Melbourne Tourism Leadership Program Inspiring Industry for 10 Years

2018 marks the tenth year anniversary of Melbourne Tourism Leadership Program (MTLP), the greatest leadership program the industry has seen. Last night Destination Melbourne celebrated this milestone at the stunning Hamer Hall. It was the greatest honour to have experienced first hand the MTLP magic in 2012. The even greater honour was to be invited to share in a room full of much-loved industry peers how the program influenced me and just how much has changed since.

“Sometimes you have to stop thinking so much and just go where your heart takes you.”


The battles between your heart and your head. One is filled with logic, the other filled with love. To date, I have had three significant career crossroads. 

Crossroad Number One - Maths vs Drama

The first was in high school. What I ever really wanted to do with my life growing up was to be an actress. The only subject I loved wholeheartedly was Drama. And the only extracurricular activity I participated in was theatre and musical productions.

At 16 I faced my first crossroad when I had to choose my subjects for my final year of high school, year 12. It came down to deciding whether to do maths which was a prerequisite for many university courses or, choose drama because it's what I loved and wanted to do.

My head and all of the resources available to me at the time lead me to choose maths and the dream of musical theatre was over.

Crossroad Number Two - Social Worker vs Love for Travel

When my prospects of a career in the performing arts were crushed I really had no idea what to do and applied for social work instead. Because I wanted to help people and by way of feedback from my peers I was a good listener!

In my first term of Social Worker studies at university, the best advise one of my early lectures at Monash gave me was to go out and volunteer at community centres to gain an insight into this profession. I did just that and decided this was not for me, right now.

At eighteen years old I felt like a baby with no life experience to fully support the community and decided it was a career I would park for later in life. Making this decision was liberating and forced me to delve into my deepest curiosity about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to help my most. That was travel and small business and off I went and enrolled to study Tourism.

Crossroad Number Two - Your Job vs Job Create

The most recent crossroad and primary motivation to join MTLP were largely due to finding myself at a crossroad later in my career. It was at a time I managed the greatest hot air balloon business, Global Ballooning Australia. I loved this business, wrote a book about it and it wasn't until I approached my own ten-year anniversary milestone that I looked to the future and for the first time questioned if Global would be in it. This petrified me initially until I enrolled in MTLP and month by month I was able to replace my fear and uncertainty with invaluable skills and insights to get clear on what the next chapter will look like.

The potential of helping many businesses through training and mentoring programs excited me greatly and I got to work very quickly on gaining my training and assessment qualifications. But there were no jobs on or LinkedIn looking for tourism-specific marketing programs specialising in digital and social media.

So I created it.

Institute of Excellence. A school for tourism, Social Media and Digital Marketing greatness!

This mum of three kids under five at the time thought it would be a good idea to leave a job she absolutely loved to start her own business.

Something I have aspired to but never really thought possible for me - work for myself. 1 July 2014 was my first day working in my business. By myself. No business partner. No colleagues or manager or a new office. Me, myself at home with my 3 kids and my laptop!

This. Was. Hard.

Ignite excellence in people. That was and remains my mission. I don’t think any other leadership program could have prepared me to make this possible. The friendships, network of mentors of people I love and respect, values, big rocks, emotional intelligence principals and mindful awareness was invaluable and I apply them daily.

Fast Forward to Today...

On July 1st, 2018 I will celebrate my fourth year in business. In this time Institute of Excellence has achieved:

  • 16 financial quarters and 16 BAS statements - choosing maths wasn't such a bad decision after all.
  • Delivered over 500 hundreds of training to the tourism and small business community in every corner of regional Victoria and interstate.
  • Created over twenty business training programs and workshops.
  • Helped hundreds of tourism operators with their business.

Although social work didn't quite work out, the primary motivation to help others has.

Although life in the performing arts didn't quite work out either, what I learned and practised throughout high school about commanding space, voice projection and improvisation has been invaluable as a trainer and keynote presenter.

In a Nutshell

Change is inescapable.

Now when I face crossroads or need to get myself out of a funk I have three primary go to questions:

  • Are you green and growing or ripe and rotting?
  • What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
  • How would you act if you were the best in the world at what you did?

MTILP helps you gain clarity on:

  • why you do what you do
  • what you’re doing right now and if it's serving you
  • your values
  • your brain function and self-awareness

As leaders, like nature, we are a lot like plants. We are either green and growing, maturing and producing new fruit, or we fall into the mediocre average way of living and leading. We begin to wither and our leadership does not multiply and produce fruit for others and our impact is not felt anymore. The founders and innovators of this program had the foresight to help future industry leaders avoid this pitfall.

Congratulations to team Destination Melbourne.

Congratulations to our master facilitator Mel Neil.

Congratulations to my fellow MTLP family.

Happy 10th birthday and Melbourne is abbreviated into MEL for nothing. Thank you Destination Melbourne here’s to another ten years and legend Mel Neil, our adopted sister, we love and appreciate you dearly

Here's to another 10 years of the program that has shined the light on us and through us for an entire decade!

About Despina:

Thank you so much for reading this post.

Igniting excellence in people is the reason I get out of bed every morning. It is also the reason why I started in 2014.

Developing industry training and development programs to help the tourism business community thrive is how I serve and support experience and place makers. Training and development programs delivered specialise in the power of digital, social media and tourism-specific marketing strategies. Connect with me on FacebookInstagramTwitter

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If you have an unwavering passion for tourism and would like to connect with over 300 tourism professionals come over and join the conversation at the Your Tourism Excellence Private Facebook Group

Despina Karatzias
Despina is a passionate digital marketer, social media maestro and tourism professional. She is a Certified Trainer, Tourism Hub Podcast host, qualified business coach, author and digital marketing professional with twenty years’ experience in the tourism industry. Despina is the very proud Chief Navigator of leading digital education platform for small business Navii Digital and Tourism Tribe. Outside of the training room, Despina loves planning adventures and above everything spending time with her family. Despina is a passionate advocate for growing small business through shared experiences because every business has a very special gift, YOU!

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