Love & pride for the USA’s southern states runs strong among locals, but none are quite as passionate as Travel South USA’s President & Chief Executive Liz Bittner.

KARRYON recently caught up with Liz after wrapping up the Travel South USA International Showcase, where some 460 people from 18 countries (including some Aussies) learned all about the Deep South.

During our chat, we discussed the annual event, where it’ll go in the coming year, how Travel Advisors play a role in boosting tourism to the southern states, and what challenges the region faces in tourism.

Although visitor numbers from Australia continue to grow (thanks in large part to Dallas and Houston air connections), Liz said the biggest challenge is sometimes encouraging visitors to venture off the beaten path and discover destinations beyond the gateways.

Read on for more of our chat with Liz Bittner:


Congratulations on wrapping up another International Showcase – what were some of the highlights this year?


Thank you! In 2017, the Travel South USA International Showcase was hosted in Nashville Tennessee, with nine post fams visiting states including Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.

12 states, over 460 delegates representing 18 countries, 120 international buyers & U.S. based receptive buyers were in attendance, with over 600 B2B appointments taking place.

In addition, there were two evening events including the Annual Y’All Ball, hosted by 2019 destination St Louis, Missouri.

Throughout the week, delegates were treated to live music, southern food and bourbon tastings, showcasing the best the South has to offer.


How does the International Showcase benefit the host city?


Travel South hosts a selection of City Tours on the first day of International Showcase USA for each delegate to experience as well as sponsor events throughout the Marketplace to share what makes their destination unique and for delegates to experience true southern hospitality.

In addition, delegates are able to see how our Southern destination has a variety of product from neighbouring states, all within a short drive. Delegates were invited to join a post fam to see for themselves that the South is America’s best authentic road trip experience.


Did the event attract many attendees from Oceania? Are you hoping to increase this number in the coming year?


Yes, this year we hosted seven Australian delegates (Product/Sales/Destination Managers) plus Travel South USA’s representatives Tahnee Perkins and Tristan Freedman. This was the largest Australian delegation at International Showcase to date.

We very much aim to increase on this number for 2019’s Travel South USA International Showcase.


Where will the International Showcase go in 2020, why was this city selected?


St. Louis, Missouri will host the next event. Image: Joshua Ness/Unsplash

Each year, the Travel South USA International Showcase is hosted in a different state.

The 8th annual Travel South USA International Showcase will be in St. Louis, Missouri from Monday, December 2 – Thursday, December 5, 2019. There will be terrific networking events, music, entertainment, shopping and some of the best southern destinations and attractions included to showcase “Southern Hospitality”.


Of the southern states & cities, which are the most popular among Aussies?


Louisiana is seeing strong numbers from Australia. Image: Cayetano Gil/Unsplash

While we continue to see strong numbers heading to Louisiana and Tennessee, we are noticing the increase in touring options and our love of road trips mean we’re seeing more Aussies heading out to other regions of the South including Kentucky for its Bourbon Trail, Alabama for its music history, Arkansas for its range of outdoor adventure.

Travel South consciously invests in efforts to offer authentically southern experiences and telling the story of this wonderful region including supporting the U.S. Civil Rights trail in January 2018; to preserving iconic musical sites; as well as hosting world class sporting and music events.


Are there any cities and states you’re hoping to put front-of-mind among Australian travellers? How do you plan to do this?


Mississippi is one of the states that Travel South is promoting to Aussies. Image: Jp Valery/Unsplash

We focus on eight southern states in our marketing efforts: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi & Tennessee.

We plan on continuing to be storytellers and inspiring Aussies to visit our authentic destinations filled with southern hospitality, rich music scene and local culinary favourites.


Are there any challenges the southern states have in attracting more Aussie visitors?


Direct flights to Houston are making it more accessible to Aussies. Image: Kevin Hernandez/Unsplash

One challenge is encouraging international travellers to venture off the beaten path to explore more of our destinations that are beyond the gateways. However, in Australia, repeat visitation is high at 73% and we find that Australian travellers are continuously looking for diverse, authentic USA travel experiences – the South has a lot to offer in this sense!

Accessibility to our region is improving with direct flights from Sydney into Dallas Fort Worth and Houston.


Do you see Travel Advisors as being vital to boosting destination awareness of the southern states and cities among Aussies?


Absolutely. Travel Agents are our ambassadors and play a vital role in promoting the South. We know that Aussie travellers are keen to experience our region, however it’s the Travel Agents that help to share unique stories about our states.


Can Advisors expect to see Travel South in Australia again this year? What will set this year’s event from previous years?


Yes, we have a full set of trainings and activities in the market for 2019 and we will be organising a large trade mission in June 2020 – with a promise to bring our great music, food and people to connect face to face with the travel trade and journalists.


Which southern states in the USA have you visited?