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SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: News and views from Travel South

From a new music trail in Louisiana to the 150TH anniversary of the famed Kentucky Derby, there’s plenty going on in the southern US that is sure to attract and appeal to Canadian travellers spreading their wings after the pandemic. And to help get the word out on what’s new, dozens of suppliers convened at the recent Travel South International Showcase in Louisville, Kentucky.

Buyers and media from 16 countries attended the 10th annual event, and amidst the avalanche of information at hand – enough to fill a ballroom at the Omni Louisville, not to mention a myriad of off-site venues and events – Travel Industry Today asked a representative of each of the 12 Travel South member states to simply list a single piece of news or view from their destination that stands out above the rest. Here’s what they had to say:

ALABAMA

A new ‘All in One Ticket’ program being introduced offers 60 different attractions curated into 14 separate cities/regions in a state known for its civil rights history, outdoors (including under-the-radar beaches), golf, and growing culinary scene. In Birmingham, the pass features 11 attractions, including the 16th St. Baptist Church, Civil Rights Institute, zoo, Oak Mountain State Park, and several museums. Tickets are available through Expedia or at alabama.travel.

ARKANSAS

Using Little Rock as a base, it’s less than three hours to anywhere in Arkansas – a state that rep Kim Williams maintains is “different from its neighbours.” Highlights include endless outdoor activities thanks to 60 state or national parks, along with numerous hot springs; the Bill Clinton – a good ‘ol boy from Arkansas – presidential library in the capital; and a mine where visitors can dig for diamonds and, “if you find it you keep it.”

GEORGIA

“The No. 1 thing I’d like to tell Canadians is about our coast,” says Meggan Hood of Explore Georgia. “I think they know Atlanta and Savannah, but our coast is extraordinarily different than other coasts.” With hundreds of kilometres of Atlantic shoreline, she cites the sparsely populated Golden Isles (including St. Simon, Little St. Simon, Jekyll Island, Cumberland) in particular. Located about 90 minutes south of Savannah and stretching to the Florida state line, the area boasts wild expanses of beach, dunes and marsh lands, lighthouses, small villages, and plenty to do. “It’s a choose your own adventure kind of thing,” she enthuses.

Kentucky Derby

KENTUCKY

Kentucky bills itself as the home of bourbon, bluegrass and barbecue, but the state is equally synonymous with horses, and nowhere is more central to equine culture than Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby – the iconic race that is as much social spectacle as sporting event. Always held on the first Saturday in May, the race is celebrated for weeks in advance, festivities will take on greater significance, and flair, in 2024 as the race celebrates its 150th anniversary. Music, food (incl. barbecue), fireworks, hot air balloon races, and much more will colour the April weeks leading up to the race, which features the world’s best three-year-old thoroughbreds, and is dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sport.”

LOUISIANA

From Dixieland jazz to blues and zydeco to Cajun, Louisiana has always exuded music. However, for the first time, the state will have its own music trail, starting in 2023. The trail will feature a website and on-the-ground markers linking historic and current venues and attractions, from New Orleans’ iconic Preservation Hall to the Jolly Inn in Houma, and the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette. The program will also provide education and interactive activities. “It’s designed to not just let you enjoy the music, but learn about music too,” says Jennifer Berthelot of the Louisiana Office of Tourism. “It would be great for the novice. If you want to explore and don’t know how, this will make it easy.”

MISSISSIPPI

This southern state stakes a claim as “the birthplace of American Music.” From its comprehensive Blues Trail (check out the app) to the legacy of favourite son Elvis Presley (born in Tupelo and having resided in iconic Graceland across the Tennessee border in Memphis), Rachel Obermeier of Mississippi Tourism says matter-of-factly, “Music is our calling card.” But she quickly adds that there are also considerably more things to fill the spaces between the notes: Antebellum, civil war, and civil rights history, as well as active outdoor opportunities including Gulf Coast beaches, golf, casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, great cuisine, and temperatures that are “very inviting” year-round.

(Ed. Note: Stay tuned for Part II of our state-by-state recap from the Travel South symposium: Missouri, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia).

First published at Travel Industry Today

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