TUPELO • The last time George Barlow visited Tupelo and the Elvis Birthplace & Museum was about three years ago, but on Wednesday morning, he was back in one of his favorite destinations.

"It's great to be back," said Barlow of Wales, who joined 15 others from the United Kingdom in spending the day in Tupelo.

"The times we've been here, the people have been so friendly. It's great to come back again," he said. Barlow has been to Tupelo and the Birthplace eight previous times.

The group was put together by David Wade, who has been bringing tour groups over from the United Kingdom and Europe for 49 years through his company, Strictly Elvis UK, based in Ipswich, Suffolk, England.

The last group he brought to Tupelo was January 2020. He had planned to bring a large group of 30-40 people in the spring of that year, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a crimp in those plans.

"We had the bookings but we had to cancel because the U.S. closed its borders, so we moved it to last November, but that got cancelled," Wade said. "So we moved it to the spring of this year – it got cancelled – and we moved it one last time to this November. But we thought it might be jinxed and if we set a date, we might never get the border opened."

President Biden announced the borders would open in November, but didn't give a date, and Wade was anxious if the date would coincide with the planned tour. Finally, the date was announced  — Nov. 6 — and Wade was able to get a small group together that still wanted to come.

"We moved it to Thanksgiving because we don't celebrate it in the UK, and we thought it would be novel for Brits to see what Thanksgiving is all about," he said.

Wade called it a "hardcore" group of tourists, many of whom have been to Tupelo two more more times before.

"We never lost one booking," he said. "The other 30 or so just moved the date, and they're still coming to Tupelo next year, in April."

The group from UK was actually the second group of international travelers to visit Tupelo this week. A group of German tourists arrived Monday.

"We've had a few couples the last couple of weeks, but that was the first large group," said Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum director Dick Guyton.

Guyton, who recently announced he will retire in January, said his first day on the job nearly 20 years ago was during the 25th anniversary of the Elvis Fan Appreciation Day. Wade brought 26 buses and more than 800 tourists.

"David (Wade) has brought more international visitors to Tupelo than any other company in the world," said Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau. "He stays longer than any other tour group, and he has personal relationships throughout the community ... that's what's sustained his business."

Wade also takes groups to Memphis, Las Vegas, Hawaii and other locales connected to Elvis, and has the largest Elvis-themed tour provider in Europe.

International visitors make up about half of the visitors to the Birthplace, and the steep drop-off was felt the past year. 

"International visitors also make up about 60% of the bus tours," McCoy said.

Former Tupelo hotelier Jimmy Pappis was among the first to welcome Wade those many years ago, and provided plenty of hospitality to tourists, taking them to dinner, inviting them to pool parties, ballroom dances, etc. 

"He originally talked me into bringing the groups over," he said. "I'm so fond of Jimmy. I won't be seeing him this time because we're so busy, but when we're back in April, I'll make sure I go and see him.

"But we do like to stay in Tupelo, and we'll be back three times next year. And we'll be going back to staying here."

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