What I Wish I Knew in College: Destination Marketing Advice

May 25, 2023

College graduates – you did it! As you enjoy this liminal space between college and the real world, we’re here to tell you that journey has just begun. For many college graduates, entering the workforce is a daunting prospect, but we’ve been there and want to share some advice to help guide you to success.

DCI’s team of destination marketers has been in your shoes. As college graduates from around the world, they have a few key messages – pardon the marketing lingo – for you as you consider your first career move, whether it’s in destination marketing, or marketing communications more broadly.

1. Be Open to Everything – Especially A Career in Tourism
Be prepared for anything because you can never fully predict where your professional life will go. For Daniella Middleton, Senior Vice President at DCI, her experience in destination marketing was a welcomed surprise “The main thing that I wish I knew? That destination marketing is an actual industry! I didn’t know it existed until after college.”

Laura Cyrille, an account director, suggests keeping options open – always. As a finance major in college who found her way into travel PR, she knows a thing or two on the topic. “Don’t be married to one career path and don’t be afraid to explore different interests and industries. You will change and evolve and may discover a career later in life that you love,” she said.

As Elizabeth Borsting, an account manager at DCI, noted, “I really was unaware of all the opportunities available in Public Relations, from food and wine to travel and tourism.”

If you have a passion for travel, culture or cuisine, understanding that you can build a marketing communications career in these spaces is step one!

2. Relationships Always Matter
Other staffers can’t underscore enough the need to network – something that few colleges teach in class. “There’s a brief window when you’re starting out when everyone is happy to lend an ear. Ask your colleagues to grab lunch with you. Everybody has to eat, and you’ll find you’ll have access to a broader range of individuals than you might otherwise have during the workday. Use it as a platform to ask questions and gain an understanding of what’s at play within your organization,” notes Karyl Leigh Barnes, President of DCI’s Tourism Practice.

Kayla Leska, a vice president at DCI, shares that relationships are key to everything she does in destination marketing. “This industry is all about relationships – put yourself out there and make strong relationships with media and industry peers early on, nurture them and don’t burn bridges. This network will deliver in spades as your career progresses.”

3. It’s Not All in the Books
Other staffers stress that destination marketing isn’t something that you can learn from reading a few peer-reviewed articles. Vanessa Gonzalez-Hernandez, sales manager at DCI, worked hard on her masters, but knows it’s not the only thing that got her where she is today. She said, “I wish I had known that although excelling in grad school and having excellent grades was important, the skills I developed and the network I built were even more important.” Don’t underestimate the lessons that went ungraded during your school years – they’ll end up being some of your greatest assets.

Tania Kedikian, an account director at DCI, also wants graduates to know that education never ends, and sometimes the lessons are learned in the moments we don’t necessarily mark as achievements on our resumes. “Embrace failure as a learning opportunity and not a reflection of your self-worth. Learn from it and grow through it,” she said. You may have avoided an “F” on your transcript, but in the real world of destination marketing, you’ll have to accept that not everything you do will be a “W” – a win – and that’s OK!

4. For Future Destination Marketers
Beyond these general takeaways, DCI’s leadership shared destination marketing advice for anyone actively considering a career in tourism marketing. Kayla suggests picking an airline and sticking with it. “Start building up your FF miles early..you’ll be traveling a lot. Along those same lines, take advantage of travel programs that’ll make your life easier on the road – ex: TSA Precheck, Global Entry, Clear,” she said.

Daniella advises becoming an expert in some form of technology to make yourself even more valuable. “If there is a technology platform that you enjoy, learn everything there is to know about it from a user and business standpoint. Become an expert,” she said.

And wherever your professional life takes you, know that destination marketing is a fairly well-connected world, as Karyl Leigh reminds us. “Don’t be afraid to boomerang back to a previous employer. If you departed on good terms for a new growth opportunity – gained more experience where you went and now have something new to bring to an organization for whom you previously worked – go for it! It’s the perfect combination of fresh thinking and confirmed chemistry,” she said.

And of course, wherever life takes you following graduation, do wear sunscreen. Seriously.

For new talent looking for more than just destination marketing advice, DCI has more than 60 years of experience working with marketers of all levels – and we’re hiring! Check out our job opportunities or connect with Karyl Leigh Barnes [email protected] to learn more about finding – and creating – opportunities to break into destination marketing.

Written by

Karyl Leigh Barnes

President, Tourism Practice