VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia — Monica Smith knew she wanted to add an educational component to the Southeast Tourism Society’s (STS) Domestic Showcase in 2022; she just had to figure out how to build it into the schedule. Smith and her staff came up with the idea of offering the sessions at the meeting’s breakfasts, and a new tradition was born.
“We’re getting great feedback, and I expect to do it again next year,” said Smith, president and CEO of STS. “Those sessions really proved to be a great start to the day for our early-bird delegates who like to get up and get going.”
The STS Domestic Showcase was held February 13–15 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and it was the first edition of the conference and marketplace delivered by STS. The Virginia Tourism Corporation and Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau were major partners in arranging for the first in-person Domestic Showcase in two years.
“Our total attendance was 375 delegates and that included 75 buyers and 41 journalists,” said Smith. “The remainder were suppliers and service providers, and that number includes our newest invitees, our federal tourism partners from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the National Parks and the U.S. Forest Service.”
Breakfast seminar sessions included an exclusive journalist breakfast with Captain Chris Ludford of Diversified Marine Services, who shared his experiences with oyster farming tours; a panel discussion on the future of experiential tourism moderated by Douglas Quinby of Arival, featuring panelists Brian Scullin of TUI Musement, Jennifer Cecil of Explore Charleston, and Eddie Lutz of the Ark Experience and Creation Museum; and a presentation by Cheryl Hargrove of Hargrove International on educational travel and cultural heritage tourism.
Marketplace appointments were held for two full days between travel destinations and travel buyers. Evening events were held at Virginia’s Military Aviation Museum, where delegates enjoyed a fascinating collection of historic planes, plus televised coverage of the Super Bowl; and at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, where guests dined on fresh seafood and observed sharks, saltwater fish and other maritime wildlife.
The Group Travel Leader hosted a final night signature event with co-sponsors Heaven Hill Distillery and James B. Beam Distilling Company, where guests enjoyed a shuffleboard tournament and live music at Beachside Social.
“In the future, I can see us adding a day to Showcase on the front end for sales and marketing training for delegates who may be new to the industry,” said Smith. “Educational programming is a hallmark of ours, and I think we’re off to a great start.”
At the event’s closing luncheon, hosted by the Virginia Art Festival, which brought the Virginia International Tattoo for an overwhelming musical performance, Smith thanked numerous supporters who helped to make the inaugural event a success. In addition to the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Beach CVB, she also credited her staff and the “transition committee” of volunteers from various states and cities who helped create the first STS Domestic Showcase.
STS Domestic Showcase in 2023 takes place in Huntsville, Alabama, April 17–20.