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"The South has great stories": Travel South USA Chair on how to experience authentic America

Sporting a charming Kentucky accent and oodles of homegrown pride, Travel South USA Chair Mike Mangeot chatted exclusively to Karryon at the recent Travel South USA International Showcase about the important role of Aussie and Kiwi advisors in inspiring visitation to the South.

Sporting a charming Kentucky accent and oodles of homegrown pride, Travel South USA Chair Mike Mangeot chatted exclusively to Karryon at the recent Travel South USA International Showcase about the important role of Aussie and Kiwi advisors in inspiring visitation to the South.

The annual Travel South USA International Showcase 2023, established in 2013 when it was originally known as Rhythms of South, saw its biggest delegation to date this year with more than 450 suppliers and buyers across three days in Memphis, Tennessee.

Travel South USA was established in 1965 and has since grown into a 12-state consortium dedicated to marketing the South as an international travel destination.

Marketing the South to the world

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Travel South USA Chair Mike Mangeot with President & CEO Liz Bittner.

Travel South USA President & CEO Liz Bittner told the crowd that international travel to the South is rebounding faster than any other US region, and Travel South USA Chair Mike Mangeot said the organisation is primed to take advantage.

“Collectively, the tourism product we have is really intriguing and authentic. The South has so many authentic American experiences – it’s the culture, the arts, the history, the people and the hospitality,” he enthused.

“And then, we have such geographic diversity. You have the coast of South Carolina, the mountains of North Carolina, the rolling bluegrass hills, you got oceans, you got beaches. So, all of that just ties in with such great stories.”

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Mike Mangeot serving Kentucky bourbon at the Taste the South event with National Geographic in London 2023.

Mangeot hails from Kentucky where he also serves as Commissioner of the State’s Department of Tourism.

“My home state of Kentucky is not top of mind for folks for international travel along with say, the likes of Tennessee or Alabama, however, Travel South USA allows us to lift our voices together in overseas markets.”

Talking of voices, the US South is renowned as the birthplace of many American music genres, including blues, gospel, jazz, zydeco, bluegrass, R’n’B and soul, to name a few.

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A bluegrass band at the Kentucky Bourbon reception at Travel South USA International Showcase.

Fittingly, the Rhythms of South event focused on the famous music cities of Nashville, Atlanta and New Orleans before evolving into the Travel South USA International Showcase of the 12 states.

Music is a primary motivator for international visitation to the US South followed by interest in horse ranches and racing, particularly the Kentucky Derby; whiskey trails (95 per cent of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky) and the great outdoors.

“We know from research that visitors to the South are going to visit three or four states and they also tend to stay longer,” Mangeot said.

“They’ll go to a gateway city on their first or second trip but when they keep coming back to the States, they want something different and authentic. That’s really kind of collectively our wheelhouse, if you will, it’s kind of what we excel at.”

Aussies love the South

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Visit Mississippi Director & Travel South USA Board Member Rochelle Hicks with Mangeot.

Travel South USA is fully focused on its top international markets, including Australia, and Mangeot said the travel trade is very important to the Southern states.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities between the Aussies and the Kiwis and the South,” he said.

“We’ve got a pretty aggressive goal of USD$10 billion in spend by 2026. And we can get there with [selling] one more night, one more experience. And how do you do that? It’s letting people know what’s now available and getting them to extend their stay.

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Showcasing the musical legacy on Beale Street in Memphis at the 2023 Travel South USA International Showcase.

“Australia and New Zealand is a very important and growing market and that comes down to awareness, availability, reach and airlift access.

“And that’s where Travel South USA is such a positive for us. Travel South USA can now bring travel trade visitors into more hometowns to experience more of the South firsthand.

“Once we get them to visit, not only do they come back, they become advocates for us and tell other people to go.

“It changes the conversation for us with international operators who get to go beyond the gateway cities on fams and experience other parts of the South – and that’s the ultimate goal.”

For more info, head to travelsouthusa.com