Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College Advances Tourism Careers

Tourism professionals looking to advance their career should consider pursuing a Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification from the Southeast Tourism Society. Classes for the three-year certification program are held each summer for one week at the North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Founded in 1983, the Southeast Tourism Society is a membership organization tasked at fostering tourism within the 11 Southeastern states the non-profit group represents (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia). In 1992, the Society conducted the first Marketing College and each year since, attendance has increased over the previous year. To date, 315 tourism professionals have earned the Travel Marketing Professional certification.

This year, 225 tourism professionals descended on the town Dahlonega to expand their marketing intelligence. Attendees are primarily from the Southeastern United States, representing state and regional tourism offices, resorts, attractions and other sectors of the tour and travel industry. However, anyone in the United States tourism industry looking to enhance their overall knowledge of tourism marketing is invited to attend. Instructors are active professionals working in the travel industry, volunteering their time and educating the next generation of tourism leaders.

During the week-long program, students learn various aspects of tourism marketing while sitting in a college classroom. Coursework is dependent on what year in the program the student is in, but ranges from product branding to basic sales skills and public relations to the elements of customer service. Specific classes take marketing basics to the next level and include: conducting research, developing marketing plans to promote rural tourism and creating a crisis public relations plan.

Since the Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College takes place on a university campus, students are invited to sleep in one of the dormitories. Rooms are private while the bathrooms down the hall are communal. Like a college dorm room, it contains the basics: a bed, dresser, desk, chair and armoire. Students staying in the dorm should arrive with their own linens including blanket and pillow; towels; bathroom amenities (toilet paper is provided) and any other home comforts. A Wal-Mart is nearby to pick up forgotten essentials.

For those tourism professionals who do not wish to relive the total college experience, a handful of hotels, cabins and B&B’s are nearby.

North Georgia College & State University is one of six senior military colleges in the United States. Depending on the dates of Marketing College, the young cadets may be on campus and it’s common for tourism professionals to start the day with the bugling of “Reveille” and end the day with “Taps.” Sharing the dining hall with the cadets during breakfast and lunch is also common.

Accessing the knowledge and experience of the tourism industry instructors is invaluable. So is networking with peers throughout the tourism industry. Most classes rely on students sharing aspects of their marketing programs. Out of these discussions, ideas, concepts and camaraderie emerge.

Activities and free-time off campus in Dahlonega are planned throughout the week. These are ideal opportunities for tourism professionals to exchange ideas and build professional and personal relationships in a low-key setting.

Sitting atop the North Georgia Mountains, Dahlonega is a literal goldmine of history. It’s the site of the Eastern United States gold rush. The focal point of the downtown area is the Dahlonega Gold Museum, sitting in the center of the town square. Wood-paneled and red-brick buildings line the streets. Resembling a mercantile of yesteryear, the independently-owned shops sell Georgia-made items, antiques, artwork and other treasures. Slow food restaurants sprinkle the historic downtown and four-way-stops control traffic, not lights.

Students are treated to a mountain sunset reception at Dahlonega’s Wolf Mountain Winery on Sunday. On Monday evening, a family-style feast with fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, fried okra, sweet tea and strawberry shortcake is shared at the historic Smith House. Wednesday afternoon is a break from class and tourism professionals are invited to float down a river on an inner tube, golf, canoe, shop or just relax (and check in with the office). That evening is the last organized social function of the week. One of the Southeast Tourism Society’s executives graciously hosts the entire class at his model Southern Living home in Dahlonega’s mountains.

Tourism professionals are free to taste Dahlonega’s dining on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Thursday evening, everyone unofficially comes together at the Dahlonega Brewing Company (also called Caruso’s Italian Restaurant) to say goodbye and sing a round or two of karaoke.

The week ends late Friday morning with the final set of classes. Graduates of the first- and second-year programs are presented with certificates of accomplishment. The third-year participants aren’t finished with the program until they hold at least two seminars to tourism industry peers, utilizing what the Southeast Tourism Society has taught them. These tourism marketing seminars need to be completed within four months of completing Marketing College. Upon completion, tourism professionals then receive their Travel Marketing Professional certification during graduation at the Southeast Tourism Society’s annual spring meeting.

The fee to attend the 2006 Marketing College was $825 for a Southeast Tourism Society member staying on campus and $975 for non-members. A limited number of scholarships are available. These scholarships are generously donated by the Society’s partners or a result of fundraising by the third-year class.

The Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College is worth the financial and time investment. Hands-on course work taught in the classroom and networking with peers outside the class boundaries will advance a tourism marketing professional’s career.

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