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Atlanta shines at Travel South Showcase

Courtesy Travel South USA

ATLANTA — A delegation of more than 650 attendees, including tour operators and media from several foreign countries, joined travel industry delegates from 12 Southern states in Atlanta for the 2011 Travel South Showcase, Feb. 22-25.
As an international hub, Atlanta proved a catalyst for international involvement for this longtime Southern travel conference.

 “We’re thrilled that 15 percent or so of our total attendance was international,” said Travel South USA executive director Liz Bittner. “We had 652 delegates in all, and we were able to showcase not just Atlanta but the entire metro area, other parts of Georgia and several other Southern states.”

Bittner and Georgia state travel director Kevin Langston were intent on using Atlanta as a portal to the entire region. 

“We had media and international operators talking to us about places like Athens, Macon and Hiawatha,” said Bittner. “We had more than 400 people take tours of the Atlanta metro area and 116 that took pre- and post-tours throughout Georgia and into other Southern states.”

“The media room was filled with international journalists — many more than I am accustomed to seeing,” said Mac Lacy, publisher of The Group Travel Leader. “There was a large contingent of British and French-speaking media on hand. Atlanta’s influence in that regard was very noticeable.”

A series of three evening events put the host city and state in the spotlight.

On the opening evening, Georgia Tourism, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Georgia Aquarium hosted a gala reception. The world’s largest, the Georgia Aquarium was a spectacular venue, and delegates were treated to superb foods and desserts. The huge marine exhibits provided spectacular visual effects throughout the evening.

“We really wanted these delegates to see the Georgia Aquarium and everything near Centennial Park because this city has changed so much in the past few years,” said Langston, who was instrumental in bringing the event to Atlanta and Georgia.

The following evening was a dine-around followed by a hosted event at Atlanta’s Hard Rock Cafe. A couple hundred delegates found their way to the Hard Rock to dance the night away. A highlight of the evening was an unexpected appearance by Quilt Man, the mysterious caped crusader from Paducah, Ky.’s American Quilt Museum.

The final evening event was a dress-up affair — as in zoot suits, fedoras, boas and shimmering speakeasy gowns. Club Kentucky, compliments of the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism, the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and that state’s travel industry, re-created a Prohibition-era nightclub in a downtown Atlanta high-rise, and it was a huge hit.

Once they ascended the elevator and got into Club Kentucky with their passwords, delegates moved effortlessly among food stations, bars, live music and an outdoor patio overlooking downtown Atlanta.

“We had international operators telling us this was the best event they’d been to in 10 years,” said Kentucky state travel director Mike Cooper. “Everything in the room came from Louisville, next year’s host city.

“The bars, the costumes, the decor — even the Juggernaut Jug Band —was from Louisville. Our entire Kentucky delegation did a superb job in showing everyone what they have to look forward to next year.”