Thursday, February 17, 2005

Travel South group sees Holly Springs attractions

Staff Writer

A small group of tour operators visited Holly Springs last week on a swing through several other Mississippi and Alabama cities.

Their four-day excursion includes Oxford and Columbus and cities in Alabama and Tunica on the way back to Memphis.

Memphis was the host town this year for the Travel South Showcase Convention, supported by 12 southeastern states and West Virginia and Missouri. The convention attracted 700 suppliers, operators and sellers to Memphis. The 40-year-old organization was set up by the governors of southern states to foster tourism.

While in Holly Springs on a morning tour, Familiarization Tour visited Walter Place Estates Cottages and Gardens, City Cafe McA Style, the Presbyterian Church and Graceland Too. Employees with Strawberry Plains Audubon and Harry the Hummingbird provided an overview of the nature attractions and tour at Davis Plantation.

Connie Cossar with the Mississippi Development Authority and Grey Brennam with Alabama Tourism traveled with the tour operators.

“This is a new deal for Mississippi and Alabama to do a familiarization tour together,” Cossar said. “We had a pre-Fam at Memphis and this is a post-Fam Tour. We will cover a lot of ground. All of these people are tour operators and will schedule group tours.”

The tour operators represented numerous cities and states including Seattle, Washington, Texas, San Francisco, Chicago and Arkansas.

Kay Matlock, tour planner with Francis Custom Tours in Arkadelphia, Ark., explained that tour operators find new locations for stops and develop and add new tours to their offerings. The tours are published in the operators’ tour guides, she said.

“Our Mystery Tour fills up faster than any other one,” Matlock said. “It is one of our most popular tours.”

She said people who like to be surprised sign up for the Mystery Tour.

Some tour operators own their own businesses and may act as escorts for their own tours, Matlock said. Tour operators make all the arrangements which include the tour stops, hotel or motel accommodations and some of the meals.

“Touring in the United States is really growing, especially since 9-11,” she said. “Motor coach tours are ideal because lots of attractions are not open to individual tours.”

Dave Southworth with Top Tours in Round Rock, Texas, said his city is near Austin, famous for its bat caves, country and western music and for being the home of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library.

Top Tours is an operator but also helps plan tours for other tour operators. Both motor coach and sometimes air tours are arranged, he said.

Southworth said Travel South tries to match up buyers and sellers. Next year’s convention will be held in Richmond, Virginia.

Silvia and Irv Rosen, travel consultants with Nautical Connection Cruises Tours of Fremont, California, said they are not trying to expand their tour offerings at this time. They are nearing retirement age and Irv is still working at age 81.

“We got started taking tours and the one doing the tour liked Sylvia and asked her to help,” he said. “She left town and Sylvia carried on.”

Irv, the secretary and treasurer for the San Francisco chapter of World War ll U.S. Submarine veterans said his veterans’ group traveled together on many tours. But age is sidelining many of his chums.

“They’re just not traveling,” he said. “I’m 81 and they call me the kid.”

Other tour operators leaving their cards were Patricia Mills with Friends and Neighbors Tours, Galena, Missouri, and Muriel Romancia with Here To There Tours, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.

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