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2 0 1 7 T R A V E L S O U T H T O U R P L A N N E R 8 A t his organization's International Show- case held November 28-30 in Atlanta, 2016 Travel South USA chairman Kyle Edmiston didn't hesitate to go off script during the opening breakfast. Unlike most in the room, Edmiston had become aware that morning that Gatlin- burg and Pigeon Forge, Tennes- see, were suffering the effects of a massive forest fi re in the Great Smoky Mountains. On behalf of 12 Southern states represented at the meet- ing, he offered a sincere state- ment of prayers and support for the residents and businesses in that iconic Tennessee travel destination. Two days later, the Travel South USA delegation had collected more than $10,000 for assistance to families that work in that area's tourism commu- nity. It was a spontaneous ges- ture that sums up well the collec- tive mind-set that characterizes this Southern travel organiza- tion. As the state travel director of Louisiana, Edmiston has the benefi t of having one of Ameri- ca's iconic tourism destinations in his state. New Orleans, home to Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, has top-of-mind aware- ness across the world that ri- vals that of almost any city in America. Yet Edmiston and his fellow board members embrace the mantra that Southern states need to stick together when sell- ing their destinations. "A rising tide lifts all boats when it comes to selling the South," he said. "Both domesti- cally and internationally, we're all stronger by pooling 12 states' resources and creating an iden- tity for the South. Travelers typi- cally do not care what state they are in — they know what they want to see may involve three or four states instead of just one." Edmiston cited Travel South USA's recent sales mission to China as a prime example of that cooperative mind-set. "Last September, we took a very good group to Shanghai and Beijing, and we'll see results from that over the next three to fi ve years," he said. "We had key cities and states with us, and it was the best mission I've been a part of in my time here. We didn't just sell while we were there; we had educational content along the way that drove home to our attendees the demographics and travel patterns that exist in China today. "Projections are for China's middle class to represent 300 million people by 2019," he said. "Many of these will be young professionals 26 to 49 years old, and they want to see America. The potential impact from China in the years ahead can't be over- stated." While his role with Travel South USA revolves around re- gional efforts, some good news closer to home has Edmiston bullish on new arrivals for his home state as well. A massive new airport will open in New Orleans in 2018 and will result in vastly increased air service for travelers from throughout the United States and across the world. Next spring, his industry will be celebrating two new international fl ights arriving before that expansion. In March, British Airways will begin ser- vice between the city and Lon- don Heathrow Airport. In May, Condor Airlines will begin twice weekly fl ights between New Or- leans and Frankfurt Airport in Germany. On the domestic front, the South has long been the nation's most-visited travel region. In the years ahead, Edmiston and his colleagues want to carry that momentum forward on the in- ternational front as well. spurs g rowth to Southern d estinations B Y M A C L A C Y KYLE EDMISTON