Saturday, December 10, 2016

Just published in print - "Let the journey begin (again): The branding of Myanmar

One of my favorite countries from my recent Semester at Sea voyage, Myanmar is an amazing place to visit. This article looks at how the country is trying to establish itself as a popular tourism destination after decades of isolation. The abstract of the paper is below, but a free download is available until the end of January at

This paper tracks the history of destination marketing and branding in Myanmar, focusing on the challenges associated with changing a negative destination image. Through a theoretical lens based on image theory, the paper uses a case study approach to explore how a country such as Myanmar can alter a prolonged negative destination image. The analysis shows that although marketers in Myanmar are moving beyond a cosmetic approach to destination branding, the long-term strategies in place to improve Myanmar’s image could be called into question. The country faces many challenges, including a lack of trained human resources, and insufficient public services and infrastructure for tourism, so the journey to rebrand Myanmar as a competitive tourism destination will be a long one.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Retirees in South Carolina spending like there’s no tomorrow!

Retirees are worth a whopping $29.6 billion annually for the state of South Carolina. This was just one finding of a recent study from the Smartstate Center of Tourism & Economic Development. The study, part-funded by the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, found that South Carolina is becoming more and more attractive to retirees, with the baby boomer population leading relocation from the Northeast and Midwest to warmer regions of the South. The study points out that the retiree economy is also associated with 333,521 jobs and nearly $11 billion in labor income. But this could be much higher if the state were to actively pursue retirees as an economic development strategy – just a one percent increase in in-migration retirees would result in an annual additional economic impact of $20.1 million, which would be associated with 227 jobs and $7.3 million in labor income. Among numerous recommendations, the SmartState team suggests that an ongoing coordinated marketing campaign be initiated to strengthen the state’s brand as a retiree destination, a campaign that could stress the warm welcome the state offers, and the cost of living advantages over rival states like Florida. The full report can be found by clicking HERE.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dr. Hudson adds some fizz to Pepsi’s service culture

As a thank you for delivering his seminar, Dr. Hudson was presented with this customized print by Pepsi

Simon Hudson was invited this week by Pepsi to divulge some of his secrets on achieving customer service excellence. He spoke to the company’s South Carolina Market Leadership Team about the importance of customer service for both the company and for employees, and offered some tips on how to exceed increasing customer expectations. Said Hudson: “It is nice to see Pepsi investing in its employees. So many companies just don’t understand the significance of customer service, even though we know through research that service excellence leads to higher profits and lower staff turnover.” Training is critical in achieving high levels of service, says Hudson. “Unfortunately, customer service training is often viewed as a cost rather than an investment. But customer service leaders like Publix, Disney, Chick fil A, Four Seasons Hotels, Apple and Nordstrom, all spend thousands of dollars on training each new employee in the art of customer service.”

In addition to running seminars on customer service, Dr. Hudson teaches an online summer course on customer service to our undergraduate students (HRTM 440) based on his popular book – Customer Service for Tourism & Hospitality, published by Goodfellow. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Capitalizing on Brexit’s Silver Lining

Simon Hudson was invited to present two Webinars last month. The audience of the first one on September 6 were members of UK’s UK Institute of Hospitality. Titled Capitalizing on Brexit’s Silver Lining, Simon talked about Brexit’s silver lining being that vacations in the UK just got a great deal cheaper, so the country is likely to receive more tourists. For Americans in particular, prices are nearly 30 percent lower than two years ago. But Americans often have very high expectations in terms of customer service and many UK companies just don’t understand the significance of customer service, despite the exhaustive literature that has made the connection between service excellence, satisfaction and loyalty – and therefore profits. So in the Webinar, Simon explained how to train employees to wow these customers in order to exceed their expectations.

The second webinar was part of MRWeek, the largest market research event in the world, put on by software company Quatrics. In that Webinar, broadcast on September 28, Simon presented seven trends that are shaping the world of tourism, and illustrated how research can help practitioners capitalize on these trends in order to exceed customer expectations. Those trends he labeled as 1) Engagement and connectivity; 2) Customization; 3) Social travel; 4) Virtual tourism; 5) Pop-culture tourism; 6) Physical and mental rejuvenation; and 7) Service excellence/

Monday, September 26, 2016

New paper explores the growth in wellness tourism

Dr. Hudson visiting a popular wellness retreat in India, the Isha Yoga Center in Tamil Nadu
SmartState Center team members Simon Hudson, Fang Meng and David Cardenas have just had a paper accepted in the International Journal of Culture, Tourism, and Hospitality Research. The paper, co-authored with former PhD student Karen Thal, examines the direct relationships between behavioral intention and factors driving the growth of the wellness tourism industry in the U.S. Two models were estimated and tested using the theory of planned behavior (TPB), each incorporating two constructs – life stress and involvement in health - in addition to theoretically stipulated antecedents to behavioral intention. Both constructs were found to be significant predictors of behavioral intention. However, involvement proved a much stronger predictor than life stress. This would suggest that growth in the wellness tourism market is associated with health and wellness practices that are central rather than peripheral to potential wellness tourists’ ways of life. Just as environmental values are associated with greener travel behaviors, so too wellness tourism appears to be an extension of ingrained values and attitudes - rather than an escape from unhealthy or stress-filled lifestyles.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Congratulations Daniel Morris on a job well done

Daniel Morris, Governor’s School of Math Science upcoming senior, joined the SmartState Center team for a 6-week internship this summer. The goal of the internship was to conduct an independent research project under the mentorship of the Center. Daniel’s stated area of interest was in economics and tourism. He chose to focus his research on increasing African-American tourism in South Carolina, a complement to a project that the team is currently working on in partnership with the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.  Daniel spent much of his time this summer analyzing secondary research and the existing qualitative data available through the Center to calculate his research findings. Throughout the summer he diligently followed a standard research protocol that culminated in an impressive research poster presentation on July 15th, 2016. Congratulations Daniel on a job well done! 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Changing a negative destination image: The case of Myanmar

In 2012-13, Myanmar, a country labeled by the US government 10 years before as an outpost of tyrannylaunched a nationally coordinated tourism branding campaign for the first time in decades. The purpose: to change forever a negative destination image.

A new article fresh off the press from Simon Hudson tracks the history of destination marketing in Myanmar, and focuses on these new branding efforts. Through a theoretical lens based on image theory, the paper uses a case study approach to explore how a country such as Myanmar can alter a prolonged negative destination image. The analysis shows that although marketers in Myanmar are moving beyond a cosmetic approach to destination branding, the long-term strategies in place to improve Myanmar’s image could be called into question. The country faces many challenges, including a lack of trained human resources, and insufficient public services and infrastructure for tourism, so the journey to rebrand Myanmar as a competitive tourism destination will be a long one. Dr. Hudson will present the paper at The University of Surrey’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Conference next week. The article itself appears in the Journal of Destination Marketing & Management and is online first at:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ritzy Riads Putting Morocco on the Map

I have just completed an incredible round-the-world voyage teaching on Semester at Sea, and one of the countries I visited was Morocco where, seeking to understand why the country is Africa's most popular tourist destination, I interviewed two successful entrepreneurs - one French and one British - responsible for attracting tourists to this exotic destination. Both have opened up modernized riads in the beachy-chic resort of Essaouira, on the Atlantic Coast. You can find out what they had to say by reading the full article at:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Great Representation at TTRA

Dr. Meng and all of the Center’s all doctoral students (Pei Zhang, Hengyun Li, Rui Qi, and Jing Li) attended the 2016 Annual International Conference of Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) in Vail, Colorado.  Dr. Meng and Hengyun Li delivered a standup presentation, which was recognized as one of the top three finalists for the Best Paper Award. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Social Media a Hot Topic!

Simon Hudson’s journal article on the use of social media by music festivals (written with his son Rupert in 2013) was the most downloaded paper published in the International Journal of Events and Festival Management in 2015. The paper called ‘Engaging with consumers using social media: a case study of music festivals’ has been downloaded nearly 9,000 times since 2013. The Hudsons used a case study methodology with a multi-method approach to analyze the use of social media at three major music festivals. In general, they found that the music festivals profiled were proactive in their use of social media, engaging with consumers throughout the consumer decision journey. In particular, social media is making the “evaluate” and “advocate” stages of the decision journey more relevant for festival marketers. The paper can be found at:

Friday, June 3, 2016

USA eShop named South Carolina Small Business Exporter of the Year

An incubator company supported by our SmartState Center was recently awarded the Small Business Exporter of the Year for South Carolina. USA eShop is a global e-commerce website led by Jerry Smith and John Wilkinson (above).  Since it’s inception in 2012, it has carved out a niche market in the e-commerce business, selling quality American-made goods to European consumers. “Like all entrepreneurs, you have to be willing to take a risk," Smith stated in a feature for Cola Daily. That risk has paid off tremendously. USA eShop now operates a warehouse in Europe, out of which it sells products from over 125 small to mid-sized US manufacturers. USA eShop handles everything from export logistics and fulfillment operations to sales and customer service, simplifying the process for manufacturers that want to penetrate international markets. The SmartState Center partners with the USC/Columbia incubator to support the development and growth of innovative companies that show promise for creating jobs and economic benefits to the state of South Carolina. Wilkinson mentions how support from the Incubator has helped their company get to this point. “In terms of the physical space, the IT and all the support and programs they offer, they have been key to our success,” said Wilkinson. Read the full summary of the SBA awards from Cola Daily for more information about USA eShop and other awardees. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Check out the new publications from the SmartState team!

Cardenás, D., Hudson, S., Meng, F., & Zhang, P. (2016) “Understanding the benefits of school travel: An educator’s perspective”, Tourism Review International, 20(1), 29-40.

Using a theoretical framework that incorporates Aristotle's three intellectual competencies (epistme, techne, and phronesis), this article examines the perceptions of educational travel from the administrators' perspective. A total of 336 elementary, middle, and high school principals from around the US participated in the study and thematic responses were analyzed from open-ended questions. Results indicate that educational field trips can have positive impacts on all three of Aristotle's intellectual competencies (practical knowledge, skills, and attitude/experience), and that the effects of educational travel are far reaching with substantive benefits for students of all grades.

Hudson, S., Cardenás, D., Meng, F., & Thal, K. (2016) "Building a place brand from the bottom up: A case study from the U.S.”, Journal of Vacation Marketing. Online first, doi: 10.1177/1356766716649228

In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, the need for towns and cities to create a unique identity, to differentiate themselves from competitors, has become critical. Many places promote spectacular scenery, good quality of life, friendly people, and a sound business infrastructure. However, these factors are no longer differentiators, so places need a strong brand identity to stand out in order to attract people to live, work and play. But brand development is often driven by short-term top-down approaches with limited community participation, where the primary tool of brand expression becomes the final marketing campaign. This paper reports on a qualitative approach to build a place brand from the bottom up, with wide participation from all members of the community. With a methodology based on place brand building theory, charettes and in-depth interviews were conducted with local stakeholders, resulting in a positioning statement that was used to develop brand communications materials. Based on the research process and results of the case study, the authors present a community-based place brand development model.
Hudson, S., & Hudson, L.J. (2016). “Designing ski resorts – from theory to practice.”
 In Harold Richins & John Hull (Eds.) Mountain Tourism: Experiences, Communities, Environments and Sustainable Futures, CABI: Wallingford OX, pp. 331-340.


This chapter takes a look at the design and planning process for ski resorts, which involves the 
following key stages: gaining development approval; analyzing site feasibility; deciding on design 
guidelines; and choosing development styles. Included is a case study about arguably the world's most successful ski resort designer, Paul Mathews, and his company, Ecosign, based in Whistler, British 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What's New at the Center?

Don't miss what's been going on at the Center this year. There have been some exciting additions to our team, fascinating research efforts, notable recognitions and great partnerships built! Read about it in our latest newsletter and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dr. Hudson spends quality time with Archbishop

Dr. Hudson had the privilege of meeting Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu this week on board Semester at Sea. Among human rights activists, he’s often compared to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., but Tutu demurs at those comparisons. The South African cleric jokes that he won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize mostly because the Nobel Committee was looking for an anti-apartheid figure whose last name was easy to pronounce. “What I am is a good captain,” he says. “I utilize the talents and brilliance of the people on the team, and when the team plays well and wins, I get the kudos.” Hudson discussed tourism in South African with the Archbishop, who joined the Semester at Sea community for five days as the ship sailed from Mauritius to Cape Town. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Business of Spirituality

Our last port of call on Semester at Sea was India, and I was ‘persuaded’ by my wife to sign up for a Spiritual Yoga course, a good six-hour dive from Fort Cochin where we were docked. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, although the pre-tour instructions made the trip sound a little daunting – no alcohol, vegetarian food only, no speaking during meal times, no Internet, 5 hours of yoga and 2 hours of meditation a day, no photography, only two meals a day… and the list went on. However, I have to say it was one of the highlights of the voyage so far, and I was particularly impressed with how spirituality has been packaged and sold to the masses. 
Located at the foot of the Velliangiri Mountains in Tamil Nadu, the Isha Yoga Center is the brainchild of Jaggi Vasudev, or Sadhguru as he is widely known. The modern-day yogi and mystic is a charismatic man whose vision for harmony and well-being for all takes him across the world to address prestigious global forums and conferences, speaking about issues as diverse as human rights, business values and environmental responsibility. He has been invited to the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit, the House of Lords in the UK, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and IMD Lausanne, Switzerland.  
Surrounded by thick forests, and situated right next to the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve, the ashram was founded by the Sadhguru over two decades ago, and is administered by the Isha Foundation. One major attraction of the center is the Dhyanalinga Yogic Temple, a meditative space that is said to be the first of its kind to be completed in over 2000 years. The temple does not ascribe to any particular faith and is available to all irrespective of their religion or nationality. It is open everyday, including national or cultural holidays, from 6am to 8pm, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world. Many of these visitors take part in Nada Aradhana, an offering of sound to the Dhyanalinga that includes an ethereal blend of vocals, singing bowls, drums and various other instruments. The offering takes place twice daily from 11:50 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. and from 5:50 p.m. to 6:10 p.m. These are the only times of the day when the usual silence within the temple is broken.
The ashram is also the location for major cultural events. For example, in an endeavor to preserve and promote the uniqueness and diversity of India’s performing arts, the center annually hosts Yaksha, a seven-day festival of music and dance. Various eminent artistes perform at the festival, culminating in the night-long celebration of the Mahashivarathri festival - one of the biggest and most significant among the sacred festival nights of India. This night is considered the darkest night of the year, and celebrates the Grace of Shiva, who is known as Aadhi (first) Guru from whom the yogic tradition originates.
The Isha Center offers all four major paths of yoga – kriya (energy), gnana (knowledge), karma (action), and bhakti (devotion), drawing people from all over the world. Other programs include Inner Engineering, designed by the guru to ‘establish a deep and lasting transformation.’ Over two million people have completed the program to date, all seeking advertised results such as improved mental clarity, increased energy levels, relief from chronic ailments, deepening of interpersonal relationships, and greater peace and joy in everyday life. Another program offered by Isha Education is INSIGHT – The DNA of Success, a practitioner-oriented leadership course that draws upon the experience of several highly successful business leaders who have built and grown world-class organizations. Along with Sadhguru’s guidance and involvement, other resource leaders in past programs include Rajan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, and Dr. Prathap C Reddy, founder of Apollo Hospitals. 
Isha Sacred Walks is another branch to the guru’s portfolio of product offerings, promoted not as tours, but ‘a possibility for deep transformation’. The Himalayan Sacred Walks is one example, comprising two weeks of meditation, treks and camping. The guru’s entrepreneurial talents have not stopped there. Sounds of Isha offers ten albums of music ‘transporting you to subtler states of being, forming the basis for inner exploration’; Isha Craft produces gift items, jute pieces, paintings, metal crafts, stone art-de-facts and handicrafts, as well as designer clothing; Isha Life is the wellness sub-brand, a center that provides a holistic approach to health and fitness, but also includes a fine-dining restaurant Mahamudra, an outdoor café Namma and the Shambhavi Craft Boutique; Isha Foods and Spices are a collection of snacks, drinks, tiffin mixes and pickles; Isha Arogya offers healthcare products and services and has established holistic health centers in several major cities of Tamil Nadu; and finally Isha Publications promotes Sadhguru’s works and discourses in the form of books, CDs and DVDs.

The Isha Center, and all of these sub-brands, are promoted via a glossy magazine, a slick website, and various social media platforms including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Much of the income from these commercial prongs is ploughed back into the foundation, an entirely volunteer-run non-profit organization which is ‘dedicated to cultivating human potential through its vibrant spiritual movement’. The social development branch of the foundation is Isha Outreach, with a vision to empower the deprived sections of India to achieve improved health, education, and environmental wellbeing. Another initiative established by the foundation is Project GreenHands, which aims to take corrective measures to increase the green cover of Tamil Nadu by an additional 10 percent by planting trees through volunteer participation. Finally, a long-time vision of Sadhguru is to raise the human spirit and rejuvenate the marginalized rural population, and so he has created Action for Rural Rejuvenation (AAR), a program that has already reached out to 4600 villages in over a decade of work.

Not content with operating in India alone, Sadhguru is spreading his tentacles overseas, recently establishing the Isha Institute of Inner-sciences in Tennessee, U.S. The institute, spread over 1,300 acres, offers a variety of programs ‘that provide methods for anyone to attain physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing’. Two powerful meditation spaces are the main features of the Isha Institute. Mahima, which means grace, is a 39,000 sq ft domed meditation hall and home to many of the programs offered at the Institute; basic programs that do not require any prior knowledge of yoga or meditation, as well as advanced programs for those who wish to take a step further in their spiritual growth. The second
space is the Adi Yogi: Abode of Yoga, a meditative space established as a tribute to the Adi Yogi, the world’s first yogi, who offered the yogic sciences to the world over 15,000 years ago. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Inside Semester at Sea

Simon Hudson visited the university of Mauritius this week with his Semester at Sea International Marketing class. The visited was organized by local tourism professor Robin Nunkoo, and including an excellent presentation from the Director of the Mauritius Tourism Authority, Sem Ramasamy. A newspaper story about the visit, along with video clips of interviews with Simon and some students, can be found at:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Marriott takes social media listening to a new level

An increasing number of hoteliers are embracing social media because of its potential for engagement and collaboration with networked consumers. Through social media, they can gain rich, unmediated consumer insights, faster than ever before. In an article just published in Hotel Business Review, Simon Hudson focuses on M Live APAC, Marriot’s new Asia Pacific state-of-the-art marketing and brand newsroom command center, which has become the company’s epicenter of real-time marketing to customers in the region. M Live APAC allows Marriott not only to seize more chances to engage with consumers quickly, but also to create memorable and shareable experiences. To read the article, go to:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Productivity within the Center!

Kudos to Dr. Kevin (Kam Fung)  So! Dr. So was recently awarded funding for two new projects. The first, "Examining the Priorities, Practices, and Effectiveness of Multi-National Hotel Groups Brand Internalization and Delivery in China, " is being funded by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The second, a project titled, "Brand associations of the Commonwealth Games: Perceptions of the Chinese Market," is being funded by  Griffith Business School, Griffith University. Dr. So will serve as Co-Investigator on both projects. Additionally, Dr. So has recently joined the editorial board of the Journal of Destination Marketing and Management. Congratulations Dr. So!!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hotels that don't miss a beat

The hotel industry is constantly searching for the perfect formula to provide guests with addictive experiences, and, as such, music-themed hotels are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in big cities. A new article by Simon Hudson in Hotel Business Review focuses on these kinds of upbeat boutique hotels, from the rock-themed Backstage Hotel in central Amsterdam, to Hotel El Ganzo in Los Cabos Mexico, with its own recording studio, to Hotel Pelirocco, a unique rock’n’ roll hotel in Brighton, England. The keys to success for these hotels? Authenticity, superior customer service, and staying true to the music theme. For more see:

Friday, January 22, 2016

Events and Festivals Good for Columbia!

Dr. David Cardenas presented to the Columbia City Council on January 19th, 2016 on the results of a recently completed study on the effective usage of the H-Tax funds to promote tourism and improve the quality of life of the residents in Columbia, SC. The city collects a 2% tax on all prepared foods and beverages and then leverages those funds to promote tourism in Columbia and improve the quality of life of the residents.

The Smart State Center conducted a research study during the spring and summer of 2015 aimed at measuring the impacts of the events supported by the H-Tax funds and also examined the effectiveness of the application process.The results overwhelmingly indicate a high level of satisfaction in the events/festivals currently being supported and a perceived increase in the quality of life among the residents as a result of these events/festivals. Recommendations were to continue and expand the program as funds allow and target visitors from over 50 miles away. In examining the application process,the research team provided recommendations for streamlining the application process and providing additional training. Finally, Dr. Cardenas strongly recommended that the city conduct an economic impact study to provide tangible expenditure data, which he believes will support the program's future.

For more information:

For a copy of the report: