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What is the best way to excite travelers about a destination?
For Arizona State Univeristy undergraduate tourism development and management major Virginia Miller, authenticity is the ultimate experience. This view helped her earn the 2016 Meredith Travel Marketing scholarship at the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations.
“People want to feel at home and part of the community wherever they are,” she said of the winning essay she wrote promoting authentic destination marketing.
She noted that Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) play a key role in the representation and promotion of the communities they represent. Beyond ambassadors to external audiences, they help create local jobs and revenue.
“When destinations are represented in a realistic manner, focusing on real people having real experiences, locals and visitors alike stand to benefit from the positive promotional consideration.”
The concept stems in part from Miller’s concentration in sustainable tourism as part of her degree program in the School of Community Resources and Development in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
“The whole program at ASU has made me think about tourism in a different way,” she said. “Sustainable tourism is more than installing solar panels and adhering to a recycling program.”
“How can you plan to leave an area better than when you first arrived? How do you think about a place in terms of your future? You can’t have sustainable tourism and not include the community,” she added.
Miller moved to Arizona after serving for five years in the Air Force. As a services airman, she had already gained hospitality experience. It was also the first time she had an opportunity to travel, and the GI Bill enabled her to pursue higher education.
“I wanted to go to ASU, so I looked under cool majors and found sustainable tourism. It was perfect,” she said. “For me, this is more than selling a dinner package with a hotel room, this is about improving the world and how we view our collective impact towards it.”
She said her purpose is to ultimately serve others, and sees that align with fellow peers in the classroom.
As a senior this year, Miller is looking forward to a spring internship experience. She hopes to work with a local boutique firm as a travel consultant. She said the knowledge she now has of the sector has drawn her to support local, community-based businesses.
“Travel has always been a lifelong aspiration for me. At ASU, I’ve been able to experience responsible travel first-hand, going to Australia and Fiji. And, now I’ve won a national scholarship in an area I love. I am already living out my childhood dream, and this is just the beginning.”