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Nearly Two Dozen Countries Attend International Showcase

The numbers are staggering: In 2015, nearly 78 million visitors came to this country.

Most of us see international travelers from time to time in the towns where we live, but the volume of international travel into America is never really apparent. At the Travel South International Showcase, held November 28 – December 1 in Atlanta, the focus on these visitors was more than apparent.

“We’re getting about 7.9 percent of the international visitation into the United States, and we want that to be closer to 10 percent,” said Liz Bittner, Travel South USA’s president and CEO. “I think that’s achievable. It’s worth $8 billion to the South if we can do it.”

More than 110 international buyers and receptive operators from 22 countries came to Atlanta to meet with nearly 300 destination representatives from 12 member states. That’s an increase of eight countries from the first meeting held just four years ago. In a workshop held the first day, foreign representatives from several of those countries briefed sellers on the latest trends from their markets.

“Chinese travelers are moving away from mass market shopping to high-end gifts, and they are shopping for friends and family while they are here,” Alina Xiang of East West Marketing Group told the group.

“There are only 24 million Australians, and 1.5 million of them came to the U.S. in 2015,” said Geoffrey Hutton of Kent Marketing.

“The United States is Brazil’s top foreign destination, and our travelers come for an average of 10 days,” said Gisela Martins Perez of River Global.

In light of all the attention Chinese travelers have received over the past few years, perhaps it was Andria Godfrey’s revelation that seemed most unexpected:

“India will overtake China as the world’s largest outbound travel market by 2030,” said the travel researcher from Georgia’s tourism office.

Bittner and her board have moved aggressively to join forces with Brand USA over the past few years as the central focus of their marketing efforts to international markets. Brand USA and its strategists at Miles Partnership have engaged Travel South USA to pilot various regional initiatives in areas like superFAMs for international tour operators, original video content using first-person accounts from foreign spokespersons and website integration.

“They know we’re game,” said Bittner, speaking of Brand USA. “If there is a pilot program, they know we’ll do it. Our focus now is on a ‘road trip’ theme that taps into the foreign traveler’s mind-set about seeing America. Road trips are part of our heritage in the South, and we’ve already designed 22 trip ideas for foreign travelers using themes like “Appalachia” or “Southern coast.” Those are already on their website,

“The goal is to have 20 million unique visitors on that site by 2018,” said Bittner. “Brand USA is tasked with moving millions of international travelers from our major gateways into our secondary cities and back roads. It doesn’t matter to us if these road trips are taken by motorcoach, by bicycle or by car. Our message to our industry at International Showcase is ‘They’re coming, and we need to be ready.’”

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.