Award-winning professor teaches tourism marketing class this summer

Nathalie Desplas here as part of partnership agreement with Mexican university

Students walk along the Truckee River downtown; the river is one of this area's natural attractions for tourists.

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7/26/2017 | By: Anne McMillin |

Five years ago, the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) in Chihuahua, Mexico, signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a global learning partnership. Since then, the institutions have exchanged knowledge and ideas through campus-to-campus interactions that continue to benefit the respective communities as exemplified by a Tourism Marketing class at the University.

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Nathalie Desplas from Monterrey Tech returned to Reno this summer to teach her third Tourism Marketing class to a group of 40 University students. Desplas holds a doctorate in economics and is an internationally recognized tourism expert and consummate world traveler. She uses her expertise to educate students on the nuances of marketing a city to tourists. This year, the emphasis is on reaching young millennials, or those ages 18 to 24, across four areas: eateries and bars, festivals, music and the arts and casinos.

In turn, her Tourism Marketing students are using their education to create fresh ideas to help the City of Reno market itself to that target group, taking into consideration things that are important to millennials like technology, sustainability and ethics.

To help her students see the Biggest Little City through the eyes of an international tourist and to frame the research for their presentations, Desplas had them complete the following tasks:

  • Go downtown and using only Wi-Fi (no cell phones), public transportation and speaking in broken English, try to navigate around the hotels, bars, restaurants, casinos and museums
  • Research scientific papers on the behavior and motivations of their generation
  • Survey fellow millennials about their ideas on what would draw them downtown
  • Complete an analysis of the area's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, or SWOT

"From these four tasks, they developed marketing and management strategies for millennial tourists," Desplas explained.

This month, the Tourism Marketing class, in groups of four, presented videos they created on their marketing proposals to entice millennials to Reno's downtown and Midtown districts to Greg Mosier, dean of the College of Business; Sam Males, Winnie Moore Dowling and Sandra Rentas, all with the Nevada Small Business Development Center; and Maria Davis, a community activist for minorities.

The student group of Jamie Baker, Lauren Long, Leland King and Massimo Barbiers conducted their SWOT analysis and found that mining, the Midtown core and special events are strengths of the area while a lack of collaboration between businesses, slow economic development and a lack of understanding of what is important to millennials are threats and weaknesses.

Their strategic proposal included growing the private sector into downtown and Midtown's unused areas, hosting walking or bus-driven food and beverage tours in partnership with hotel restaurants and hosting more food festivals built around the menus of established local restaurants. By executing such a strategy, the students concluded that the area's small business owners, large companies, students and locals would all benefit and be drawn to spend more time downtown or in Midtown.

Another group of students titled their presentation "Revamp Reno" and focused on new shopping and entertainment opportunities downtown.

By using social media, a communications avenue very familiar to their target audience, they advocated for more art and cultural events featuring unique food choices that targeted their peers and out-of-town travelers.

Desplas said that one in 11 jobs worldwide is hospitality or tourism-related. Using student talent to see this vast industry through a new perspective offers refreshing marketing approaches and ultimately renders a better position for Reno in the crowded tourism marketplace.

According to Desplas, the greater Reno area already has much of what it needs to flourish. The mountains, desert and Lake Tahoe, in particular. Beyond geographic attractions, the people themselves are Reno's greatest asset.

"It is very special here because the people are so friendly and warm...two characteristics necessary for a successful hospitality and tourism market," Desplas said. "I've been to 54 countries and I always come back to Reno to lecture."

Earlier this month, Desplas flew back to Guadalajara City, Mexico to accept the award for being named the 2017 National Most Inspirational Professor for all 32 campuses of Tecnologico de Monterrey.

Greg Mosier, dean of the College of Business, said Nathalie is very deserving of this recognition.

"For several years through her engagement with the College of Business pursuant to our exchange agreement with Tecnológico de Monterrey - Chihuahua, she has brought her expertise in tourism and marketing to our students and programs. She brings with her that same ability to inspire students that she shows at her home institution."

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