Travel South USA & partners share updates in Toronto

Travel South USA and its member partners were in Toronto last night (Jan. 30) to share updates and inspire more Canadians to discover the South.

The event, held at the W Toronto, kicked off with a Southern bourbon tasting and a bacon-inspired cooking demonstration with South Carolina chef Heidi Vukov, followed by a live performance by American Idol’s fifth season winner, Taylor Hicks, who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.

During a media press conference, state representatives from Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia shared a series of updates, including new hotels and attractions, events and festivals and more.

American Idol Season 5 winner, Taylor Hicks

“We think we have the most authentic and best destination in the United States and we’re super proud of all of the food, music and culture that we have,” said Liz Bittner, president and CEO of Travel South USA.

How to sell the South

For travel agents, Bittner says there are two distinctive selling features. One is the level of trust and comfort of sending their clients to the United States, a destination she notes is familiar and close enough that they’re not uncomfortable, even if things don’t go perfectly as planned.

The other is that their Canadian dollar goes further in the South than it would in other places, for example, more expensive cities in eastern or western U.S. states.

“I think travel agents are vital, and we’d like to see more of them,” Bittner said. “Pre-pandemic, a lot of the agencies focused on pre-packaged tours. The opportunity to make money on curated experiences is there, and we’ve spent a great deal of time getting more of our products on platforms that are commissionable,” she notes, adding that is one such platform that agents can earn commission on hotels and attractions. 

“We have affordable options for family vacations, but you can also go the luxury route,” said Mike Mangeot, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Tourism. “The South is very welcoming and we’re used to having big groups coming in, whether that’s motor coaches or FIT. That really sets the Southern part of the United States apart; we’re a little bit more laid back, we’re a little bit more easy going, and we’re authentic.”

Travel South USA news & updates

The following member states shared a series of updates:


  • Home to more than 20 state parks, the majority of which are free to enter.
  • 60th anniversary of Flora-Bama is happening this year.
  • Culinary scene is home to Gulf Coast seafood, barbeque; this year marks Alabama’s “year of food”, which includes brewery and wine tours, as well as a state-wide wine tour through more than 20 vineyards.
  • Beautiful outdoor scene with plenty of activities, from rock climbing to zip-lining, kayaking, and exploring the many white sand beaches.
  • The birthplace of Mardi Gras, Alabama is currently in the midst of its Mardi Gras season.


  • Makes 95 per cent of the world’s bourbon supply; more than 75 bourbon distilleries and more than 100 experiences to hear the stories and heritage of bourbon, including dipping your own bottle, are available.
  • The Kentucky Derby is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
  • More movable water than any state in the U.S., making Kentucky the ultimate playground for water activities, like white water rafting near the waterfalls, underground kayaking, canoeing, etc.
  • More than 400 miles of caves, including underground cave networks via Mammoth Caves.
  • The Red River Gorge is home to some of the best rock climbing
  • Exceptional new accommodation, including bourbon barrel pods, luxury treehouses and houseboats.

North Carolina

  • A year-round outdoor destination that’s one of the best-known filming destinations, producing works including The Hunger Games, which was filmed in and around Charlotte.
  • Known for its “quiet luxury”, North Carolina is home to AAA Diamond properties as well as smaller boutique hotels and one-of-a-kind accommodations.

South Carolina

  • Charleston will welcome passengers from Toronto (YYZ) via Air Canada starting Mar. 28, 2024.
  • Booming restaurant scene, ocean resorts and
  • International African American Museum opened in Charleston in June 2023.
  • The 10th annual Charleston Wine & Food starts Mar. 8.
  • Greenville is the ultimate destination for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, as well as craft beer enthusiasts, with a booming craft beer scene.
  • The four-day Euphoria food event starts in September in Greenville.
  • CAN-AM days start Mar. 9-17 in Myrtle Beach; home to 90 golf courses, tons of beaches and more, this remains one of the best vacation spots for Canadians.


  • Two international airports on each side of the state make Missouri an accessible destination, with a new direct flight from Montreal to St. Louis beginning this spring.
  • Kansas City is home to more than 40 jazz clubs and several authentic speakeasys where travellers can learn about the Prohibition history.
  • Kansas City is home to more than 100 barbeque restaurants.
  • Host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
  • St.Louis is home to amazing food and drink, museums, and the Gateway Arch National Park, the city’s most iconic monument, that lets visitors ride to the top for stunning views of the river and surrounding area.
  • Missouri has more than 400 kilometres of Route 66; 2026 marks 100 years of the iconic road and many communities are celebrating, with retro lodging, vintage signs and quirky roadside attractions.
  • Home to 57 free state parks that offer unique camping opportunities.


  • Luxury retreats across the state are trending for 2024, with a focus on culinary wellness retreats that combine chef-driven experiences in glamping tents, yurts and boutique hotels.
  • Night Sky trail recently launched in northeast Tennessee; travellers can plan their hiking adventure based on their Zodiac sign. Tennessee is also home to numerous dark sky reserves.
  • Nashville, Tennessee is offering a series of chef-driven culinary experiences this year, with farm stays and farm-to-table offerings, wine trails, hands-on cooking classes and more.
  • Roughly 25 distilleries on the Tennessee Whisky Trail with a “passport” that allows visitors to learn more about the craft, tradition and storytelling.
  • Home to 57 free state parks that offer plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities.
  • The ultimate road trip destination; Tennessee is a seven-hour state-wide trip.

West Virginia

  • Home to the nation’s newest national park, the New River Gorge National Park.
  • Robust state park system with world-class outdoor activities like mountain biking, thanks to it having one of the longest trail systems in the country.
  • More than 200 waterfalls and home to three dark sky parks, perfect for star-gazing.
  • Revitalization of many historic properties in the state, including The Schoolhouse Hotel, which was designed for those with physical disabilities and sensory sensitivities.
  • The West Virginia Culinary trail was just launched in fall 2023 to spread awareness of the state’s diverse food scene and features 27 restaurants

For more information on Travel South USA, click here.