Canadians are invited to travel south
ted davis

More sites and attractions that tell the history of the USA South East have opened or will debut in the near future, turning new pages on stories that are still emerging.

Some of these were reviewed and previewed at the recent Travel South USA International Showcase travel trade conference and marketplace early this month in Memphis, Tennessee.

About 450 tourism product sellers, international product buyers and travel media attended the trade mart, topping the total of 400 who came to last year’s show in Louisville, Kentucky. They celebrated the fact that arrivals to the US South East region were surpassing visitor numbers posted in pre-pandemic 2019. Arrivals to the region reached 105% of those 2019 totals as of October this year.

Tourism product sellers hailed from the 12 states that make up the Travel South USA collective, including Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

International buyers and media arrived in Memphis from 17 countries. They came to learn about the new tourism sites and attractions that will generate interest amongst their constituent international travellers – especially those people that have already taken vacations to some of America’s best known sites and cities, and are searching for more off-beat, in-depth experiences.

“The South is a hot destination now,” said Travel South USA chairman Mike Mangeot, who is also the commissioner of tourism for Kentucky. He reflected on the fact that the region is increasingly recognized for offering a very authentic, welcoming tourism experience.

Mangeot drilled down a little more on the essence of why the South Eastern states offer such an appealing option for a holiday. “The commonality is the hospitality of the people who live here, expressed in the friendly way that they interact with visitors.”

As well, Mangeot highlighted the fact that these states share common cultures and heritage, and that the resulting mix is a very authentic take on the qualities that make up an American holiday. “A vacation here is not a Disney-fied experience,” said the chairman.

Given these qualities, a target of US$10 billion in international tourism spending for the region is achievable by 2026, said Mangeot. “This can be done if we just add one more day to each visit to reach that goal,” he said.

This is especially applicable to Canada, the number one source market for international visitors to the region. “It’s so easy for Canadians to get here,” he said, noting that the 12 states of the US South East can be easily traversed and experienced once they arrive.

A few of the new attractions on tap for visitors to the region are listed below:

Clotilda Slave Ship Exhibition

The schooner Clotilda was the last known U.S. slave ship to bring captives from Africa to the United States, sailing into Mobile Bay in 1859 with 110 African men, women, and children. The ship was a two-masted schooner, and its wreckage has been preserved for a new exhibition constructed at the Africatown Heritage House, in the heart of Africatown in Mobile, Alabama. “Clotilda: The Exhibition” tells the story of the captives from their West African beginnings, to their enslavement, to their settlement of Africatown and the discovery of the sunken schooner. The exhibition is a multi-sensory space that is replete with compelling stories and images.

The US Civil Rights Trail

There are currently about 130-plus sites on the US Civil Rights Trail and more will be added in the new year. The Civil Rights Trail highlights key locations where important events took place that played key roles in achieving equality and civil rights for the descendants of America’s original slave populations. Four new sites will be added in 2024, in Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The new sites are embargoed until Feb. 1 but will be announced during Black History month.

Long-term work by Travel South USA includes efforts to achieve UNESCO World Heritage certification for about 12 of the most impactful sites on the Trail. “But we are probably 18 to 24 months from securing this coveted inscription,” said Liz Bittner, president of Travel South USA.

Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort

This new resort property is located in the Dollywood theme park in Tennessee. Its 302 spacious rooms and suites, many with balconies, and with many features that are inspired by the beauty of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. Dining options include a full-service restaurant, lounge, private dining room and a grab and go eatery. In addition, Honeysuckle & Pine Storied Goods Mercantile is a shopping outpost for unique gifts and keepsakes.

Rocket Park

Work is underway on improvements and additions to the Rocket Park at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. The rockets featured at the new location will include a full-scale replica of the engine section of NASA’s newest moon rocket, along with a collection of Redstone rockets that were crucial in launching the first astronauts to the moon, along with the Saturn I and Saturn V. This “Hall of Fame of Rocketry” traces the origins of Huntsville’s past and current role in rocketry.

New Park in West Virginia

The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia is the most recently designated national park in America. The park encompasses over 28,000 hectares of land along 85 km. of the New River. The New River is amongst the oldest rivers on Earth, flowing northward through deep canyons in a torrent of whitewater. In southern West Virginia, the New River continues to carve the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can hike the many trails, raft the river or bike on an old railroad grade within the park’s spectacular scenery.

The next annual Travel South USA International Showcase will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, in early December 2024.

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