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Released March 8, 2004

SOUTHERN MISS STUDENTS, PROFESSOR EXAMINE TOURISM'S IMPACT
ON FRANCE'S LOIRE VALLEY IN SUMMER RESEARCH PROJECT

HATTIESBURG - Business and economic development leaders in France's Loire Valley should take full advantage of the country's strong tourism industry, says a University of Southern Mississippi professor.

Dr. David Butler, an assistant professor and director of the international development doctoral program at Southern Miss, recently presented a program to Loire Valley business and community leaders based on research conducted by himself and a group of graduate students from Southern Miss and other universities. Butler's presentation focused on the economic impact of tourism in the area, where Southern Miss' popular study abroad program, The Abbey at Pontlevoy, is located.

Working with five graduate students from Southern Miss and other universities last summer, Butler presented information collected from 1,100 surveys dealing with economic impact issues to chateau owners, tourism officials and other business leaders.

Butler has also visited Ireland to set up contacts for similar research abroad programs for May and June of this year.

"The key issues that we presented were that 33 percent of the tourists (in this area) come from France, 21 percent from the United States and 11 percent from Canada," he said, adding that the longer tourists stay in the area, the more money they spend with local businesses.

Overall, France's population, approximately 80 million, doubles each year because of tourism, Butler said. As recently as 2000, tourism constituted 12 percent of the country's gross domestic product, he said.

Butler recommended to the area's business and tourism leaders that brand imaging should be pursued for the Loire Valley to present it as a tourist destination in and of itself to potential visitors from outside France. "Tourism is becoming a major component (in the Loire Valley) of revenue growth," Butler said.

Students at The Abbey are also impacting the area's economy, Butler said. In one year since the program's implementation, Butler and his students' research showed that businesses that cater to the students at The Abbey enjoyed a 10-15 percent increase in revenue.

The Loire Valley's two main industries include tourism and grape production, Butler said. "I would suspect that with wine production becoming stagnant because of competition, tourism is becoming a major component (in the area) of revenue growth," he said.

The Abbey Program sends Southern Miss undergraduates together with students from the universities affiliated with The Abbey Consortium to study for a semester in France. Students live and learn in the historic abbey of Pontlevoy, which was founded in 1034 and is one of France's most revered historic monuments. Accompanied by professors, students also spend a week living and learning in Paris, with the city and its historic monuments serving as their classroom. Unlike many semester abroad programs, The Abbey teaches general education classes that allow for participation by sophomores and even freshmen.

The 2004 Abbey Program will be the largest ever cohort for study in France, said Southern Miss Provost Dr. Tim Hudson, who also serves as executive director for the Southern Miss CICE. "The road toward academic excellence and career success are paved for our students in the global marketplace of ideas and experience," Hudson said.

Twelve colleges and universities met with leaders of Southern Miss' Center for International and Continuing Education in January at the Gulf Coast Conference Center , where plans were made for international education activities and study-abroad programs to be run by Southern Miss and its consortium partners at The Abbey of Pontlevoy, in Pontlevoy, France.

With the recent addition of Loyola University of New Orleans, Dr. Douglas Mackaman, director of The Abbey study abroad program for Southern Miss and an associate professor of history, said The Abbey now has partner schools for Southern Miss all over the United States.

"Southern Miss' excellence in international education is no secret, and universities searching for outstanding programs abroad know they will find that with us," Mackaman said.

"This is a great opportunity for Loyola students to get experience abroad," said Debbie Danna, director of Loyola's Center for International Education.

"We've never sent a single student on a semester program of any kind, nor have we sent a single student to France before on any program," said Dr. Larry Williams, director of International Programs at Midwestern State University. Ten students from Midwestern took part in the program in February. "Almost thirty students from Wichita Falls, Texas, will have had a semester in Europe because of The Abbey and Southern Miss," Williams said.

For more information about The Abbey semester abroad program or any summer study-abroad program, contact the Southern Miss Center for International and Continuing Education at 266-4344 or visit the English Language Institute, Room 104.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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