Free Online Certificate During Pandemic Helped Tens of Thousands Worldwide


BOCA RATON, FL – October 7, 2021 – Peter Ricci, Ed.D., director of Florida Atlantic University’s hospitality and tourism management program, was named the 30th annual South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year by the Academy of Hospitality & Tourism (AOHT).

Judges were asked to consider the seven finalists’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, an area where Ricci shined. In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, he organized a free online certificate offered by FAU’s College of Business that allowed industry professionals who were furloughed, terminated or had hours reduced to continue their education during the down time and position themselves for new opportunities.

Ricci thought a few hundred people may sign up for the certificate, which normally costs $899, but it attracted 77,000 people in 165 countries and territories. More than 61,000 registrants fully completed the certificate — more than double FAU’s full-time enrollment of 30,000 students.


“We were delighted to reach so many people affected by this worldwide crisis,” Ricci said. “Many workers said how grateful they were that the certificate was free at a time when their personal finances were so uncertain, and it helped boost their resumes so they could stand out to employers once the job market opened back up.”


AOHT is a partnership between the local travel, tourism and hospitality industry and the nonprofit NAF program through Miami-Dade County Public Schools. A three-person panel of judges not associated with AOHT rated the finalists and selected the winner.

Previous winners include William Talbert III, CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Wendy Kallergis, CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.


“This award is not really about professional accomplishments,” said Julie Kennedy, NAF director and liaison to AOHT. “It’s more about what people are doing to give back to the community.”


In 1991, Ricci taught in the NAF program at Miami Springs Senior High School. Many of those students now are tourism industry leaders across the globe.

Before entering academia, Ricci was a hospitality industry executive and also had roles in the airline, destination marketing, meeting planning and restaurant industries.

He started at FAU in 2005 as a visiting associate professor. The FAU program is ranked among the nation’s Top 30, and the university also has one of the nation’s top MBA programs for hospitality and tourism.


“This honor is particularly meaningful to me, considering it’s the 30th year of the award and 30 years since I taught in one of the earliest NAF programs,” Ricci said. “Since that time, I’ve seen tourism become a revenue force for the state, and I’ve had the pleasure of leading large hospitality businesses in the region and also grooming future leaders. I’m honored and grateful for this recognition.”