IITA Insights Newsletter - August 17
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I would like to thank the board members who traveled to beautiful St. Augustine (and Jacksonville) Florida for the Board retreat. Thank you, Evelyn Vazquez, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches VCB and Bob Meyer, Visit Jacksonville, for hosting us. I also want to extend appreciation to Alfredo Gonzalez and Visit Florida providing transportation throughout the weekend.

We had a fantastic retreat. The board made tough decisions and smart plans to further IITA's progress, building stronger partnerships and continuing advocacy efforts to strengthen the inbound tourism industry.  In the next Insights Newsletter we will highlight some of the issues brought up at the retreat and proposed direction. 

In a previous Insights Newsletter it was noted that I have been appointed to the US-Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) by the Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker.  At our first meeting in late June, we were asked to sign up for committee assignments—and I was assigned to my first choice, the Visa Facilitation Committee (chaired by Mike Gallagher of CityPASS). It is important to remember that I am on the US-TTAB as the representative of IITA—not on a personal level. If you have any issues that might be brought before our committee please contact me! With the election coming up this fall, the one area that seems to be a big difference between the two candidates is the future of Visa Waiver and entry into the USA!  This will certainly be an issue for all of our members and something to stay aware of.  Please drop me a line ( or call me (970-482-5813) if you wish to let me know some of your ideas/opinions.

-Gary Schluter, Chairman
 Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

A Closer Look...with Renee Areng

In advance of the 2017 IITA Summit, Executive Director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, Renee Areng offered us a sneak peek at what's going on in the region. 

62 miles of shoreline. 12 casinos. 19 golf courses. Upscale shopping. And, of course, the best in Southern Hospitality.

That’s why the Mississippi Gulf Coast does $1.6 billion in tourism each year. And that’s why three years ago, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau was created. It is the largest public sector Destination Marketing Organization within the state of Mississippi, and the three counties it serves receive 43 percent of the state’s tourism capital investment.

What’s new on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that inbound tour operators should know about?

The development is amazing. The Island View Casino Resort opened its beach tower and now has almost 1,000 rooms. 

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center offers eco boat tours through its 70,000 acres, which keeps the largest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States one of the wildest. Some species there are found nowhere else on the planet.

The Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort has opened a 36-hole miniature golf course, and Margaritaville is a new 400-room property with an arcade facility and water parks.
In addition, a “to-go” ordinance passed, which allows people to carry alcoholic beverages outside bars in certain zones.

There also have been new local restaurants popping up everywhere, such as the Cork & Cleaver Wine Bistro, which can accommodate motorcoaches; and Brackish Seafood Restaurant, which has the best views overlooking Long Beach Harbor and a private room that can seat 100 people. 
Our local establishments are really spreading their wings.

What makes it different than other U.S. destinations?

We aren’t just another beach destination for many reasons. We have 26 miles of coastline unobstructed by high rises, and 90 percent of the species found in the Gulf of Mexico nest in the Mississippi Sound, the body of water between the Mississippi mainland and its barrier islands.
There is also so much more to see and experience. 

The Mississippi Gulf Coast has gaming, including a high-limit salon. The shopping is high-end. 
The Blues Trail provides a unique music experience. We work hand-in-hand with Memphis and New Orleans to create that uniquely American blues music opportunity. 

And our water recreation opportunities are distinctive. Because the Mississippi Sound doesn’t have surf, it improves the experience for many water sports such as paddle boarding. We also have a variety of water experiences, including rivers and estuaries. 

The area also is very walkable with many amenities nearby.
What will attendees have the chance to see/experience during the Summit?

They will get a taste of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The opening event will feature the Maritime Museum and local seafood with the experience showcasing great views to the Back Bay and Sound. 
We’ll have site tours to museums, shopping and outdoor activities such as sailing and schooner excursions. There also will be four or five FAM (familiarization) tours and options to visit other parts of the state.

What international markets are of most interest to Mississippi and are most interested in the destination?

Because of the Blues Trail, we have a following in the European market. We’re also popular with Japan for our gaming and golfing. Travelers can play a different course every day for almost three weeks. 
We are expanding in the Asian market, particularly China. We’re also starting to focus some on South America.

Our largest number of tourists outside the U.S. are Canadians – typically snowbirds. Our weather is what the rest of the world would consider balmy – even in winter. 

How do you support inbound tour operators in marketing and selling the Mississippi Gulf Coast?

We can help with FIT (free independent travelers) or groups. The beach is not typically an attraction to international travelers, so we market all the things we have to offer – so much more to see and do than other beach locations.

We work directly with our international reps, mostly in Europe, and try to make sure we are their first contact. We also reach out to travel writers to promote our unique offerings.

We are open to co-funding for marketing, promotional materials, FAM trips and sales missions.

August 18 
LGBT Tourism and the Impact of Religious Freedom Laws - Register Here

August 31-September 1
La Cita

February 5-8
IITA Summit - Register Here
LGBT Tourism and the Impact of Religious Freedom Laws Webinar
August 18
11am - Noon ET

The global LGBT market generates more than $200 billion in tourism spend annually. The USA is the number one country destination for LGBT travelers worldwide and New York City is the top city destination for the market. Studies show that giving LGBT people full equality is not only a social issue, it can have substantial economic benefits as well. Join us tomorrow for this webinar presented by: John Tanzella, Fred Dixon and Malcolm Smith to learn about the importance of the LGBT market and hear the results of a just released study by the US Travel Association on the impact the religious freedom laws can have on travel and tourism. 

Register Today

Can't make it to the live webinar? Log in to the IITA website to find this and other webinar recordings.
2017 IITA Summit

One of the most anticipated events of the year for member's is the annual Summit. The inaugural IITA Summit will be held on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, February 5-8, 2017 – while the association is in its 26th year, this will be the first Summit under the new brand – International Inbound Travel Association. 
The program in the Mississippi Gulf Coast is going to be a very important Summit as we focus on the Diversity of Travel!  

The IITA Summit educational program presented by Best Western will be built around the theme of Diversity of Travel. Seminars will highlight destinations beyond the gateways, laws that impact tourism and the ever-changing client. We want to educate our members and partners on all of the unique regions of the USA and the diverse people who travel from around the globe to share in our special part of the world. Mark your calendar now to attend the 2017 IITA Summit!
Click Here to Register Now!
Sponsorship Opportunity

IITA is the only association to focus solely on international inbound travel to the U.S. – an industry that brings in 75 million visitors with $175 billion in spending annually. Align your business with IITA through a sponsorship as we embark on the inaugural IITA Summit! For more information please email Toby Bishop.

We are pleased to introduce our newest IITA staff member, Lauren Batey, who will be serving as a project coordinator. Although she is a Kentucky native, Lauren has been living and working for the past 6 years on the island of Curaçao as both a partnership manager and freelance travel and tourism writer. Please join us in welcoming her to the IITA team! Email Lauren