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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 10 "M omentum" may be the best word for describing Travel South USA president and CEO Liz Bitt- ner's mind-set going into 2017. Last year was, in many respects, a year of "start-ups" for her ven- erable Southern travel organiza- tion. Creating two new websites, retaining a new international re- search fi rm and bringing the up- coming 2017 Travel South Show- case to the organization's newest member state all served to under- score her feeling of progress. "Travel South Showcase in Branson is running about 40 percent ahead of last year for tour operator attendance, so we're in- credibly excited about that," said Bittner. "Tour operators look at Showcase as a one-stop shop- ping event for their Southern programs. They can see every- one at one time to build an im- mersive, theme-based program involving several states." Bringing her group's premier industry marketplace to Branson also excites Bittner. "Many delegates will be sur- prised by the depth of product in Branson," she said. "Yes, they are known nationally for their amaz- ing array of theaters, but their out- door appeal is key, too. The Top of the Rock is one of the most im- pressive resorts I've ever visited. Branson's outdoor product is go- ing to open a lot of eyes in March. "I like our geographical bal- ance from last year to this," she said. "Since we're moving from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Branson, we'll have a lot of different operators who weren't with us last year. That makes for happy suppliers." Comprehensive website over- hauls undertaken in 2016 have cre- ated dramatic new windows into the South for both her trade part- ners and consumers worldwide. "We spent six months with [marketing company] Miles en- visioning and creating our new trade site, www.travelsouthusa. org and making improvements to our consumer site, www.travel- southusa.com," said Bittner. "The consumer site is a work in prog- ress, but we're very pleased thus far. We're in the process of moving all our consumer content — our trip ideas, videos, landing pages, etc. — to Brand USA's site, www. visittheusa.com. Strategically, that aligns all our content on the South with their national visibil- ity and dramatically increases the value for our member states. "We're using 'road trips' as the marketing hook for inter- national visitors in everything we do," said Bittner. "The South personifi es the idea of the great American road trip and reso- nates with international visitors who associate us with the free- dom of the road. So, we've built something that makes perfect sense for our international mar- keting efforts moving forward. "Our trade site emphasizes all the cooperative marketing ac- tivities Travel South USA is un- dertaking over the next couple of years and encourages our states and cities to participate," said Bitt- ner. "Those offi ces plan far in ad- vance, and it's critical that we get these programs in front of them early for budgeting and staffi ng decisions. In our business, being prepared leads to good results." Bittner thinks Travel South's international efforts took a leap forward with the hiring of Tour- ism Economics, an Oxford- based research fi rm. "Good research makes good marketing," she said. "This com- pany will give our states hard data based on airline lift, pass- ports and travel patterns from different countries. For the fi rst time, states and cities of ours will be able to look at comparative data from competing destina- tions and make sound marketing decisions." headline the year ahead B Y M A C L A C Y A ND LIZ BITTNER WWW.TRAVELSOUTHUSA.COM