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Travel South’s Liz Bittner

Liz Bittner
Executive Director
Travel South USA

Q: State travel office budgets have taken major hits over the past couple of years. How has Travel South USA overcome those obstacles?

We’re good at leveraging dollars that are available. Even though many states have taken budget cuts, we’ve been able to extend our money further than most in that way. So far, we’re good.

Q: How does Travel South USA allocate its resources between domestic and international inbound promotion?

For the past five years, it’s been 50/50.

Q: Other regions of the country have tried with varying degrees of success to emulate Travel South USA’s success. Is there any advice you’d be willing to share with them?

Yes. The leadership of the board of directors is incredibly important. You have to have the No. 1 person in those offices totally engaged in what you’re trying to do. You also have to do many programs on a “pay to play” basis so that each state can pick and choose the programs that make the most sense for them. Not everyone will participate every time, and you have to recognize that.

Q: Travel South Showcase is coming up this month. Any new wrinkles this year?

Yes. We’ve added editorial media appointments this year for the state travel offices in hopes of creating a better opportunity for media to get the stories they’re after. We’re doing selective recruiting of international tour operators that we want to have at the Showcase. Our goal is for 10 percent to 12 percent of our buyers to be international. And I would say that Birmingham’s evening event is a very new approach; it’s going to blow people away. They’ve created an event that brings their entire local community into play and engages them in a way we haven’t tried before. And we’ve added a Tourism Cares component this year: We’ll do a fundraiser for the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

Q: Last year, you introduced a thematic approach to major meal functions that tied them all together very successfully. Will you repeat that this year?

Yes. We’ll use new themes this year but will continue that approach to our meals. We’ll be unveiling TSN, the Travel South Network. It will promote our destinations using an entertaining television-game-show approach using shows like Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader and The Price Is Right.

Q: Other than CEO, what are the key staff functions that must be addressed to successfully run a regional travel organization like Travel South USA?

You have to have someone in charge of partner development who handles sponsorship sales, promotes attendance to conferences and runs pay-to-play programs. And you need a really good accountant or accounting person; you’re working with state governments after all. Public dollars demand a lot of oversight.

Q: What does passage and funding of the Travel Promotion Act mean to a region like the South?

As a destination, we represent 40 percent of the visitation in this country. This act means our elected leadership recognizes the industry’s importance, and we are no longer the only leading country in the world without an organized effort at the national level to promote inbound tourism.