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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

Tourism Career Journey: Nora Thomas

As manager for National Councils / Industry Relations and ESTO for the U.S. Travel Association, I get to work with talented professionals who push me to continue reaching for the next level in my career.

By Nora Thomas
Posted on October 24, 2019

International Interest

I studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia, as an undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park, and took some courses about Australian indigenous culture, as well as communications courses focused on the elements that make Melbourne a unique place to live and visit. The experience really piqued my interest in marketing and tourism, and I was able to secure a college internship with Destination DC, Washington D.C.’s official tourism marketing organization, managing their social media.

With a strong educational foundation, I came to the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management to earn my master’s degree in international hospitality and tourism management. This degree combined my passions of research, cultural and sustainable tourism, and destination marketing.

Research Beginning

I had several unique work and research opportunities at South Carolina, including working at the prestigious Masters Tournament in 2012, and working as a research assistant with Rich Harrill, research professor and director of UofSC’s International Tourism Research Institute. My research included conducting an airport exit survey for tourists in the Dominican Republic exiting the privately-owned Punta Cana International Airport, analyzing the data collected, and providing recommendations to stakeholders. I also earned an internship with Visit Austin, supporting the tourism department in their relationship building with international tour operators, and worked as a graduate assistant at the university's visitor center.

... some of the most important career and life lessons you'll learn are finding what you don't like in a job. Don't be afraid to take on a project or job that doesn't fit perfectly within your vision for your career. 

— Nora Thomas, '12 Master of International Hospitality and Tourism Management

Tourism Passion

After graduation, I made my way back home to D.C. and worked in events for several years, but it wasn’t my true passion. Through the years I discovered that tourism marketing and developing relationships in the tourism industry is what I enjoy most.

In my current role as manager of National Councils / Industry Relations and ESTO for the U.S. Travel Association, I manage several boards of advisors who oversee areas of U.S. Travel Association’s membership, including destination marketing, attractions and experiences, and the National Council of State Tourism Directors, which serves as a knowledge-sharing network for all 50 states' and territories' state tourism directors.

My team and I also create inspirational content for the annual Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) and manage the Destiny and Mercury awards program, which recognizes excellence in destination marketing on urban, regional and state levels. I travel regularly for work, allowing me to see the country in extraordinary ways.

I would advise current students that some of the most important career and life lessons you'll learn are finding what you don't like in a job. Don't be afraid to take on a project or job that doesn't fit perfectly within your vision for your career. You may learn a skill or a characteristic about yourself that you never realized before.
Most importantly, in your career and your life, be true to yourself and what makes you the happiest. That's what this journey is all about.


The Career Journey story series shares a glimpse into the dynamic jobs of our alumni, how they got to where they are today, and their advice for the next generation — in their own words. Share your career journey story by emailing hrsmcomm@mailbox.sc.edu.


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