As president and CEO of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS) in the age of COVID-19, Monica Smith has balanced her enthusiasm for promoting travel into 13 Southern states and Washington, D.C., with a step back to consider how the pandemic might alter the way people enjoy her popular travel region in the future.
“I believe tourism will change in many respects as a result of this,” she said. “It’s been nearly 20 years since 9/11, and we’ve grown accustomed to screening requirements in airports that resulted. We must realize that changes will also take place after COVID-19. I think we’ll need to implement those in our planning and processes in the days ahead so people can be confident to travel again.”
Not all these changes will necessarily be arduous, Smith believes. The leap forward in virtual meetings and presentations is an example of positive change.
“Virtual meetings will only get better,” said Smith. “Hybrid events will offer participation to those who cannot travel to a meeting site. Those who can afford to attend in person may still do so, but these are just examples of new realities that all of us will plan for.”
The short-term effects of this pandemic, however, continue to be devastating to STS members and destinations.
“The truth is that our industry could still be a year away from the full benefits of a safe vaccine,” she said. “Until then, our members are facing very difficult circumstances. For their well-being and the well-being of their destinations, our industry needs consistent standards across the country.”
Smith said STS has adopted a timeline for restarting its in-person events.
“We’re planning to begin hosting in-person events again this summer,” she said. “Our first will be Marketing College at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, in June. We’ll hold our Congressional Summit on Travel and Tourism June 21-24 in Arlington, Virginia. Our Connections annual conference takes place in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on September 26-29.”
Smith knows that travel groups have already begun getting out in the Southeast and are already practicing new safety protocols for their trips.
“It’s great that many groups are traveling again,” she said. “I want to be sure our organization offers them best practices and current information for their trips. On February 23-24, we’re offering a virtual tour planning event titled STS Domestic Discovery: Online Education, Networking and Itinerary Development for Tour Operators and Suppliers.
“Our Group Travel Symposium was canceled this year, but the 2021 event takes place November 30-December 1 in Roswell, Georgia,” said Smith. STS plans to hold one-day Travel Media Meetups at both the Congressional Summit and the Group Travel Symposium.
“In 2022, we’re excited about holding STS Domestic Showcase as an in-person event February 13-15 in Virginia Beach, Virginia,” she said. “We already have a couple of new benefits for attendees: Our membership includes new destinations in Florida and Washington, D.C., for buyers, and we’ll be adding educational sessions to the program.”
For information on any of these events, visit southeasttourism.org.