Each student received a scholarship to attend the conference, which was made possible through sponsorships and coordinated by Sarah Page, executive director for TACVB, Elizabeth Eddins and Shane Sorenson, student/mentor coordinators.
Dr. Chay Runnels, SFA hospitality program coordinator, said she was thrilled the students had this opportunity to represent SFA.
“It was a great event, and our students were good representatives of our program,” Runnels said. “I am so glad we are able to provide these real-world opportunities for our hospitality students.”
During the conference, students attended sessions and networked with tourism industry professionals from across the state. Session topics ranged from tragedy response and handling negative press events to dealing with ad fraud and how to use persuasion in marketing. Additional topics included the value of services, digital marketing and others.
Mackenzie Tarter, SFA Mesquite senior, said one of the highlights was listening to former NFL coach Daron Roberts discuss leadership.
“He brought to life what it means to stand out as a leader — not just within the hospitality industry but within any industry,” Tarter said. “One key point I took away from him was when I enter my field I hope to start with empathy and vulnerability.”
The conference also introduced students to various issues within the industry.
“The biggest way the conference helped me with my career is it brought to reality issues I didn’t know the industry faced. It also taught me new technology the industry is bringing into the field and it revamped my passion,” Tarter said. “I cannot wait to enter into this amazing world of hospitality and work alongside people like those I met during the conference.”
Dana Sorey, SFA Huntington senior, agreed the conference helped shed light on the hospitality industry and said one of the main lessons she learned was to never stop learning.
“You always hear people say that, but in the hospitality industry, there is no truer phrase. It is fast paced and everything changes quickly,” Sorey said. “There were experienced CEOs, directors and experts who came to learn more, share their own issues and find solutions through other CVBs.”
Networking was a main component of the conference. Each student was assigned an industry mentor who shared industry knowledge and real-world experiences.
“That was one of the best parts,” Sorey said. “It was nice to have an experienced mentor tell me about her real-world experience. She was extremely helpful when discussing steps I should take after graduation. It was my first conference, and I will never forget it.”