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SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: Travel South touches down up North

With a hearty “Y’all Are Welcome!” Travel South USA touched down in Toronto for a long-awaited mission north of the border designed to reassure the trade, and consumers, that the 12-state region is ready, willing, and able to accommodate a return of Canadian visitors.

Partners from 21 CVBs in states ranging from Alabama to West Virginia, along with Travel South USA Canadian reps Reach Global, hosted travel agents, buyers, and media over two days last week at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with a mission to reveal the states’ Southern experiences, culinary traditions, and four-season outdoor adventures.

The event was also designed to demonstrate Travel South USA’s commitment to Canada, stated organization president Liz Bittner.

“We are so excited to be here in Canada and to welcome y’all to the South,” she said. “We understand how important the Canadian market is, and we are investing resources to share our story and educate the market on all the authentic experiences the South has to offer.”

That includes the current three-year contract with Reach for representation in this country, which includes integrated marketing efforts and a vow to “do more” in market, Bittner told Travel Industry Today.

Prior to a luncheon serving southern staples like fried chicken and waffles, brisket, and peach cobbler, and a tasting station/info session from Jim Beam bourbon, Bittner noted that Travel South partners are determined to put the region and all its unique attributes on Canadians’ radar.

Liz Bittner, president Travel South USA

“There’s an assumption that Canadians know us – and assume that the entirety of the South is the same,” she says.

But, from beaches to barbecue, blues to bluegrass, and horses in Kentucky to creole culture in New Orleans, there is an endless diversity to discover that sometimes flies under the radar, or, at least, is not top of mind, she observes.

“If you want have an authentic experience, the South is a great place to be,” she says.

Acknowledging that many Canadians are accustomed to passing through southern states on the way to Florida, Bittner says she’s not content to simply market to snowbirds, convincing them to stay a few days on the way down or back.

“I want the 35-year-olds,” she says, adding that there are great options for families, golfers, girls getaways, music lovers, food and drinks connoisseurs – “we take barbecue seriously,” she enthuses of the many different styles across the south – and people with many other interests.

“We have beaches and warm weather, but we’re not a beach chair kind of place,” she emphasizes. “That’s not us. We want you to engage authenticity.”

That could mean a hole-in-the-wall diner, a blues joint in Memphis or Mississippi, the natural beauty of the Smokey Mountains, or Charleston’s antebellum charm.

And now, with the pandemic travel restrictions eased, there’s no better time to visit, Bittner adds, noting that it was “hard to think about a vacation when everyone was wearing masks.”

But now with a new-found sense of freedom, “cooped up Canadians,” like everyone else, are on the move again and looking for value, she says.

“We know the drive market is expected to do extremely well in the next year and air access into the region is growing quickly,” Bittner says.

And, she adds emphatically, “When it comes to live music, incredible food, natural beauty, and warm hospitality, nowhere else compares to the South.”

Jim Beam demonstration

First published at Travel Industry Today

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