Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our Fortunate Mistake

Shortly after I arrived in North Carolina in 1989 for the concluding chapter in what would eventually be a 40-year career in community-destination marketing, Dana Clark’s six years in that field was just ending.

After earning an MBA at the University of Georgia, he had gone to work in group sales for the destination marketing organization in Charlotte, but over that span of six years he came to realize he was a mismatch, classifying himself as an “introverted marketing guy in a position that called for an extroverted politician.”

He was very good at booking business but he was soon to learn that destinations that fail to insulate their community marketing from cutthroat politics, as far too many do, can find their good work trumped by as little as two or three relentless and self-serving “enemies,” usually fronting for special interests.ASU

An excuse came along, thanks in my opinion to a borderline breach of ethics by another DMO, and Dana was fired.

That mistake turned out to be extremely fortunate for tourism in North Carolina including destination marketing!

Clark continued his education at Virginia Tech and, while successfully completing a dissertation for a PhD, he started teaching at Appalachian State University in 1991 where he has remained ever since while consulting and assisting many professionals across the state including me.

With roots going back to the end of the 19th century, Appalachian State with a student enrollment of ore than 17,000 is located in the spectacular nook of northwest North Carolina framed by Tennessee and Virginia and a stones throw from Kentucky and West Virginia.

You can climb to the top of Beech Mountain near the campus and, if the atmosphere permitted, you would be able to see clear to the Rocky Mountains.

Dr. Clark, as Dana became known in 1993, has helped shape and direct what is arguably one of the most dynamic hospitality and tourism programs in the country as part of the Walker College of Business at ASU.

App’s was one of the original three programs of this type in North Carolina but that number has mushroomed to eight, including one in Durham where I live, as tourism has exploded into one of the state’s largest economic sectors over the last 20 plus years, the majority now driven by tourism drawn by communities.

Programs such as Dana’s are rigorous and many students wash out. But key to the incredible popularity of North Carolina and its cities, towns and counties has been the simultaneous evolution of a talented and educated workforce as well as a corps of entrepreneurs.

They thrive not only in destination marketing organizations but in tourism-related industries such as events, attractions, retail, lodging, restaurants and transportation.  I came across or worked with many ASU alumni during my now concluded career.

Dr. Clark could run any DMO in the land, but we’re all much improved and far better off because he found his passion in education.

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