April 21, 2010

Cornell University Grad Students Work to Increase Tourism in Zambia

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A group of Cornell graduate students have received a rare chance to change an entire country — or at least its image. Six students in the School of Hotel Administration have been working with the government of Zambia to increase the small African nation’s tourism and eventually improve its economic situation.Led by Prof. Robert Kwortnik, marketing and tourism, the students travelled to Zambia, where they collaborated with the Zambian government as well as private companies. Their research resulted in the development of strategies for better marketing Zambia as a tourist destination.Jing Li Chan grad described the development of a new “brand” for the country, which is virtually unknown to most potential tourists.“[T]he main problem is that no one knows about [Zambia],” Chan said. “Thus, our primary goal is for people to know about this beautiful country and [to] showcase it as best as we can through a strong branding concept.”Currently, the group is testing various “brand concepts” to find the most effective.Karl von Ramm grad stressed that internet-based techniques, from a tourism website to “search engine optimization tactics,” will be vital to changing Zambia’s image.Such methods will “make the Zambian experience easy to find for those who are looking or who do not even know they are looking,” he said.The project aims to attract at least one million more visitors to Zambia in the next three years. The students and the Zambian government hope that increased tourism will help the struggling Zambian economy by providing “thousands of jobs and significantly [reducing] poverty in a country where unemployment exceeds 50 percent,” said Ethan Hawkes, grad, another student working on the project.“Tourism is an exceptional economic mobilizer,” he added, noting that tourism creates both entry-level jobs like that of a waiter or a guide and more skilled ones like executive or managerial positions.It is likely that the project will continue next year with a new group of students. Noting the “potential for a long-term relationship,” Hawke said that the Zambian tourism industry has requested Prof. Kwortnik’s continued support.The group members agreed that the experience has been invaluable. They described moments of fun amidst the work, including safaris, tribal dances, and navigating canoes around swimming hippopotami.“The team became remarkably close,” Hawkes said.Most importantly, the students have been able to apply what they had learned in the classroom, experiencing the processes of brand-building and marketing as they play out in the real world.“I think this project embodies the school’s vision to provide hands-on learning for its students,” Chan said. “It’s not often that we get to see our ideas become reality.”Von Ramm, who recently opened a hotel in Estonia –– another small, under-marketed country –– agreed.“Being able to apply my knowledge and see actual results with real impact on an entire nation is something most students only dream of. This project was purely enlightening,” he said.

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie