"Consumption Characteristics and Cultural Meanings of Places in a Tourism System" is the topic of research recently conducted by Montana State University College of Business marketing professor David Snepenger and two students. The students, Amanda Wessol, of Bozeman and Matt Dalbey, of Belgrade, are senior business students in marketing.

Snepenger selected Wessol and Dalbey last spring to work with him on this research project. "During their junior year, I teach marketing students two classes, Marketing Research and Consumer Behavior. A few of the students get the bug for doing more advanced marketing research projects. I work with one or more of these students on tourism marketing projects that the students and I find interesting," Snepenger said.

To aid this research project, the students were given $3,000 from the Undergraduate Scholars Program-MSU. The program helps fund innovative studies conducted by a team of faculty and undergraduate students.

The project involved a path breaking approach for assessing how tourism impacts a local community. It is anticipated that the findings from this study will be written up as a manuscript and then submitted to the leading academic journal in the field of tourism marketing, the Journal of Travel Research. In addition, results will be shared with appropriate outlets in Montana.

The research team gathered survey data from Bozeman area residents on how they view tourism's influence on 19 places in and around the community. Once completed, communities interested in tourism development as part of their local economy would find this research useful to their region.

The study identifies specific places that are positively impacted, have no impact, or are negatively impacted by tourism. The research identifies the hot spots where tourism is considered a problem or negative externality for community residents and where tourism enhances the community or provides a positive externality.

If accepted for publication, this will be one of the first systems-level studies of its kind in the scholarly literature. The information in this paper will be disseminated to tourism researchers around the world through one of the top-tier journals in the field.

The students were chosen to present this research to the Montana legislative this past spring. The group set up a display at the state capitol building and shared one-on-one with statewide representatives their findings on what tourist attractions are perceived as an asset to a community.

Snepenger has worked with small teams of undergraduate students over the 16-years he has been teaching at MSU. "I realized that for a handful of students, market research interested them as a possible career. Over the years, I 've done probably 20 in-depth projects with the students. We have published many of these papers in academic journals. Contributors to the academic journals are either PhD students or faculty teaching at universities around the world. So it is quite a testament to the work ethic and initiative of the undergraduate students at MSU when we get a paper published together," Snepenger said.

The opportunity to engage in undergraduate research gives students invaluable hands-on experience. Wessol says, "This in-depth research experience has really helped to prepare me for my transition from college to a career in marketing research."

Dalbey adds, "I have found that having the opportunity to work with one of the most published tourism researchers in the world, (Snepenger) has helped prepare me for a career in marketing research, while differentiating myself from others in America s highly competitive job market."