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WVU develops innovative course: social media in Hospitality & Tourism program

@students trying 2 figure out social media in hospitality industry? Valued skills learned. Contact @wvucobe#hospitalitymanagement #WVU

That 135-character Twitter message may actually be music to the ears of students looking to break into management in the hospitality and tourism industry.

With social media — Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Google+ and whatever is next — playing a major role in business every day, it only stands to reason that students involved in management of the hospitality and tourism industry should be well versed in those tools. As a result, West Virginia University's Dr. Ajay Aluri has developed an inventive course aimed at utilizing social media platforms in the hospitality and tourism industry, the state's second-largest industry.

According to a 2010 study, tourism is a $4.2 billion industry in West Virginia, accounting for 44,400 jobs, $531 million in travel generated state tax revenue and $51 million in travel generated local tax revenue. According to the U.S. Travel Association, total U.S. travel expenditures for 2012 are forecast to be $839.3 billion.

"Social media has evolved into a must-have communications vehicle for the hospitality and tourism industry," said Aluri, an assistant professor in the Department of Management in the WVU College of Business and Economics (Twitter symbol @wvucobe). "It influences plans for travel and special events by individuals, and it influences the messages and news that is distributed by the travel and tourism industry. And that ranges from airlines to festivals, and hotels to special events."

Aluri said a major component of social media in the hospitality and tourism industry is the encouragement of customer engagement. He cited the hotel industry, where among the top 98 hotel brands in 2011, 94 percent used at least one kind of social media channel on their websites. He also noted that many hospitality organizations are creating fulltime positions to manage multiple social media channels.

"Social media is an interactive web platform that is 'co-created' by the users for the industry, meaning that it has significant user-generated content such as reviews, feedback and comments. It's all about participation and engagement, and this course will give students a skill set that includes strategic social media tactics," Aluri said. "The fact is that social media is changing the way these customers make their purchase decisions. More people are using social media to make travel plans and purchases, and that underscores the growing need to explore social media's influence on travelers using online websites."

Aluri said the statistics on social media usage for the hospitality and tourism industry are convincing. According to TripAdvisor's 2012 Travel Trends Forecast, 47 percent of those surveyed expect to use their mobile devices for their travel needs at their destination; 37 percent will use a mobile device for restaurants research; and 26 percent will use one for accommodations research. The tools used by these travelers, he said, are mostly integrated with social media.

West Virginia Division of Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver said the demand for information via social media vehicles has virtually exploded in the industry.

"This new course offering is a reflection of the forward thinking of the WVU College of Business and Economics, and increases the hospitality and tourism industry's ability to capture and engage the travelling public," said Carver. "The hospitality industry is driven by the strength of its ability to communicate its message, and social media is an integral part of that effort at all levels of outreach. It provides an incredible platform to engage various segments of the audience in dialogue about areas of interest, and we must be well versed in our ability to receive and deliver targeted information through social media channels of all types."

The course will be presented in the fall semester at WVU as a special topics course and will become a core course in the Hospitality & Tourism Management curriculum in the spring semester of 2013. The course will teach students to analyze, implement, evaluate and execute social media strategies in the industry. Additionally, the spring 2013 semester will also see the new Hospitality Revenue Management course offered online. That course will start as a special topics course and evolve into a core course requirement for the fall semester of 2013.

"Our commitment to the Hospitality & Tourism Management curriculum was fueled by our responsibility to our land-grant mission — our commitment to the people of West Virginia," said Dr. Jose Sartarelli, Milan Puskar Dean, WVU College of Business and Economics. "Hospitality and tourism is the second-largest industry in this state, and the dollars generated by it are critical to West Virginia. This B&E program will prepare students for management positions in the industry. It will provide skilled management candidates from within West Virginia, where businesses and organizations previously had to rely at least in part on qualified candidates outside our state borders."

"Thanks to advanced thinking from faculty within our College like Dr. Aluri, WVU is providing innovative academic opportunities for a rapidly changing hospitality and tourism industry. Our students will also be better prepared for a rapidly changing business world in general," Sartarelli said.