January 2021
Happy New Year! As we all look to put the unbelievably challenging 2020 behind us, I am sure you're as ready as I am for some optimism and ole fashioned good news. So, on behalf of the Travel South Board of Directors, we invite you to take the next step with us as we work towards the travel industry recovery. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for 2021.

Six months ago, we adopted a new three-year RoadMap for the Travel South USA organization. We hired world-class consultants and listened to hundreds of stakeholders, partners, and clients in creating our strategic plan for the future. Check out the Executive Summary. We nicknamed it our “Now, Next, and After That” strategy, as the timing of actions continue to evolve.

During our months of "Now," the Board and staff focused on state leadership to create and leverage the resources to keep the lights on and support our local DMOs and businesses. It was a very tough time indeed and lasted longer than we had hoped.

We concentrated first on our partners and customer community around the world. We strengthened our research investment. The Board and four standing committees met often and formalized sharing best practices. We set our #1 priority to keep the South in the consideration set of trade and travelers, working with partners to design campaigns that were innovative, inspirational, and of course, cooperative — in other words, using existing resources or with significantly lowered costs. Check out the campaigns.

Based on recovery research, we are now ready to turn it up a notch with "Next" — #NextStepsJointheRecovery. We are building our strategy using research and insights. In addition to direct partnerships with Longwoods International, Tourism Economics, Destination Analysts, & XBorder Canada, and on-going reporting and communication, we have contracted with local firms to deliver "The New Landscape" reports from UK/Ireland, German-speaking Europe, France /Belgium, Australia/New Zealand, Brazil, The Netherlands, and the Nordic region. These reports are commissioned to identify and prioritize tour operators, marketing partners, and strategies specifically for the U.S. South. Understanding the new landscape in target-rich countries, the changing supply chain, adapted distribution channels, client needs, and the authentic selling proposition of the South will help us leverage our collective monies to gain a larger share of international travelers. 

We are stepping up our marketing and advertising efforts in the USA with a series of domestic ad campaigns as part of our annual Ultimate Ad Challenge. Our Spring 2021 co-op campaigns include TravelZoo, Rolling Stone, Local Palate, Smithsonian, Food Network, AFAR, and data-driven programs with Hybrid Theory and Acuity. These state co-op campaigns deliver inspiring content, millions of impressions, digital click-thrus, and time on travel planning sites. Our global inspiration and training programs with Bedsonline/Hotelbeds, ATI's Drive America, and Verizon RYOT Australia campaigns will be in full gear by March. We finish up our Open Road with Travel South USA monthly newsletters for journalists having fully migrated to Crowdriff, with thousands of high-quality images and videos and new user-generated assets. Our Facebook Global Pages social media channels are on track to surpass 10M impressions, all in-language, and with superb community management.  

We have a calendar chock full of live (as situations present themselves) and virtual trainings via our Global Partner Programming for tour operators and trade agents in France, Belgium, Brazil, Australia/New Zealand, The Netherlands, and Nordic Union. We will bring our authenticity, innovative itinerary planning tools, chefs, musicians, mixologists, park rangers, pitmasters, and prizes to thousands of travel professionals. Our #NextStepsJointheRecovery series will run from January to June 2021. The RTO Roadshow that rescheduled is now May 19-21, 2021, and we plan to open to a wider audience of DMOs, hotels, attractions, and ground operators. Registration for this event will open in January and requires a direct invitation. 

Most importantly, we invite Southern DM0s, attractions, ground operators, and travel service partners to join us in Atlanta on April 14, 2021, for the inaugural Travel South Global Summit. Think of it as a Master Class in global marketing opportunities and best practices! This one-day summit registration is affordable and flexible. We are planning this as a live event, optimistic that we will have begun to meet safely. However, should it not be quite the time, we will push back into the summer, if necessary. Either way, registration opens on January 11, 2021. The $195 early-bird fees cover full registration, world-class and well-known experts in research, insights, marketing, and advertising, including live reports from Canada, Europe, Brazil, and Australia, plus a series of Travel South USA commissioned white papers and best practices reports. Attendees will also enjoy breakfast, lunch, two breaks, and a MeetUp Safely Reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Buckhead. We will limit the registration to 100 participants and follow CDC guidelines for meetings. Be assured you can cancel, with no penalties, up to 30 days in advance.

We also kick into high gear planning for International Showcase & Super FAMs in New Orleans, November 28 through December 3, 2021. 

As I close this new year greeting, I thank you for your patience and indomitable spirit this past year. I am confident we can recover with the health and safety of our industry families, friends, and visitors being of paramount importance. I know now more than ever: It will take a collaborative effort. No one state, one DMO, one hotel, or one attraction can do it alone. I am proud of the tradition we have in the South of working together. The can-do spirit that permeates the Travel South USA organization has carried us through many challenges including economic recessions, natural disasters, civil unrest, and evil acts designed to crush our freedom and courage. The Travel South USA region is blessed with the unique and authentic food, music, culture, and outdoor experiences that will propel us forward, returning to a thriving travel economy. As we have for 55+ years, we will remain calm, remain strong, and work together!

Most sincerely,
Chelsea Ruby, Commissioner, West Virginia Tourism & Board Chair, Travel South USA 
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