Study: South's overseas visitors to increase by 4% through 2001

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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Overseas visitation to the South, already booming during the past decade, should continue to grow by about 4% a year through 2001, according to a study released by Travel South this month.

The regional tourism organization, which held its annual marketplace here earlier this month, commissioned the study by CIC Research in San Diego, which based its projections solely on historical trends.

If the projections prove accurate, the 12 Travel South states will welcome more than 8.6 million overseas visitors in 2001. That would follow a 118% increase in such visitors from 1988 to 1998, compared with 89% for the rest of the U.S., the study showed.

The vast majority of those visitors to the South, however, are going to Florida. That is what four in every five did in 1998, and the gap between Florida and the other 11 states is even larger for some key overseas markets, such as the U.K., and, overwhelmingly, Argentina and Brazil.

But Glenn Couvillion, Travel South's managing director, said other states in the region can use the drawing power of Florida to their advantage.

"International visitors don't sit in one place for three weeks," Couvillion said. "The majority do go to Florida, but we can spin off of that. Every international show we go to, they want multistate itineraries."

Florida, he added later, has "gotten [overseas visitors] into the South, and it's our job now to spread them around the South."

Some other states already do make a mark, the study found. Georgia, getting a boost from its hub airport in Atlanta and its reputation as a convention city, attracted 8.6% of overseas visitors to the South in 1998.

The state is preparing a global marketing campaign targeted to niche markets such as shopping, sports and ecotourism.

Virginia, benefiting from its proximity to Washington, attracted 5.3%. North Carolina and Louisiana also are having some success, with the latter exemplifying the multistate payoff: More than half of its visitors also went to Florida.

Tennessee attracted 3% of overseas travelers to the South in 1998, and South Carolina got 2.8%. But none of the other five states attracted more than 1.1%.

Among the ways states can improve their numbers, Couvillion said, is by joining in themed itineraries that include more than one southern state, or emphasizing features that appeal to an international market.

Atlanta, New Orleans and Nashville, for example, market a music program in the U.K. called Rhythms of the South. Food itineraries emphasize Creole cuisine and barbecue in several states.

South Carolina is emphasizing its golf courses and beaches, and North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are putting together golf packages for tourists from Germany, the U.K. and Japan.

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