Extension in Action

Lights shining at a gazebo and an art display. A shell design etched in rock A piece of metal art shaped like a person standing in a flower and foliage arrangement. A mosaic of the ocean on the side of a boardwalk. A flower arrangement beside a sidewalk and in front of the ocean. Downtown lights shining along the sidewalk.
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Excellence in Tourism Leadership Program assists Mississippi tourism efforts

Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson

“Mississippi tourism stands at the threshold of unprecedented growth, but it will require leaders with vision and skill to make it happen. This program will help them understand how the various pieces—economics, marketing, community relations, and government support—must all fit together to make a program work.
“This program provides core courses in leadership, community building, and public policy that teach people how to build relationships, be leaders, and understand local government. These skills are not necessarily things that people learn when they get a marketing degree, but they are all necessary to build a successful tourism industry.”

— Dr. Rachael Carter,
Extension specialist with the Extension Center for Government and Community Development


“We value the work of Rachael and Extension in putting the program together. They are excellent partners, and I look forward to growing and developing this program with them for a long time. We’re continuing to grow and improve our industry through the education they deliver.”

— Danielle Morgan,
executive director of the Mississippi Tourism Association

“Destination marketing plays an important role in bringing visitors to Mississippi’s downtowns. The Excellence in Tourism Leadership Program provides participants with the tools they need to successfully market their community to visitors, who are often looking for an authentic experience in Mississippi’s Main Street communities.”

— Thomas Gregory,
executive director of the Mississippi Main Street Association


Volunteers, employees, and board members of Mississippi’s tourism sector or related organizations get training and build networks with other tourism professionals in the Excellence in Tourism Leadership Program.

Delivered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the program was created in 2021 and admitted 17 participants in January 2022. They completed master certifications in September of this year.


Extension’s Excellence in Tourism Leadership Program helps tourism professionals and volunteers learn how to promote and increase tourism in their local communities. Participants gain insights into leadership, advocacy, public policy, and administration. The 2-year program offers the opportunity to earn two separate certificates.

In the first year, participants complete coursework and attend in-person events to earn an associate certificate. More advanced training is available in the master certificate program, which requires additional coursework, the completion of a project, and a presentation to the class.


The first class of participants completed the program in the fall of 2023. Interested individuals can apply for the next program beginning in January 2024.


Coursework is both online and in person. Some in-person sessions are held in conjunction with Mississippi Tourism Association seminars in various locations. Participants tour current tourism programs across the state.


The MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development partners with the Mississippi Tourism Association to offer the program. MSU experts and industry professionals provide training. The Mississippi Tourism Association sponsors the program.

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