When André Leitão and Stefanie Zambelli left Portugal to enroll in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, they never imagined that they would be heading to the Pacific Northwest to be recognized for their academic achievements. However, the two international graduate students were recently invited to Seattle, Wash., as honored guests of the 98th annual Destination Marketing Association International Convention.

Zambelli and Leitão, who are enrolled at UCF’s Rosen College through a dual-degree master’s program with ISCTE – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, were selected as the winners of the 2012 Excellence in Practice – Case Study Competition. As the winners of this year’s Competition, Zambelli and Leitão have been awarded travel arrangements to attend the DMAI Annual Convention on July 16-18, where they will be recognized for their award-winning case study, which will be featured in front of an estimated 1,500 industry professionals.

“It will be an amazing opportunity to attend the DMAI Annual Convention,” said Leitão. “All the most important destination marketing organizations in the world will be there. This is a major opportunity for us to learn and network with industry professionals.”

The duo’s submission of Visit Orlando: 2009 “Orlando E So Alegria” Campaign, A Success Story Through Collaboration, analyzed the collaborative dynamics of Visit Orlando’s tourism stakeholders and examined its collaborative consumer marketing campaign “Orlando e so Alegria” to the Brazilian market. The study was sponsored by Jay Santos of Visit Orlando and Dr. Youcheng Wang, associate dean of academic affairs & research at UCF’s Rosen College

“This whole thing started with developing a project for Dr. Wang’s Destination Marketing class, and once he told us about the Competition, we decided to enter it,” said Zambelli. “Since the beginning, we understood that our topic was really strong and had a lot of potential to win.”

Funded by the Destination & Travel Foundation, the Excellence in Practice – Case Study Competition highlights best practices from destination marketing organizations (DMOs) by connecting universities and students to DMOs to examine, within the individual destinations, one of the three major challenges identified by the 2008 Futures Study – advocacy, technology and social responsibility.

“This is really a reward for a wonderful piece that Stefanie and André put together,” said Wang. “The College is extremely proud of their achievement as graduate students.”

Winning the Case Study Competition and attending the DMAI Annual Convention will likely be the duo’s final academic achievement at UCF’s Rosen College, as Zambelli and Leitão are expected to graduate this August with a Master of Science degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management.

For more information on the DMAI Annual Convention, as well as the  Excellence in Practice – Case Study Competition, please visit www.destinationmarketing.org.