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Trips without borders


Rachel Carter
Published September 10, 2013

Courtesy Chippewa Falls Area CoC

At the close of Circle Wisconsin’s fiscal year, executive director Peggy Bitzer and her staff count every group travel sale made that year. Then the statewide group travel and tourism marketing organization shares that “valuable information” with its members. That information now shows that regional, themed itineraries are by far the most popular product among tour operators.

“For years and years, dinner theaters and theaters were No. 1,” Bitzer said. “Then, a couple years ago, themed itineraries were the top seller. For the tour operators, for the buyers, it makes it simple because all they have to do is look at this itinerary, take out what they don’t want or do it exactly as it is.”

Circle Wisconsin partners with its members — chambers, CVBs, hotels and attractions representing 265 cities — to promote regional and statewide itineraries. Circle Wisconsin puts out a newsletter to its members and holds educational seminars to encourage them to work together on regional itineraries.

Bitzer said Circle Wisconsin then promotes its 50-plus suggested itineraries at trade shows and through email blasts to buyers.

Circle Wisconsin also created three regions in the state because “in talking with the tour operators, we realized it would be much easier to do it by region,” Bitzer said.

Region 1 takes in the western and northern parts of the state, Region 2 includes the southwestern area up to the central part of the state, and Region 3 is eastern Wisconsin up to Door County.

Organizations along Lake Michigan’s west coast — Racine, Milwaukee and others up into Door County — work together to develop itineraries, and Green Bay and Door County partner to package regional tours. One of the most popular itineraries, From a Mighty River to a Great Lake, includes communities and attractions from the Mississippi River east to Lake Michigan, Bitzer said. Another popular package is Europe Wisconsin Style, which showcases some of the state’s diverse European nationalities: Italian, Danish, German, Polish, Irish, Swiss and Norwegian.

The Tourism Division of the Mississippi Development Authority has established tourism partners — local cities, CVBs, hotels, restaurants, museums and other attractions around the state — and works with them to develop regional and statewide itineraries, said Karen Gates Matlock, domestic group tours program manager for the state agency.

Mississippi’s buddy system allows the state to put together diverse itineraries that feature a wide range of areas and attractions and helps the state stay in touch with its partners about new events and activities. “So when a group travel planner contacts us, we have all the current information,” Gates Matlock said.

When the state receives a call from group leaders or motorcoach operators, the state immediately sends them information about the area that interests them and contacts the local partners to get them involved.

Itineraries allow everyone to work together and create the opportunity for repeat trips, Gates Matlock said, “because we understand they can only see and do so much during one trip.”
“Itineraries are so important, especially for people who are coming to the state for the first time or people who haven’t been in a while,” she said. “That’s the first thing they ask: ‘Do you have something you can send me about itineraries?’”

Itineraries such as the African American Heritage Tour, the Antebellum South and Civil War Tour, the Musical Heritage Tour and the Mississippi Menu Tour showcase the state’s diverse regions and long history, she said.

“We have such a wide array of interest in everything — Civil War, civil rights, freedom trails, music trails — it just depends on the area they’re interested in,” Gates Matlock said.

The state also offers regional tours, such as Tunica to Clarksdale, which features the Mississippi Delta region, or the Natchez Trace Tour. Even groups from Memphis, Tennessee, that want the “whole Elvis package” can go to the King’s hometown of Tupelo, she said.

“[Regional itineraries] give them a better opportunity for their planning and make sure they get their most bang for their buck,” Gates Matlock said.

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