CANTON  Regional collaboration and marketing directly to a wide variety of tourists topped the list of recommendations made to two area businesses July 25, as MBA students from Walsh University presented the results of a marketing study conducted last month at various locations in Italy.

The students partnered with Gervasi Vineyard and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in two separate initiatives to leverage those best practices, Dr. Michael Petrochuk, director of the MBA program and professor of marketing at Walsh, said. 

"We try to take MBA students on a global experience as much as we can," Petrochuk said. "In 2015, the focus was global healthcare and we visited London, Geneva, Bologna and Rome."

And while the June 2 through 18 trip was, by all accounts, a rewarding personal experience for the seven students who participated, the program goal – preceded by five weeks of classroom preparation - was to glean information from business practices at three wineries in Tuscany and two of Rome’s most recognizable landmarks, the Vatican and the Coliseum, then bring that information back home.

The group was made up of students in the DeVille School of Business Master of Business Administration program, studying Marketing and Global Business Conditions, got firsthand experience in the agritourismos industry - marketing involves any agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch.

MBA students in the Global Business Conditions class focused their study on Gervasi Vineyard by exploring strategic marketing initiatives related to Italian wineries and agriturismos. The group is working directly with Gervasi Vineyard’s General Manager, Scott Swaldo to evaluate the benefits related to destination marketing.

Meanwhile, MBA students in the Marketing program studied traditional marketing strategies of Italian tourist sites – identifying best practices that could be leveraged to increase the number of visitors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Specifically, the students are working with Director of Hall of Fame Experiences and Tourism, Susan Campbell to evaluate marketing strategies to attract guests who visit Ohio’s Amish Country to the Hall of Fame.

Invaluable journey

Such hands-on experience, Petrochuk said, is invaluable, particularly in today’s global business environment.

"It’s not like taking a test, but rather a real world experience – and then they will be applying that locally," he said. "And it’s not like we are talking about the nuts and bolts. For instance, we’re not going to go back and tell Scott how to make wine. Rather, we’re looking at things broadly – how they position themselves in the market and develop collaborative partnerships."

The latter point was perhaps the most impactful to students who participated.

"All three wineries we visited leverage purchasing power by working together," said David Gansmiller, one of the Walsh MBA Global Business Conditions students and Director of Corporate Financing for Diebold. "And with 70 wineries in Northeast Ohio, we could do that fairly easily. "

Katie Tignor, also part of the Global Business Conditions program who works in research and development for Fresh Mark, said that cultural differences in the workplace were also very apparent.

"The siesta in the middle of the day was really hard to get used to," Tignor laughed. "But we went to three different wineries and they are all very passionate about what they do."

That is not to imply that local businesses like Gervasi and the Pro Football Hall of Fame are not, Tignor said. The differences in business focus, however, are unmistakable.

"Gervasi is more like an event center with a winery, with weddings being their biggest asset," Tignor explained. "The wineries we visited in Italy may have a bed and breakfast in order to make money, but they are primarily a winery."

Local focus

Marketing students in the MBA program also studied how venerable landmarks like the Roman Coliseum and the Vatican continue to remain relevant to both return visitors and new visitors by marketing to surrounding areas and keeping programming continually fresh.

"The Coliseum has been there since the first century, but many people have never seen it," Petrochuk said.

Swaldo said he and his staff provided the students with a very specific set of questions to consider and report back to Gervasi, adding that he is particularly intrigued by the fact that the information will be coming from Italy.

"For us, our whole theme is Italian and we are in the agri-tourism field sort of by default," he said, adding that the company is always eager to work in collaboration with the university.

"If one good idea comes out of the trip, it’s a benefit," Swaldo said.