The Mississippi Development Authority's Division of Tourism held it's annual Governor's Conference on Tourism in Hattiesburg on February 15, 16, & 17. The purpose of the conference is to help tourism professionals keep up to date with travel trends, learn new marketing ideas and strategies, and a myriad of other helpful travel related subjects. One particular session I attended, focused on "The International Market", and I chose this particular session because of the wonderful influx of foreign travel writers that come through Natchez each year. David Nicholson of the UK and Wolfgang Streitberger of Germany, have been bringing European travel writers to the South for nearly a decade, and they work with professional tour planners from around Europe to assist them in putting together travel packages that are appealing and solid.
David began the presentation with some facts and figures, indicating some interesting travel statistics. For instance, Europeans spend an average of $154 per person, per day; they stayed an average of 3.8 nights (in Mississippi), and they come primarily from Ireland, UK, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and France. David pointed out that Europeans like to "collect" states in that, even if they only drive across the corner of Southwestern Georgia, while crossing from Florida into Alabama, it counts as a state they can mark off their list as "having visited". I collect coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, and baseball caps when I travel.
There is a non-stop charter flight that is booked quite frequently, which travels directly between Memphis and Amsterdam. The reason? The King! Yes, after all these years, they are still flocking to Graceland, but it's truly because they have a deep passion for The Blues. The Mississippi Blues Highway is fast becoming a huge draw for Europeans, and as the trail approaches completion, not only will we see that market expand, we'll also see those trips expanded and extended. For now they've limited their time to Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, but, as they are taking longer vacations, and the value of the pound and euro are so strong against the dollar, we will begin to see more and more of those "groups" trickling further down Highway 61, ultimately completing their journey in Natchez. If you happen to be in London in the future, be sure to keep an eye out for those cute little taxi's driving down the wrong side of the street. They're almost completely wrapped in artwork depicting Mississippi scenes, with visitmississippi.org plastered down the sides, complete with a huge image of B.B. King laid out on the vehicle's roof with Lucille laying across his lap. And, once you step inside and sit down, you'll see Mississippi ads on the two jump seats that fold down for additional passengers.
Group tours from these European markets book well in advance, and even with the present state of the economy, Wolfgang and David both assured us that tour operator action is still going strong and they receive calls from planners and operators daily seeking assistance when planning itineraries. There were 20,000 European visitors to Mississippi in 2008, but both felt as though that number was extremely conservative as it does not account for Europeans who used the internet or other means to book their travel. It would be quite easy to overlook someone who flies into Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, or New Orleans, rents a car, then drive themselves to a variety of pre-selected destinations. There is simply no way to record their movement like you can when these vacations are set up through tour companies. Swedish and Dutch travelers tend to book their travels based on the best price, while Germans and Brits like to travel according to weather. You'll see many more of them during our "off" season, as that's when it's cold, wet, and dreary in their parts of the world; plus, David says they don't like the heat and humidity associated with our summers, and he thinks it has more to do with that than the other.
I'll write again in a few days and tell you about the Asian/Indian position on traveling to America. Sally D.