Travel South USA has a new roadmap for driving domestic and foreign visitors into the southern United States.
Make that lots of new roadmaps.
“We hired a research company to study the front and back ends of our website and to recommend a course of action,” said Liz Bittner, executive director of the regional tourism organization. “When their work was complete, they came back to us and said that with today’s technology and the amount of data that exists for travelers, planning can be overwhelming. People can find lots of information on destinations, but the question becomes, how useful is it?
“Our objective became to create a website for the South that transcends state lines, melds areas of interest and gives people everything they need to know quickly in order to plan a trip or a weekend, or in the case of group travel planners, provides the same kind of information for their groups.”
The result is a new website that allows consumers to drill down into any state or combination of states and come up with road maps, welcome center locations, suggested itineraries and lots of specifics for planning a week or a weekend quickly and easily. Google maps are an integral part of the new site.
“For example, travelers want to know where Gadsden is in relation to Birmingham,” said Bittner. “Unless you’re from Alabama, you don’t know that.
“Or, if you’re going to Charleston [S.C.], you might like to see Savannah [Ga.], too. But people don’t have what they need to plan that way. Our states are limited in what they can do because of borders, but Travel South is not. We get beyond the borders so that travelers can, too.”
An interesting dichotomy in the creation of the strategy is the focus put on the states’ welcome and information centers. Although these centers represent one of the oldest concepts used in tourism today, Bittner said they remain a vital part of the Southern travel experience, because they still cause a lot of spur-of-the-moment travel. Thus, they are prominent on the new website.
Iconic information centers
“People are amazed at some of our states’ information centers today,” she said. “They are a draw unto themselves. And there is still something about talking to a live person. To be able to use this latest Web technology in tandem with some of the South’s most traditional sources for face-to-face interaction is very cool.”
Bittner said tour operators and group planners remain
a key market for Travel South USA.
“I think there is a feeling out there that after two years of really tough business, that maybe it’s time to get back to the basics,” she said. “That’s where tour operators, both domestic and international, come into play.
“We’re still America’s No. 1 destination, and they still drive a lot of business, so we’re using sales missions, media tours, trade shows and other programs to stay in front of them.”
The upcoming Travel South Showcase in Atlanta is a good example. Bittner said eight different familiarization tours will take place both before and after the meeting in conjunction with it. Several states will be involved.
“Practical on-the-ground knowledge of our destinations will always be a key in successful tour planning,” she said. “If one company has that knowledge, and another doesn’t, that’s a big advantage. Companies that attend will have that advantage.”
Having the upcoming showcase in Atlanta doesn’t hurt. Bittner sees a strong attendance by travel producers due to the city’s accessibility.
“Tour operators from France, Germany, Canada, Brazil, the U.K. and from across the United States are planning to be here,” she said. “It’s a good time to be in the regional-travel-marketing business.
“We’re the largest, the oldest and the most established organization out there for doing this; and right now, individual states are really constrained as to what they can do on their own.
“We’re very lucky to have the track record and reputation we have, and we’re making the most of it.”