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Nashville hosts Travel South International Showcase

More than 350 delegates, including 90 international travel buyers from 14 countries, joined Travel South USA in Nashville, Tennessee, at the new Omni Nashville Hotel for the second annual International Showcase on December 3-6.

Travel South USA launched the new international inbound conference last year in association with Rhythms of the South, an inbound partnership created by the Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans convention and visitor bureaus.

According to Travel South USA executive director Liz Bittner, the Southern inbound event was created in response to an improving economy and the emergence of Brand USA as a new international marketing force in the past two years.

“The world is global, and to be successful, you have to be in the global marketplace,” said Bittner. “The way for us to do that is collectively on behalf of the entire South. International operators had started coming to our domestic show the past several years, so it was time to launch this event.”

Bittner and her board went to the owners of Rhythms of the South and proposed resurrecting its inbound marketplace, which had been idled by the economy several years earlier. Butch Spyridon of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation said his group liked the idea.

“We agreed to host the first three International Showcases in our three cities, and we agreed for Rhythms of the South to sponsor a luncheon at all three events,” said Spyridon. “This is a good partnership for all of us.”

At a breakfast, Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson recognized Travel South USA for embracing his organization’s mission to grow America’s international visitation.

“Travel South USA figured this out early on and became the first regional organization to partner with us,” said Thompson. “This show is exactly what we’re about. One of our mandates is to promote travel beyond the U.S. gateways. Nashville and all these Southern destinations provide a great way for us to do that.”

Training workshops for buyers and Southern destination representatives were offered by TourMappers and the Receptive Services Association of America, respectively. Four marketplace sessions were held over two days, matching destination pods of several delegates each with international buyers from Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Ninety percent of the South’s inbound visitation comes from those markets.

Andrew Hutchinson, head of product for Australia-based Pinpoint Travel Group, said his first trip to Nashville was an eye-opener.

“There’s much more here than I knew; it’s an incredibly vibrant city,” he said. “There’s a high propensity for travel here from Australia, whether it’s families, budget, luxury or couples. The next step is for Travel South and Brand USA to come to Australia and work with our media and our travel agents to help us create demand. Australians are adventurous, and they’ll love it here.”

Nashville provided an afternoon of sightseeing for the buyers and partnered with the state of Tennessee on a honky-tonk event at the Stage one evening. Kentucky hosted a Jim Beam bourbon reception the following evening. Nashville’s Hard Rock Café hosted a black-and-white Y’all Ball event on the final night. At week’s end, the international buyers departed on Travel South Brand USA “Super FAMs” covering five Southern states.

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.