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Travel South USA Targets $10 Billion Annually From International Visitors

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Nearly 400 delegates, including 108 international travel buyers and journalists, gathered in Louisville, Kentucky, November 27–30, for the 2022 Travel South USA International Showcase, an annual event that draws delegates from major inbound markets like the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia and Brazil. 

“Our board of directors has set a goal of generating $10 billion in expenditures from international travelers into the South,” president and CEO Liz Bittner told the assembly at the opening breakfast. “We appreciate the partnerships we have with everyone here to help make that happen.”

As is the case for many travel companies and destinations, 2019 set the business standard for inbound travel to the South, when the region drew $8.8 billion in spending from international guests. Bittner and her board are hoping to reach their $10 billion goal by 2026.

“We can’t just go back to what we were doing prior to COVID,” she said, following the breakfast. “Our strategy is not so much to drive more guests into the region but to keep our guests longer. An extra day from all the international guests into the South would mean an additional $1 billion in expenditures. For example, we need to get international visitors to go from Nashville to Muscle Shoals instead of from Nashville to Austin.”

Bittner said Travel South USA will be adding a new consumer media emphasis at its Global Week gathering in April. Foreign journalists will be invited to attend and meet with Southern media professionals one-on-one. 

“We have longstanding ties with trade journalists who influence travel producers overseas, but we need to create more demand at the consumer level,” said Bittner. “We’ll be inviting writers for print and other media to come and discuss assignments with those who can make travel arrangements for them. International travelers need to see the authentic South in their media at home.”

To that end, six member states contracted with MDSG, a London-based advertising agency, to create digital campaigns that go live in early 2023. Teams of multimedia photographers spent about nine days in each state last fall shooting still and video photography in outdoor destinations.

“Our targets for these campaigns include empty nesters and young adults who have visited the United States four to five times and are looking for their next vacation idea,” said James Bailey of MDSG. “Nikon and Osprey outfitters are corporate partners, and our media partners are Wanderlust and the Independent. We’ll have a call to action for viewers using selected travel companies and will be able to measure results using several metrics.”

While in Louisville, international buyers and journalists enjoyed events at the Muhammad Ali Center, the Frazier History Museum, the Evan Williams Experience and the Kentucky Derby Museum. After the event, foreign delegates left for site inspection trips across Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.

 “Team Kentucky, Louisville Tourism and volunteers made a huge impression this week, and they will see international visitors as a result,” said Bittner.

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.