All the Southern Charm of Memphis Home of the King

Article excerpt

I HAVE been far away from my usual stomping ground but no matter where one travels, it's incredible how the conversation occasionally comes around to the fields of home.

Which is how Len Hodgson, Sales Director of America Direct/Premier Holidays, and I came to be chatting about Northern Ireland on a Saturday night in downtown Memphis, USA.

We were in The Flying Saucer, one of the funkier nightspots in the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the home of the Blues.

They serve over 200 different beers there from all over the world so if Len and I didn't feel like a Sierra Nevada Big Foot beer, a Mexican Dos Equis Amber or a Vietnamese Hue beer - all of which were available - Englishman Len could have, say, a Fuller's London Porter and I could have my usual Harp or occasional Guinness. (Check the menu for yourself on www.beerknurd.com)

Anyhow the conversation got around to Northern Ireland, to which Len is a frequent visitor on business. He speaks highly of Ulster's tremendous tourism potential, particularly the quality of the province's hotels and restaurants.

Wherever I travel I always like to check out the business/commercial scene and moseying around Memphis I was as fascinated as ever.

Such 'reccies'' also enables the visiting observer to learn and be inspired by the tenacity, entrepreneurship, sheer style even, of others. Bear with me and let me tell you a little about it.

Tourism there is, of course, bigtime business, especially next month when Memphis commemorates the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

America Direct/Premier Holidays are flying fans of The King, good Ulster devotees amongst them, in by the planeloads this year. Memphis has over 100 hotels/motels, with 18,000 rooms, and over the next few weeks will need every single one of them as the pilgrimage to Graceland reaches its commemoration peak.

Tourism apart, this Tennessee city boasts the largest cotton market in the world, with nearly half of the US cotton crop going through Memphis.

Agribusiness - certainly by Northern Ireland standards - is mammoth.

There are 66,000 farms, covering 19 million acres, in the region. Memphis is also the largest processor of soybeans in the world and it boasts the largest hardwood trading and processing centre on earth.

Memphis is one of the top 10 wholesaleing centres in the US with retail sales exceeding 10 billion dollars every year.

Memphis's top five export markets are the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Mexico and Canada.

Memphis is the original home of Holiday Inns and FedEx, which processes a staggering 3.2 million parcels nightly and which is the city's biggest employer, providing jobs to 30,000 employees. …