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Governors’ Vision Created A Lasting Legacy for Travel South

Travel South USA is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, and executive director Liz Bittner has a pretty good idea why the regional organization has been able to withstand the test of time and expand its influence for five decades.

“Travel South USA was created by the governors of the Southern Governors Association in 1965,” she said. “At that time, there were only two states in the South that had tourism offices, Florida and Georgia. The other governors liked the idea and created travel departments in their states. They agreed to become members of Travel South USA. Because it was created by governors who set it up to be wholly owned by its member states, Travel South USA has enjoyed longstanding support.

“Missouri just joined Travel South USA, and a legislative body appointed by the governor approved their membership and authorized the funding,” said Bittner. “The level at which we operate gives us the credibility we need to be effective.

“Fifty years ago, states let their transportation departments run their welcome centers,” she said. “But it was during this same era that tourism began to become recognized as an economic generator for states, and many began shifting the emphasis in those centers to hospitality and travel planning for visitors. It was during this era of recognition for tourism’s potential that Travel South USA was born.”

“Our anniversary will certainly be a point of emphasis at Travel South Showcase in Shreveport in March,” said Bittner. “Our roots are in domestic marketing, so that’s the time to do it.”

Bittner enjoys ticking off a few Travel South highlights over the years.

“We were the first group to go to Canada back in the 1960s with the tourism message, and Canadians remain an important visitor segment for all our states. We also had a float in the Rose Bowl Parade. The Rose Bowl is still considered the granddaddy of all bowl games. And we actually crowned a Miss Travel South USA in the 1970s.”

Bittner said the domestic Showcase in Shreveport will offer a superb springboard for the 50th anniversary because the tour operator and media contingents will be large this year.

“We already have more than 100 tour operators and 35 national media registrants onboard,” she said. “We have a lot of momentum going into that meeting in March.”

Though Travel South has its roots in domestic marketing, Bittner’s board is also committed to growing its region’s identity as an international travel destination.

“We now have representatives in Brazil, Australia, France and Italy,” she said. “We’re taking a sales mission to France and Italy in June, and we had our first coordinated effort at World Travel Market in years; 47 partners used 108 square meters in London.”

“We’re doing research and Inspiration Guides with Brand USA, and our states have created destination videos with Brand USA that are being produced in at least eight languages.

“Our superfams that conclude each of our International Showcase events are now sending as many as 75 international tour operators across the South for in-depth site inspections,” said Bittner. “That show is an unqualified success. We just did it in New Orleans; we go to Charlotte [North Carolina] in 2015, back to Atlanta in 2016 and to Charleston, South Carolina, in 2017.”


Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.