Under the guidance of Professor Cevat Tosun, Ph.D., Eisenhower Chair and Professor of Tourism Studies and Management and director of the Master of Tourism Administration Program, students in the spring 2021 TSTD 6270 Research Methods and Applications course had the opportunity to undertake research for Destination DC. Destination DC, a private non-profit member-organization of over 1,000 area businesses, is the capital’s lead organization charged with managing and marketing the district as a premier global travel destination.
The Master of Tourism Administration (MTA) program is a registered member of Destination DC, and according to Prof. Tosun, “shares a longstanding partnership with the organization.” In describing the significance of this project-based learning opportunity, Prof. Tosun stated, “This project aimed to provide opportunities for students to learn how to create innovative solutions for the challenges faced by various destinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. By following several virtual roundtable meetings with one of the student teams comprised of David Nitkiewicz (‘21), Gabriella Laitano (‘22), Sasha Somuah (‘21), Wahyuni Mutmainna (‘21), and Yusuke Tsuda (‘21), students decided to help DDC understand their member experiences and perspectives through the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and strategize any evolutionary changes or strategies that need to be adopted in the future. The course project "Preparing for the Future: A Research Study on Destination DC" provided significant data and strategies to DDC so the organization could better understand its members’ challenges. There is no doubt that DDC will utilize them to support its members to be more resilient and competitive into the future.”
The student team conducted research on behalf of the Destination DC membership team, undertook interviews with representatives of the Convention Service Providers, and spoke in-depth with professors at GW to craft post-COVID recovery plans and strategic future policy recommendations. The tourism industry and destination marketing organizations have been facing unprecedented losses in business and partnerships due to visitor restrictions and event cancellations since lockdown. As COVID restrictions are lifted, the team’s analysis and final report will aid Destination DC in better understanding the role they play in support of members, which will help in managing and guiding their extensive membership network through the district’s tourism recovery efforts.
Not only did this collaborative project allow students to gain real world experience tackling industry challenges, but it also provided an outlet of hope based on their own experience with COVID setbacks. Gabriella Laitano noted, "Like many other peers in the industry, I lost my job after just beginning my journey in hospitality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With very little professional experience in tourism, I was very excited to collaborate with peers facing similar struggles and together we were able to utilize key skills learned in our class and help support a local organization. Being able to give back and learn more about the industry simultaneously was extremely rewarding."
Fellow teammate David Nitkiewicz echoed Miss Laitaino’s sentiment, stating "COVID-19 forced me out of the workforce, so I was grateful to bridge my experience back into the tourism industry. It was meaningful to me to be able to use the skills I was developing in this course to support a local tourism organization in the midst of a challenge."
Bridging classroom learning with real-world applications is a highly advantageous and influential aspect of project-based learning. Prof. Tosun reflected on student project outcomes, stating "The team achieved a challenging task by going beyond the course requirements. They are truly talented.”
GWSB faculty interested in incorporating projects into their classes can contact Sarah LaRosa, Assistant Director of Global & Experiential Education at [email protected] to discuss learning objectives and potential partners.