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Interview with Liz Bittner

Liz Bittner

Travel South USA executive director Liz Bittner is bullish about 2012, and she said, “It’s our time to shine,” as a catchphrase as she laid out plans for the regional tourism group’s year ahead. Those plans include efforts both domestically and internationally.

“First and foremost, we’re committed and invested in the domestic group travel market,” said Bittner, “and we’ll be in Louisville for Travel South Showcase with a ton of great programming for our domestic operators.

“Our attendance is up, and we’re excited about some new multistate fams we’re introducing because nobody else can do those like we can. We think regionally, and our board allows us to think regionally — that’s a huge plus in our ability to influence travel.”

As one example, Bittner referenced a new four-state travel itinerary showcasing indigenous music that will be introduced at Travel South Showcase following the marketplace.

“Southwest Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee are cooperating on a postfam that showcases the birthplace of Appalachian culture and music,” she said. “There is a new appreciation growing every day for this musical genre that takes its roots from generations of musicians whose collaborations date back well over a century.

“Tour operators want something engaging today, and this immersion into Appalachian culture and music is a perfect example of that,” said Bittner.

Travel South USA is also announcing its return to international travel promotion by producing an international marketplace as part of the new Rhythms of the South Alliance. Anchored by its original cities of Nashville, Atlanta and New Orleans, this new Travel South event will showcase all 11 member states and take place in December. At press time, Bittner could not release the site of the event.

“Many people remember Rhythms of the South,” she said. “We’re projecting a first-year attendance of 75 to 100 inbound tour operators and an equal number of Southern suppliers.

“We’re negotiating now with several airlines including USAir, Delta and United and will use those best suited to five major Southern gateway airports: Atlanta, Washington Dulles, Charlotte, Memphis and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. We expect the airports to be partners in this effort, not just the airlines.

“Just like our multistate fams for the domestic market, we’ll offer these inbound operators a lot of multistate fam opportunities as part of Rhythms of the South. International travelers aren’t influenced by state lines, and our board allows us to embrace that reality and use it to their states’ advantage.”

Bittner feels the return to international marketing for Travel South USA is a natural in light of the development of Brand USA, the new public/private partnership approved by Congress and formerly known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion.

Brand USA will have an estimated $200 million per year for its efforts overseas, funded by a $14 exit fee paid by travelers coming from visa waiver countries.

In the past decade, the world travel market has increased by 60 million people, but visitation to the United States has been flat, according to Brand USA Inc. Brand USA’s official consumer website is

Bittner also said that one format change has been made to the Travel South Showcase schedule for Louisville that better reflects the new travel preferences for today’s independent-minded groups.

“We’re introducing Louisville at Your Leisure for our city tours,” she said. “Operators will have leisure time to visit any one or more of nine venues while they’re with us. They will be admitted with their badges and can do these on their own timeframes as opposed to having to go as a group.

“We are thrilled to offer this new approach to site inspections at Travel South Showcase in Louisville.”

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.