ATLANTA — The Southern international inbound travel community gathered April 18–19 in Atlanta for Travel South USA’s 2022 Global Summit, an annual conference that addresses foreign travel into the region. More than 160 delegates from 12 Southern state travel offices and dozens of convention and visitors bureaus met to collaboratively reignite travel marketing efforts aimed at visitors from Canada, Mexico and Latin America, Europe, Australia and other foreign destinations.
On the heels of a global travel collapse due to COVID-19, research authority Adam Sacks with Tourism Economics projected inbound travel to the U.S. would recover in 2022 to 62% of pre-pandemic levels, increase to 85 percent of former levels in 2023 and recover entirely in 2024. In 2019, the record year prior to the pandemic, international travelers accounted for more than 79 million visits to the United States.
“Our five-year plan for inbound travel marketing completed in late 2020 is more vital than ever due to the interruption of the past two years,” said Travel South USA president and CEO Liz Bittner. “We are branding our authentic Southern sites and experiences for travelers across the globe to restore travel to our region. Only we can deliver the Americana appeal of the South to the world’s visitors.
“It’s important to remember that, prior to the pandemic, had we been able to entice every foreign visitor who came to the South to stay an additional day, the net result would have been an additional billion dollars to our regional economy,” said Bittner. “The Southern travel industry is depending on us to create the branding that will make that happen.”
In addition to a research panel moderated by Travel South USA board member Doug Bourgeois of Louisiana that included Sacks’ travel recovery presentation, board member Mike Mangeot of Kentucky moderated a panel discussion on navigating the new tourism landscape that featured travel officials from the U.K., Germany and France. The afternoon program featured briefings from six foreign field representatives for Travel South USA on its sales programs from markets like Latin America, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Travel South USA is creating the framework for a new Global Ready Network that will identify destinations in each state that meet necessary criteria to accommodate inbound visitation. Bittner expects to have that program off the ground and operating before the Travel South International Showcase being held November 27–30 in Louisville, Kentucky.
“International visitation requires professionals familiar with the needs of foreign travelers,” said Bittner. “Louisville understands those needs, and we’ll have Global Ready Network up and running for International Showcase. Our program in Louisville features events at internationally known venues like the Frazier History Museum, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and the Muhammad Ali Center. And we have a closing luncheon hosted by West Virginia Tourism that will introduce that state’s authentic appeal before we send dozens of international buyers off on site-inspection trips across the South.”