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In the photo: Fanny Spanu of Toundra Voyages in Montreal took home an award for her company’s contributions to tourism in the U.S. Southeast, as part of Honors Night at the Travel South USA International Showcase in Louisville, KY recently. She celebrated the award with Charmaine Singh, president of Reach Global Marketing.
Big wins are nothing new for the Kentucky capital of Louisville. The city is the birthplace and hometown of Muhammad Ali, still regarded as greatest-ever boxer by many, and a leading social activist against racial discrimination.
Louisville is also the site of the Kentucky Derby horse race at historic Churchill Downs, where the best jockeys and horses in the land compete for million-dollar stakes. The greatest ever – Secretariat – posted a record there that is still unbroken.
So, reps attending the recent Travel South USA International Showcase in Louisville – as a strongly resurgent tourism year was winding down – were perfectly at home in this winning setting.
And Louisville certainly rolled out the welcome mat to 182 American destination/attraction supplier companies, comprising 283 delegates. Meeting them were 118 international/domestic product buyers, for a total attendance of 433.
They took up residence at the convention-ready Omni Louisville Hotel for three hard-working days of meetings and brainstorming between buyers and suppliers. This was the 10th edition of the annual Showcase, and the first that was fully attended in the aftermath of a pandemic-reduced event in 2021, which itself filled in for the postponed 2020 Showcase.
Before an intense schedule of 15-minute meetings got underway, Showcase delegates gathered in the main ballroom of the Omni to hear the opening address by Liz Bittner, president and CEO of Travel South USA. She told the assembled group that a rapid rebound in tourism business for American states in the U.S. southeast region was now underway and backed that up with some hard evidence.
Specifically, she said the number of product suppliers at the Travel South USA International Showcase was back to pre-pandemic levels, as was the count of buyers and travel journalists from 16 countries in attendance at the travel trade mart.
Bittner related how the tourism industry in the 12 member states of the Travel South collective was valued at US$8.8 billion before the damaging onset of Covid-19 in 2020. But the potential now exists to fully recover and exceed those totals, with a goal of US$10 billion now in sight, she said. States under the Travel South banner include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
Travel South’s president and CEO also noted that the average holiday stay of international visitors in the U.S. before Covid was 14 days, and that the southeast states had captured 6.9 of those days at that time. But international vacationers “should be spending their entire holiday with us,” said Bittner. “We didn’t do a good enough job, we want those travellers to spend all 14 days with us.”
Directly contributing to these goals will be the launch of new flights by British Airways to Cincinnati Airport, near northern Kentucky, on June 5, 2023. News of the flights was announced by Mike Mangeot, commissioner of the Kentucky department of tourism, who was a speaker at the International Showcase.
If Showcase delegates needed any more inspiration, they could find it by visiting the sites where Louisville’s sporting heroes are honoured. For instance, the Muhammad Ali Center is a short drive/long walk from the hotel, and the coach ride to Churchill Downs is about 10 minutes from the downtown Omni.
The museums and galleries at both sites provide access to displays that are exhaustive in detail and personal characterizations, while knowledgeable docents give visitors a sense of the achievements that have gone into the history books.
For instance, at the Ali Center, films, photos and multi-media written descriptions track the life-long journey that Ali took through a career of championship boxing, in conjunction with a bold, brave mission to right the wrongs of racial discrimination. The Ali story unfolds over three floors of galleries and also explores the motivations that drove Ali to rise up against the status quo of discrimination.
Meanwhile, Churchill Downs offers an entirely different journey through a history of thoroughbred racing at the Kentucky Derby. In the company of a guide, visitors learn what it takes to field a championship horse, including the incomparable Secretariat, whose record gallop around the storied dirt track in 1973 remains unchallenged. They also get a behind-the-scenes visit to the spectating areas of the track that are restricted to big-money patrons, celebrities and even royalty. The annual Derby is the longest running sporting event in America. Talk about inspiration!
The 2023 edition of the Travel South USA International Showcase will be held in Memphis, TN, from Dec. 2 to 6.
Go to www.travelsouthusa.com for more.
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