New Travel Planner ready to inspire agents

Agents are being encouraged to use the brand new Visit USA Travel Planner to help them put together memorable itineraries for Stateside-bound clients.

The publication, available now in print and to download, is packed with suggestions for things to do, exciting travel ideas, practical information and maps that provide ready visuals of how the U.S. destinations fit together.

The Travel Planner, featuring more than 60 pages, also includes a directory of useful contacts of companies - such as destinations, specialist tour operators, hotels, airlines, vehicle rental companies and more - that will assist in curating the perfect holiday.

The guide's inspirational features include topics such as Brand New in the USA, Food and Drink Trails, Accessible Travel, Wild and Wonderful, Musical Attractions, Silver Screen Travel, Be a Sport, Mountain Adventures, Rail Journeys, Parks and Gardens...and many others.

Kate Kenward, CEO at Visit USA (UK) commented “The Visit USA Travel Planner is always a highly sought after publication and we distribute thousands to the travel trade and consumers each year.

"As this is our first printed version since the pandemic, we are expecting a rush of requests from our avid supporters and readers who await its release every year in early January, just in time for the busy New Year booking period.”

The Visit USA Planner is created by the Visit USA UK Association, in partnership with BMI Publishing.

The Association's members work together to offer UK travellers the best possible experience when they visit the USA.

After reading the Travel Planner, agents can take a look around Visit USA's website for more inspiration that can be found in the regularly updated blogs, offers, brochures and videos from Association members. The information has been arranged in a way that is easy to find - whether searching for a particular U.S. state, or a particular type of holiday.

To see the new Travel Planner visit: visitusa.org.uk

Also see: visitusa.org.uk/enewsletter

 

Visit USA enjoys surge of new members

The Visit USA Association (UK) is looking forward to a bumper year of trade and consumer activities after enjoying a wave of new member sign-ups in 2023.

Pictured – Visit USA Association Board 2023/24 and CEO Kate Kenward (left) L-R Kate Kenward (Visit USA UK), Ivan Beacom (Aer Lingus), Keven Brett (Daytona Beach CVB), Lisa Cooper (New York State Tourism), Kirsty Dillury (Visit San Antonio), Julie Greenhill (Visit USA UK Chair), Ruby Briggs (North America Travel Service), James Killick (Virgin Holidays), Nadia Clinton (Delta Air Lines), Sky Crockford (Visit USA UK), Andy Facer (Alabama Tourism Department), Claire Webber (United Airlines)

The Association, a membership organisation that brings together experts from the widest range of U.S. states and destinations, travel, accommodation, entertainment and other US-travel related products and services, says the 2023-24 Membership Year is "seeing a gradual return to pre-pandemic levels", with 30 new companies joining since July 1 2023 - that is a +15% on the same period last year.

The membership growth is being fuelled by a mix of returning members, who are re-joining post- pandemic, new tour operator and destination members and, for the first-time in a decade, destination management companies and travel agency members.

Julie Greenhill, Chair at Visit USA (UK), commented “The Visit USA Association offers a range of benefits and is excellent value for members.

"We are excited that both Barrhead Travel and Hays Travel have joined the Association as travel agency members and are looking forward to reaching out to their agencies and staff to enable them to promote and sell the USA.

"Destination management companies, or receptive tour operators (RTOs) as they are known in the U.S., will assist themed specialist tour operators looking for new destinations for their experience hungry clients.”

Greenhill said that Visit USA has launched a new affiliate business partner scheme, which has been well received as an opportunity for partner brands to join and to network with members.

Key initiatives for the Association in 2024 include the launch of the popular Travel Planner, which has returned as both a print and digital guide.

The planner has been available on the Visit USA website from January 3 2024 and will be distributed at the Destinations Show in Manchester (January 11-14) and London (February 1-4).

Visit USA are also launching a new VUSAUK Roadshow in April 2025 in Cardiff and Effingham near London-Gatwick, to offer more members the opportunity to take part

Kate Kenward, CEO at Visit USA (UK) added, “Our Association continues to go from strength to strength... it is so heartening to see new members coming in as well as pre-Covid members returning and this growth in our membership will offer consumers even more variety and inspiration when planning their holiday to the States.

"The U.S. remains the number one long-haul destination for Brits and our members are continuing to see a strong booking trend for 2024.”

For more information on Visit USA (UK) or how to join the association, please visit www.visitusa.org.uk or email info@visitusa.org.uk.

Lusso puts U.S. clients in lap of luxury

A leading trade-only tour operator that specialises in luxury U.S. holidays is looking forward to building closer relationships with destinations and suppliers after joining Visit USA.

"Becoming a member of Visit USA endorses our commitment to the destination and will help us increase awareness of our USA portfolio," says Sarah Gibbons, Senior Product Manager, USA, Bermuda & Mexico, for Lusso.

"The USA is a very important destination for Lusso; we are proud of our extensive first-hand knowledge and contacts which enable us to create bespoke luxury holidays for our clients," she adds.

"Our team of USA travel advisors work in partnership with the client's travel agent to plan the perfect holiday, one that is carefully thoughtout and seamlessly executed.... from single centre breaks staying in the finest accommodation to the most complex of multi-centre itineraries, complete with private transfers, guided excursions and activities."

Based in Cheshire, Lusso launched in 2010 as the UK’s first specialist tour operator selling luxury holidays exclusively through independent travel agents.

Top-selling destinations for Lusso in 2024 include Florida, California, and New York although the operator is also seeing "good demand" for more adventurous destinations including Utah and Arizona.

Sarah says Lusso is also committed to driving clients towards cities that might not otherwise be on their radar, such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago and Baltimore.

"These exciting cities are excellent alternatives to the likes of New York and Los Angeles, which first-time visitors typically gravitate to.... in each of them you will find excellent museums, endless shopping and mouth-watering local cuisine - plus whatever it is that makes that city unique.

"So Washington has its iconic memorials and monuments plus, of course, the White House; Philadelphia has the Rocky Steps and the Liberty Bell; Seattle has its Space Needle and a close proximity to Puget Sound, national parks and the great outdoors; Chicago sits right beside Lake Michigan, with sky-scrapers to rival New York's; while Baltimore has the fascinating Fort McHenry, a historical American coastal fort."

Sarah's own U.S. travels last year included memorable experiences in Utah and Las Vegas.

"A real highlight was exploring the national parks of Utah with my husband and children; horse riding in Bryce Canyon was great fun and we finished our holiday in Las Vegas, with a night-time helicopter flight over the strip.

"On my bucket list is a ranch, either in Montana or Arizona."

All Lusso holidays include flights and are fully ATOL-protected, with non-flight packages protected by a bond held with ABTA.

lussotravel.com

Tennessee ready to be a Southern star

Tennessee hopes hosting last month's Travel South International Showcase trade show will increase interest in a state that has a wealth of established and new attractions to tempt visitors in 2024.

Over 450 delegates from 17 countries attended the show in Memphis that showcased popular and emerging destinations and products in 12 Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia - but it was the host city and state that was in pole position to show off its impressive line-up of visitor experiences.

In Memphis these included Graceland - the second-most visited home in the U.S. after the White House - the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, STAX Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Records Studio, where Elvis cut his first record, and the new Tom Lee Park, a 30-acre multi-use green space that runs parallel to the Mississippi River.

Mark Ezell, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development said that showcasing Memphis to a global audience of buyers and media was "huge".

"I think Memphis remains a little bit of a surprise, but really delivers when it comes to tourism experiences. I lost count of the number of times people came up to me and said: 'Now that I have seen Memphis I get what the city is about. I am glad I experienced it because I now know how I can sell it'."

Ezell, a seventh-generation Tennessean, said even he was "taken aback" by the range of attractions Memphis can offer visitors.

"When you pack so much into city itineraries, as we did during Travel South - which included Graceland, which in recent years has expanded significantly with $40 million worth of new reasons to visit - the world-famous Beale Street, our great rock and roll, soul, blues, and other museums, the National Civil Rights Museum and its fabulous culinary scene, you really have something meaningful to offer."

Ezell was keen to point to other developments in the state.

"We have great new product throughout Tennessee.. We primarily market to Western Europe and we are in the top 15 states in America for visitors...we have recovered in 2022 faster than any of those top 15 states...that makes us excited about the future."

East Tennessee is home to the largest national park west of the Rockies: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and nestled in its foothills, in Pigeon Forge, is Dollywood.

"Dollywood is a real asset...Tennessee's Disneyland... that now attracts three million visitors a year with numbers up 20% the last two years. This is great news for an attraction that is not new," added Ezell.

New at Dollywood is a $100-million resort lodge called HeartSong Lodge and Resort with new rides, Big Bear and Wildwood Grove. Plans are afoot to increase the accommodation options from one hotel to five and, opening this year after a revamp for the old Chasing Rainbows museum is a Dolly Parton Experience, a state of the art exhibit and immersive experience about the country rock singer's life and legacy.

Also in East Tennessee, near Gatlinburg, Anakeesta has invested $100 million in expanding its adventure activities. The adventure mountain park offers a range of great things to do, such as a treetop skywalk, the longest tree-based skywalk in North America with 880 feet of hanging bridges suspended 60 feet in the air; a duelling zip line; a 'rail runner’, a single rail track with 1,600 feet of downhill twists and turns at speeds up to 25 mph; and the new Hellbender Smoky Mountain Coaster, with gravity-defying drops and jaw-dropping views.

Then there's Southall Farm in Franklin, a premium establishment set on a 300-acre picturesque country resort, with soaring architecture and furnished with modern artistic touches and a restaurant with panoramic views.

In Nashville, the first Four Seasons has just opened and Ritz Carlton hopes to start welcoming visitors this year.

In Chattanooga, the newly renovated Hotel Chalet at the Choo Choo offers visitors the chance to overnight inside restored train carriages that blend historic and modern elements. Inside the property, Elsie's Daughter is a parlour designed with history in mind and serves up classic cocktails and French-Belgian cuisine "with a nod to Appalachia".

Ezell said the state is currently creating a Tennessee bass fishing trail called the Bill Dance Signature Lakes program featuring some of the state's signature lakes.

"We have some of the best bass fishing in the world. The trail is being put together by Bull Dance, who has won more bass fishing tournaments than anyone else and has two million followers as the host of a fishing TV show for over 50 years," he said.

"The idea is to spread the word to an audience of hungry anglers that the Bill Dance Signature Lakes will provide a world-class angling experience endorsed by the world’s most beloved bass fisherman."

tnvacation.com

U.S. travellers have ESTA in the palm of their hand

Visitors to the U.S. can now apply for an ESTA via a mobile app.

The app allows users to apply for visa-free travel by submitting their ESTA application - a key component of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) - from their smartphone or tablet.

With the ESTA mobile app, travellers can:

· Scan an image of their passport;

· Have their passport read and confirmed;

· Upload a live video selfie to confirm their identity;

· Add personal and travel details to their application;

· Answer eligibility questions;

· Review and submit their application;

· Make changes or updates to their application or profile;

· Receive notifications and application status updates;

· Receive notifications and application status updates;

The ESTA mobile app is available in 24 languages and serves travellers in all 41 VWP countries. These citizens are permitted to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism and stay up to 90 days without a visa. The ESTA application is valid for two years or until the traveller’s passport expires.

Download the free ESTA mobile app from the App Store (Apple) or the Google Play Store (Android).

Apple
Google

Illinois wants visitors to reach for the stars

Destinations across the U.S. are gearing up to maximise exposure for the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, an event that will not occur again over the contiguous U.S. until August 2044.

Picture courtesy of Carbondale Tourism

For example, excitement is building in southern Illinois where the Illinois Office of Tourism has launched a new 2024 Illinois Solar Eclipse Guide, which includes the best places to view the eclipse, road trip ideas, and an ongoing list of events/festivals to plan a 'total' eclipse viewing experience.

Billing itself as the ‘Crossroads of the Eclipse,’ Carbondale, a small university town nestled in the heart of southern Illinois around a five-hour drive south of Chicago, is set to become the ultimate destination for eclipse chasers on April 8.

At 13.59 Central Standard Time (CST), those in Carbondale will be treated to four minutes and nine seconds of totality, making it one of the longest durations for the eclipse across the USA - and the Southern Illinois University campus is planning a public viewing at the campus football stadium.

Elsewhere in the region, the Makanda Boardwalk in Makanda dates back to the 1890s and offers galleries featuring quality handicrafts created by local artisans and a country store will be a popular place to view the eclipse.

Situated in the Shawnee National Forest, an unspoiled wilderness, Garden of the Gods is a perfect spot for viewing astrological events.

Similarly, the 11 award-winning wineries that comprise the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail are located along a 35-mile scenic drive in the Shawnee National Forest. The route offers many unique viewing opportunities where visitors can experience locally made and sourced wine, locally sourced meals and other fun activities.

The allure of small-town charisma awaits in Olney, with its charming blend of family-friendly attractions, while the cosy town of Golconda lies along the picturesque shores of the Ohio River. Among its attractions are the Golconda Historical Tour and the Main Street shopping district.

And stargazers will be in for a true celestial treat at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve in Champaign County, where they can experience the night sky in Illinois' only dark sky park.

For those stopping in Chicago before heading south in the state, Adler Planetarium, America’s First Planetarium, is much more than a museum: it's a laboratory, a classroom, and a community that explores the universe together. The Adler offers interactive exhibitions, live planetarium shows, and a Chasing Eclipse exhibit.

With a state-of-the-art digital projection system, the first Carl Zeiss M1015 opto-mechanical star projector installed in the western hemisphere, and special programs, visitors to the William M. Staerkel Planetarium in Champaign can learn about the stars, planets and more in the second largest planetarium in Illinois.

And just south of Chicago in Bourbonnais is the Strickler Planetarium, where visitors can witness the history of the universe from its fiery birth to the formation of our own solar system in a full dome show.

EnjoyIllinois.co.uk

Virgin's busier skies across the Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic is to expand its services to the U.S. this summer.

The airline plans to increase flights from London Heathrow with extra services to both New York JFK and Boston, with customers benefitting from its newest aircraft, A330neo and A350-1000.

Virgin will offer a record number of flights between London and New York, with a seventh daily flight to JFK, and together with Joint Venture partner Delta will offer 10 daily services to the Big Apple, an increase of 11% compared to summer 2023.

Virgin will also operate a second daily flight to Boston (pictured). Complementing Delta’s daily service, Boston will be served with three flights a day.

Virgin is also increasing Miami services from 11 flights a week to twice daily year-round and is adding a new seasonal summer service from Manchester to Las Vegas.

Situated in the Shawnee National Forest, an unspoiled wilderness, Garden of the Gods is a perfect spot for viewing astrological events.

Customers on both Virgin Atlantic departures will experience flying on the airline’s newest aircraft, the A330-900neo, and A350-1000, increasing the number of Upper and Premium seats by 23%.

Virgin Atlantic’s enhanced schedule will feature an average of 27 daily departures to U.S. destinations that also include Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington DC.

Last November Virgin operated the world's first transatlantic flight to run on 100% sustainable aviation from London Heathrow to New York JFK.

The flight was to demonstrate that 100% SAF can be used safely as a drop in fuel in existing infrastructure, engines and airframes. The need to scale production is an industry imperative and Virgin says it is committed to "radical collaboration across the energy chain" to support commercialisation ahead of 2030.   

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic and fellow Visit USA member Delta Air Lines are marking 10 years of their joint venture since joining forces in 2014 on routes between the U.S. and U.K. The airlines now operate a joint daily schedule of up to 86 daily non-stop flights in both directions between the U.K. and the U.S. – nearly 40% more than in 2014.

virgin-atlantic.com
delta.com