Regional marketing alliance to widen its focus

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ATLANTA -- Travel South USA, based here, has a huge announcement in store at its annual Showcase to be held Feb. 12 to 16 at the Memphis Cook County Convention Center in Memphis, said Liz Bittner, executive director of the 12-state travel marketing alliance.

The announcement will herald the organizations plan to widen its reach among international travelers, according to Bittner.

Bittner said Travel South USA had exercised extensive international marketing in the past, with sales representatives in Brazil, Japan and the U.K., but is shifting focus ... to go after other countries in the international market.

Another shift is toward promoting regional itineraries among member states.

Were encouraging itineraries that focus on the South, not just on a particular state, Bittner said. The next phase is to cross from state to state, to blend borders. The consumer doesnt focus on one state vs. another state.

The association is promoting six regional, themed itineraries: Arts, Crafts & Culture; Education and Ecotourism; Food/Wine and Shopping; History & Heritage; Natural & Scenic Beauty; and Sports, Adventure & Gaming.

Travel South USA includes the tourism offices of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Another change in this years event is in the name itself. Known for some 10 years as the Travel South Marketplace, this years event will be called the Travel South Showcase, the name used in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The change from Travel South Marketplace to Travel South Showcase symbolizes not only the revitalization of the Showcase name but also the revitalization of the program, Bittner said.

Activities planned for an anticipated 650 suppliers and buyers include an evening at Graceland, a celebration of Travel South USAs 40th birthday, eight Memphis city tours and eight multistate fam trip options.  For more information, call (404) 231-1790, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.travelsouthusa.com.

The following is a sampling of whats happening in member states:

Alabama

Eighteenth-century English Ceramics from the Catherine H. Collins Collection, one of the largest collections of its kind in the Southeast, is being shown for the first time at the Birmingham Museum of Art through Feb. 6. Admission is free.

Collins, a Birmingham native who died in 1998, began collecting ceramics as a girl, amassing more than 350 pieces from more than 20 factories. The collection will be integrated into the museums reinstallation of the English Galleries, scheduled for the summer.

The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Contact: (205) 254-2565; www.artsbma.org.

Arkansas

The $165 million William J. Clinton Presidential Center opened Nov. 18 in downtown Little Rock. Speakers included Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), President George W. Bush and former presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

With the opening, Little Rock Tours has begun offering a daily two-hour sightseeing tour that includes the Capitol where President Clinton served as attorney general and governor; Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site; and the Rose Law Firm, where Hillary Clinton once worked. Prices are $25 for adults, $21 for seniors and $10 for ages 6 to 12.

Two other tours are available on a group-request basis (15-person minimum). The Presidential Tour, which includes the former presidents birthplace in Hope and a lunch, costs $69 per person. The Hot Springs Tour is $44 per person and includes Clintons boyhood home there. Contact: (501) TOUR-BUS; www.littlerocktours.com.

Florida

Feb. 25 to 27 will mark the fourth annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival in the South Beach section of Miami Beach. Celebrity chefs will cook up extravagant meals at some of the areas finest restaurants (series of a dozen dinners at various locations, $300 to $400).

Along with winemakers, the event will present a food, wine and spirits sampling in tents set up on Miami Beach for the Festivals Grand Tasting ($100 in advance, $125 at the door, Feb. 26 and 27, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Ocean Drive and 12th Street). Contact: (866) 333-SOBE; www.sobewineandfoodfest.com. Special airline rates are available from American Airlines (Starfile: A9025Ai). 

Georgia

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum in Atlanta is hosting After 9/11: Messages From the World and Images of Ground Zero, an exhibit meant to preserve the messages of condolence that poured into the U.S. following 9/11.

It will be on display through Jan. 2.  Museum admission is $7 for adults; $5 for seniors (60 and over), military and students with IDs; and free for age 16 and under. Contact: (404) 865-7100; www.jimmycarterlibrary.org.

Kentucky

Louisville plans to spend nearly $700 million on tourism infrastructure projects, according to officials there. Other projects include the Louisville Marriott Downtown, a 620-room convention center headquarters hotel, opening in April, and an expanded and renovated Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, to be ready in November.

Opening in March is the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage, and in November, the Muhammad Ali Center, whose mission is to inspire children and adults to find the greatness within themselves. Visit www.alicenter.org.

Louisiana

New Orleans RiverBarge Excursions is offering a cruise that encompasses three Southern states.

Delta South: New Orleans to Memphis along the Mississippi River, departs March 16 to 23. The excursion on board the River Explorer begins with an overnight stay in New Orleans, then stops in Baton Rouge and in Natchez, Miss., in time for the latters annual Spring Pilgrimage, before moving on to Vicksburg, Miss., home to Vicksburg National Military Park.

Memphis is the final destination, where guests can experience Beale Street. The all-inclusive price ranges from $2,245 to $2,545 per person, double. Contact: (888) 462-2743; www.riverbarge.com.

Mississippi

The Mississippi Gulf Coast houses 12 casino-resorts and year-round historical and cultural attractions. Now plans are under way to expand the offerings and the airport that serves as a gateway to the coast.

The Gulfport-Biloxi Airport is increasing its terminal size from 92,000 square feet to 165,000 square feet. The $56 million expansion will be completed by 2006.

A multimillion-dollar space park attraction, Infinity at NASA Stennis Space Center, is in the works at the Hancock County facility 48 miles west of Biloxi. It will feature simulators, including one that re-creates the test firing of a space shuttle engine.

The $20 million Ohr-OKeefe Museum complex will open in 2005. George Ohr, the Mad Potter of Biloxi who died in 1918, is just now gaining recognition for his original, abstract works. Some of his pottery, which he called his mud babies, are drawing in excess of $20,000 from buyers.

Gaming continues to expand. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino broke ground in February and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2005. The $235 million resort will feature a 306-room hotel, 50,000 square feet of gaming space, a pool, a spa, a nightclub, a Hard Rock Live club and a buffet, steakhouse, grill and bakery.

The Isle of Capris is expanding its Biloxi property; Beau Rivage is building a golf course (opening spring 2006) and will be remodeling its guest rooms throughout 2005; and a $7.5 million family water park is coming to Gulfport in the spring.

North Carolina

Matisse, Picasso and the School of Paris: Masterpieces from the Baltimore Museum of Art is the latest in a series of national touring exhibitions showing at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

Many of the works selected rarely travel, and most have never before visited the Southeast, according to museum director Lawrence Wheeler. The exhibition, which continues through Jan. 16, features 35 paintings, sculptures and drawings by the two artists. Other artists featured include Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Bonnard, Monet, Rodin and Degas.

For tickets, call Ticketmaster at (919) 834-4000. For more information, visit www.ncartmuseum.org. Hours are 9 a.m to 5 p.m., Wednesdays to Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays. Museum admission is free.

South Carolina

Charlestons 58th Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens will take place March 17 to April 16. The festival features tours of 150 historical private houses and strolls through private gardens in 10 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods.

Tickets are $45. Recommended as a prelude to these tours is the two-hour, guided Charleston History Walking Tour around the Old and Historic District, offered daily during the festival (except Sundays) at 9:30 a.m. Tickets are $15.

A new offering this year will be a series of light lunch lectures with a walking tour. Tickets are $45. Many events sell out in advance. Tickets can be ordered by phone at (843) 723-1623 or online at www.historiccharleston.org.

Virginia

A 35,000-square-foot theater and exhibition building featuring a new museum gallery opened at Jamestown Settlement, a museum devoted to 17th-century Virginia.  The building is the third phase of a visitor services and gallery complex that will be completed by 2007, the 400th anniversary of the founding in Virginia of Americas first permanent English colony.

Jamestown Settlement is located southwest of Williamsburg, adjacent to Historic James- towne. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily year-round and until 6 p.m. June 15 through Aug. 15. Admission is $11.25 for adults and $5.50 for children ages 6 through 12.

A combination ticket is available with the Yorktown Victory Center, a museum of the American Revolution. A Colonial-era Christmas will be the focus of tours and exhibits from Dec. 18 to 31.Contact: (888) 593-4682; www.historyisfun.org.

West Virginia

A record 24.5 million visitors came to the state in 2003, a 7.8% increase over 2002. There were 10.5 million overnight stays.  The Clarion Hotel & Conference Center of Historic Shepherdstown is offering a package to attract overnight leisure travelers that includes luxury accommodations, onsite dining with a $50 coupon toward dinner plus two drinks at rates that begin at $127 a night through April.

Contact: (304) 876-7000; www.clarionshepherdstown.com. Guests of the Clarion Hotel can visit Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, the Charles Town Races and Slots and the Old Opera House in Charles Town.

To contact Destinations Editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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