Both the Western North Carolina travel industry and students learning how to become managers and entrepreneurs in the hospitality business are expected to benefit from the expertise of an economist specializing in tracking trends in the hotel, restaurant and tourism sectors who recently joined the faculty in WCU’s College of Business. Steve Morse, former director of the Tourism Institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, became director of the university’s program in hospitality and tourism on July 1.
Morse, with extensive academic and professional experience, hit the ground running as he and a group of students produced a fall tourism business forecast that attracted widespread media attention from such national outlets as CNNMoney. Using data supplied by Smith Travel Research, a leading source of hospitality information, Morse and his students analyzed accommodation industry trends to develop the inaugural “October Tourism Forecast for Western North Carolina.” Their study indicated that hotels, motels and inns across 21 counties of WNC could anticipate an increase in overnight stays during the fall leaf season. They went on to caution that the partial government shutdown that went into effect Oct. 1 could hurt the tourism sector if travelers worried about the possible impact on such popular destinations as Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, where many campsites and visitor centers were closed.
The tourism forecast was just the first in what is expected to become a series of reports about travel trends to be provided by Morse and his students. That type of experiential learning for students and outreach to the region’s travel and tourism sector make Morse an important asset to the university and WNC, said Chad Church, vice president of operations for Smith Travel Research. “His experience and vast knowledge of the hospitality and tourism industry will be a tremendous benefit to the university. As a former graduate student studying under Steve at the University of Tennessee, I can attest to his willingness to go the extra mile for his students,” said Church. “Steve’s hands-on approach to outreach makes him an excellent resource for the tourism industry. His reputation within the industry is strong and his ability to produce practical research will benefit all hospitality and tourism entities in Western North Carolina.”
Students involved in the travel forecast said they appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the project. “There was a lot of information that we got exposed to that most students don’t get to see. This could help with any future jobs for us students,” said Brianne McCain, a junior from Gastonia. Ashelyn Roberts, a senior from Weddington, said she enjoyed analyzing the data. “Working on this project has allowed me to gain new insights into how to analyze data in ways I would’ve never known before,” Roberts said. Andrew Schaefer, a senior from Waynesville, said the project introduced the class to a new medium for detailed reports used to predict economic trends. “My eyes were opened to a whole new sense of data collection,” Schaefer said.