With many tourism bureaus assuming an expanding role in destination management and economic development, there’s a yawning demand for graduate-level education more aligned with those shifts.

Yesterday, the University of Central Florida in Orlando launched a series of three new online college courses as part of the Graduate Certificate in Destination Marketing & Management. The classes provide a holistic overview of the evolving role of tourism bureaus today, extending beyond day-to-day marketing strategy to delivering greater socio-economic benefits for the destination.

As an example of that, Visit Orlando collaborates with Orlando’s economic development agencies and county government to develop large scale projects like the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and Orlando City Soccer Club Stadium. Both are designed to benefit the local community as much as the visitor economy.

However, there hasn’t been a consistent pipeline of new graduates entering destination marketing organizations (DMOs) with a broad enough understanding of how tourism and economic development are integrated.

That needs to change according to Dr. Alan Fyall, professor of tourism marketing and graduate program coordinator at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida. Dr. Fyall is also co-author of the Journal of Destination Marketing & Management.

“The value of DMOs depends on the individuals working in them, so this program is about trying to attract a slightly different sort of person who wants to work in a DMO as a career, and trying to professionalize the industry more,” he says. “The areas of expertise required are not really just about destination marketing anymore, because maybe you’ve got a soccer stadium being developed down the road, for example, or a medical university for medical meetings. So people in the DMO need to understand the dynamics of these relationships with overall tourism product and destination development.”

The three following courses making up the new Graduate Certificate were designed specifically to educate students about those dynamics.

The International Tourism Management course demonstrates the diversity of social, economic, political and environmental factors impacting tourism management in different cultures around the world.

Principles of Destination Marketing & Management examines “the bread and butter of the DMO,” says Fyall, including integrated systems revolving around brand development, social media strategy, cross-promotional partnerships, and digital marketing campaigns.

The third session is Tourism Industry Analysis, which focuses on the economic impact of tourism.

“The last one is basically a DMO spreadsheet simulation model of tourism activity in the destination, so we look more at policy and macro forces — the big stuff,” explains Fyall. “It’s very real world, and it takes the students into an area of study that many people don’t necessarily realize exists.”

The Evolving DMO Executive

These shifts toward a more holistic tourism bureau are reverberating throughout the industry. Destination Marketing Association International is presently retooling its industry standard Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) credential to align better with today’s marketplace.

The certification is evolving to embrace more “whole stakeholder thinking” as bureaus expand their role into economic development. Executives require not only a greater understanding of business and economic theory, but equally important, there’s a higher emphasis on the political finesse needed when working with economic development organizations and elected officials.

“There’s been a key need to take a good look at the program in terms of all its aspects,” says Linda Andreani, VP of education & professional development at DMAI. “It’s important for DMO professionals to continually practice how to influence decisions that are made within the destination that support the DMO’s position as an integral partner.”

Fyall, meanwhile, points out a couple British DMOs that have vastly improved over the last two decades due to the political savviness and economic development expertise of the senior executives at each one.

“London was an absolute car crash in the ‘90s,” he says. “However, the reason they’ve become so successful is partly because they have the buy-in and engagement with the locals who really understand the value and economic impact of tourism in their city. That is crucial for a DMO to develop. Yes, you’re marketing to tourists, but at the same time you’re trying to engage the local population. You can’t do that if you’re just a sales machine.”

The London bureau also began aggressively partnering with local travel suppliers to drive new destination development and create much more sophisticated and collaborative marketing campaigns. Fyall asserts that the emphasis on co-creation among many stakeholders resulted in eventually attracting the London Olympics, as well as the bureau’s new name, London & Partners.

Likewise, Manchester is one of the greatest comeback stories in modern European tourism history. As a DMO, Marketing Manchester has completely turned its city’s brand story 180 degrees around from what was once a working class soccer town with a scary political history. Today, Manchester is positioned as an authentic English cultural experience in one of the continent’s epicenters of high-tech innovation and brilliant urban design.

“Ten years ago, who would have thought to visit Manchester as a tourist?” asks Fyall. “Nobody.”

It will be interesting to see how many online students are eventually attracted to the Graduate Certificate in Destination Marketing & Management at UCF. Orlando is a great base for faculty and experienced outside expertise, because Visit Orlando is one of the most experienced DMOs operating in one of the highest profile tourism destinations in the world.

The eventual goal is to develop the curriculum into a full graduate degree program, but right now the administration is just testing the waters.

“There are very few places in the world that have got the faculty and the experience in the area of destination marketing and management that’s here in central Florida,” says Fyall. “So we feel we’ve got something a little bit different.”

Tags: dmos, orlando
Photo Credit: Visit Orlando partners closely with the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to position Orlando as an emerging cultural destination. Visit Orlando