to do and so much left to accomplish.”