JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Heather Blanchard, director of the Johns Creek Convention and Visitors Bureau is back in college — but this time it is all business and about her business.
She has completed the first portion of a three-year professional development program that will lead to certification as a tourism marketing professional (TMP).
The certification is offered in three week-long sessions over three summers at the campus of North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega. There it becomes a laboratory to teach tourism marketing each summer.
Blanchard, who won two full scholarships to the college, was one of 233 tourism professionals enrolled at the Southeast Tourism Society Marketing College last August.
There is no other professional development program like STS Marketing College, and it is recognized nationally for its training of tourism leaders. To date 626 people have earned the TMP certification.
“In the tourism industry, TMP certification carries a lot of weight,” said Bill Hardman, president and CEO of the Southeast Tourism Society, a 12-state organization that promotes travel and tourism in the Southeast.
The STS Marketing College began in 1992 to provide continuing education for tourism professionals and celebrated its 21st anniversary this year.
Tourism ranks as the first, second or third-largest industry in each of the 12 STS member states. Students come from convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, event attractions, hotels and other segments of the tourism industry to learn more skills in their field.
The curriculum covers topics such as branding, social media, packaging and sports marketing. Heritage tourism and research are courses that have attracted special interest in recent years.
“The fundamental concept of STS Marketing College is that the curriculum is practical. What students learn can be put to practice as soon as they get back to their workplaces,” Hardman said.
Blanchard seconded that.
“I could not wait to get back to begin to apply things that I learned. Johns Creek is just beginning to put together its first visitors guide. I have some really good ideas about that,” Blanchard said.
She also got a clearer picture of the economic impact tourism has the dollars spent by visitors ripple through the local economy.
“It is much more than the bed in that hotel. It’s eating at the local restaurants, filling up at the local gas station, shopping at the local stores – it truly impacts the whole city,” she said.
Twenty-three senior executives in the travel and tourism industry were the volunteer faculty. These instructors must submit a syllabus of instruction to the STS Governing Board of Directors for approval, Hardman said.
“The program is designed to be more practical than theoretical, so that these students will take back with them the tools they need to be better marketers in their specific communities,” Hardman said. “We stress the practical applications that will enhance their efforts when the go back to work.”
The program attracts students from throughout the Southeast and occasionally from other states. This year’s program included students from Maryland and Oklahoma.
“Southeast Tourism Society is recognized nationwide for the cohesiveness and camaraderie it fosters in the region. No other region in the U.S. has a similar organization. STS Marketing College is a major project to build skills and professionalism in the tourism industry,” Hardman said.
Southeast Tourism Society, created in 1983, is headquartered in Atlanta and has approximately 800 members who represent travel industry businesses, state tourism departments, chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus and travel media. Its activities include cooperative marketing programs, continuing education, professional development and travel industry policy advocacy. More about STS can be found at http://southeasttourism.org.