NEW ORLEANS — “All our boots on the ground in foreign markets are ready to go.”
Speaking to 378 delegates at Travel South USA’s 2021 International Showcase, Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, was emphatic that America will return to worldwide travel promotion in 2022.
“We are in full recovery mode now,” said Thompson in New Orleans, where the event was held November 30-December 3. “We can see a path back to 2019. We’re respectful of the science, but when the president reopened the country to vaccinated travelers on November 8, we hit the ground running.”
Legislation has been proposed in Washington that would provide $250 million in emergency marketing funds to Brand USA, since its funding was decimated by the pandemic. The company charged with selling America to visitors is largely funded by a percentage of revenues generated by travelers from visa waiver countries.
“I’m very optimistic that legislation will pass,” said Thompson. “But that’s just part of the equation. It’s well documented that our local tourism sector has been devastated. We drive traffic down to local communities across America, and that’s where our international visitors’ experiences take place, so rebuilding infrastructure is critical. I’m counting on these Travel South destinations to help us accomplish that.”
Liz Bittner, president and CEO of Travel South USA, invited Thompson to address her delegates to help reignite their inbound marketing programs and rebuild their service sectors.
“I want our states and cities to understand that we have lost 106,000 jobs in our region to this pandemic,” she said. “Tourism is a high-touch industry. We must rebuild our local infrastructures that deliver front line services to these visitors. The airline industry invested millions of dollars in their infrastructure during the pandemic to bring these visitors here, and we must invest in our local infrastructures to accommodate them.”
Among the event’s attendees were 113 international tour and receptive operators, who came from 17 foreign countries. Following the event, 121 operators, journalists, airline representatives and global delegates traveled throughout the region on familiarization tours.
Travel South USA is using several marketing programs to rebuild inbound travel to the South, including its Southern Road Trips itineraries created in several languages with Brand USA, their Let’s Make Plans grassroots travel program and extensive research on travel sentiments about the South in various international markets.
One exciting initiative for the organization in 2022 is a return to face-to-face sales missions beginning in late spring. Delegations of several dozen representatives from Southern states will make sales trips to Brazil, Australia, and Canada to meet with tour companies and travel agencies that generate travel to the South. A sales blitz covering Sweden, Germany, France, and Belgium is also being scheduled for a later date.
“We will be personally re-entering our international markets in 2022,” said Bittner. “It’s just a matter of how many we take with us. It’s time to go see our customers again.”