Prior to the start of the annual Heartland Travel Showcase, hosted at the Hyatt Regency Chicago Feb. 20 through Feb. 22, the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority had the opportunity to showcase the region during a familiarization tour.

During the tour, nine different group tour businesses were given a taste of the many attractions and restaurants found along the South Shore. Group tour businesses from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia spent three days learning of the region's group tour potential.

"The familiarization tour allowed us to highlight some of the many great attractions and restaurants located in our area," explained Heather Becerra, chief marketing officer for the South Shore CVA. "The tour was just a taste of the region, with hopes of enticing the group tour operators to come back with visitors. Additionally, by attending the conference, we were able to talk to numerous group tour operators about our area."

Lynn Samuels, a group tour coordinator for Lenzner Tour and Travel of Sewickley, Pa., stated that her favorite stop on the tour was The Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms.

"There's so much to do out here (along the South Shore), it's a real eye-opener," Samuels said. "Chicago, people know. I never knew there was so much to do in the outskirts." Following the three-day tour, Samuels said she would be pushing the location as a possible destination.

The owner of Xpedition Travel and Compass Coach out of Cedar Springs, Mich., Kimberly Stange, said her favorite stop was JT Shrimp, LLC, because of the owner's dedication to becoming a successful business.

"I love meeting someone who embraces the American dream," she explained. "When you travel around and see all these big places, you forget that that's where you start."

Since the pre-conference familiarization tour, three different group tour companies have contacted the South Shore CVA to schedule a trip. For two of the companies, this will be their first group tour along the South Shore.

"With attending group tour conferences and offering familiarization tours, one of our mains goals is to attract first-time customers," stated Speros A. Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore CVA. "We know that once a group tour operator visits the region, they'll want to return. Our assets speak loudly to the experience visitors will have - a centralized and affordable destination which offers an abundance of exciting and unique attractions, events, businesses and restaurants."

The South Shore CVA can help group tour operators create itineraries based on specific interests, and can work with attractions, restaurants and hotels to secure special group rates. For more information, contact Tyler Malec, group tour coordinator for the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, at 219-989-7770 or tyler@southshorecva.com.

For more information on the South Shore CVA, visit www.southshorecva.com.