Tourism’s Growth and Future Challenges

GW’s Master of Tourism Administration program celebrates its 45th anniversary.

GWSB MTA program 45th anniversary
GWSB's master's in tourism administration program celebrated its 45th anniversary with faculty, staff, alumni and guests. (William Atkins/GW Today)
December 13, 2019

The George Washington Master of Tourism Administration program in the School of Business is celebrating its 45th anniversary, entering a period of transformation and transition, faculty director Larry Yu said in opening remarks Tuesday evening at an event marking the milestone at Duques Hall.

“We’re working on taking the MTA program to the next level, engaging and strengthening bonds with alumni, industry and  other stakeholders. It’s a good time to look forward and align our mission with the university strategic direction,” Dr. Yu said.

He was joined by colleagues, faculty and distinguished alumni in thanking representatives from a roster of travel and tourism associations and organizations that included the Marriott Foundation, the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C. and U.S. Travel Association.

A short video of the program’s 45 years described its evolution. Founded by Donald Hawkins, now GWSB professor emeritus of management and tourism studies, it had its beginnings as a single course in eco-tourism. It eventually grew into the country’s first master’s degree program in tourism administration.

Dr. Hawkins had just joined the National Recreation and Park Association as its first director of research. “The industry was exploding with outdoor recreation and travel,” he said. “Having that experience, I thought, here is an industry that needs more planning and development.”

Dr. Yu then introduced  GWSB Associate Dean for Graduate Programs Liesl Riddle, whom he credited with  leading GWSB  to develop  cutting-edge curriculum and improving campus, online and experiential learning; and Department of Management Chair Herman Aguinis, whom he described as one of the top  100 economics and business researchers in the world.

Dr. Riddle said the program has graduated more than 1,500 students, creating an alumni network that is the secret to its success working for international and national corporations and organizations such as the Tourism Ministry of Myanmar, World Wildlife Fund, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Marriott International,  and the Expedia Group.

Dr. Aguinis said the feature that makes GW’s MTA program strong is its integrated approach. “Tourism students are exposed and create bridges to other industries—sports, start-ups, finance, banking, government and not-for-profit,” he said.

MTA student moderators Fred Baldassaro and Danielle Lewis-Jones led a panel discussion with Dr. Hawkins, GWSB Professor Emeritus of Tourism Douglas Frechtling, and alumni Hannah R. Messerli  M.T.A. ’90, senior private sector development specialist at the World Bank Group; Sami Das, M.T.A. ’01, senior director, global operation, Marriott International; and Alex Plaxen M.T.A. ’14, founder and president of Little Bird Told Media.

The MTA started at an inauspicious time, Dr. Frechtling said, during the 1973 oil crisis that created fuel shortages and long lines at gasoline stations that undercut travel.

“It shows the contribution education made grabbing the industry and pulling them out of this morass,” he said.

Among the MTA achievements cited by the panelists were the “amalgamation of business and tourism” that Ms. Das said she leveraged into a career. Dr. Messerli said it was “the tremendous insight into the federal government’s approach to tourism.

“This program from the get-go is about experience,” she said.

Dr. Frechtling said the industry now faces challenges domestically from the country’s crumbling infrastructure, airline terminals that are too small, traffic to overloaded resort areas that causes five-mile backups and an aging population that will lead to problems of accessibility.

Over-tourism worldwide has only complicated things, Dr. Messerli said. “We have gone from travel being a nice thing to do to you can’t get on the plane,” she said. “We are moving toward too many tourists in one place and not enough in others.”

Dr. Hawkins advised the MTA to look to the past. “More research, more interdisciplinary study and staying close to the pulse of where the industry is going, to lead the industry not to follow,” Dr. Hawkins said.

In closing remarks, Professor Seleni Matus, director of the International Institute of Tourism, a co-sponsor of the event, said the institute works in places that depend on tourism. “We work in places…[like] Jamaica, Cuba, Italy, Mexico, Honduras Belize, Indonesia and closer to home in places like Oregon and Indian Country…to develop a plan for moving forward sustainably,” she said. “It's a game-changer for them but also our students in the MTA program who participate in these projects and help to lead them.”

Also at the celebration, Sheryl Elliott, a teaching associate professor,  received an award for her contributions to the GWSB MTA program, and Talia Salem, M.T.A. ’12, founder of the Urban Nomad, received the 2019 Outstanding Alumni Award for nearly a decade of work in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry and for sharing her expertise with GW students in the classroom.  


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