MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina — At a luncheon during its annual Domestic Showcase event, Travel South USA announced an agreement with the Southeast Tourism Society (STS) under which STS will take over Domestic Showcase beginning in 2021.
“We see the industry evolving,” said Liz Bittner, Travel South’s president and CEO. “With so many young people, we needed a platform that allowed for year-round networking and an educational component. Education is STS’s strength.”
The two organizations began discussions on potential cooperative initiatives last October. As a result of these discussions, they agreed on a proposal to transfer production rights and assets of Domestic Showcase. The agreement was unanimously approved by the Travel South USA board of directors and the Southeast Tourism Society board in February.
The 2019 conference, which took place February 24-27 in Myrtle Beach, was the 37th edition of the event. Travel South will produce the 2020 conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as planned, before handing it off to STS in 2021.
“Over the course of the next year, the STS staff will shadow us through the entire planning process,” Bittner said. “We want to make it as seamless as possible.”
After the 2020 conference in Baton Rouge, STS will take over all responsibility for Domestic Showcase, including selecting a site for 2021 and potentially adding educational programming to the event schedule.
“Domestic Showcase will continue in the first quarter,” Bittner said. “They may add supplier workshops or panel discussions.”
“We are excited for the opportunity to enhance Domestic Showcase offerings in 2021 and provide additional education components for its participants,” said Monica Smith, president and CEO of STS. “Providing industry-specific, Southern-based, affordable networking and educational opportunities is vital to professional development in our industry, especially for the many new professionals joining the sales and marketing teams in our CVBs and attractions. We believe adding this event to our roster will create new synergies to complement our other programs.”
The two organizations, which have long collaborated and once shared office space in Atlanta, have ironed out details related to differences in their operating models. Unlike Travel South, which is owned by the 12 Southern state travel offices it represents, STS is a membership organization. Membership will not be required for attending Domestic Showcase, however; destination marketing organizations, attractions, hotels and tour companies from all Southern states will be able to attend, regardless of their membership.
The two organizations also have slightly different geographical representations of the South. While both include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, Travel South also includes Missouri. STS does not include Missouri but does include Florida.
Bittner said tourism entities from both Florida and Missouri will be welcome to attend STS’s Domestic Showcase.
The 2019 Domestic Showcase in Myrtle Beach was among the most successful in Travel South’s history, Bittner said. It drew 715 attendees, including 180 tour operators and nearly 40 travel journalists. In addition to the 20,000 scheduled business appointments, the conference included numerous sightseeing opportunities in Myrtle Beach and a memorable opening night concert by Darius Rucker — former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and now an award-winning country singer — at the House of Blues
“Myrtle Beach and South Carolina have knocked it out of the park,” Bittner said. “The destination is evolving, and they rolled out the red carpet. You can’t get any better than Darius Rucker at the opening event. He’s a native South Carolinian.”