WCU tourism research to be presented at national transportation conference

Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Program at Western Carolina University, has been invited to present research conducted at WCU on Monday, Sept. 15, at a Transportation Research Board conference.

Steve Morse

Steve Morse

Hosted at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., the conference is centered on transportation needs in national parks and federal lands. Attendees include representatives from federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service as well as national, state, regional and local transportation and transit agencies and consulting firms.

Morse will share the data analysis and methodology students developed for a study titled “October Fall Foliage Season Travel Trends in Western North Carolina” for a conference roundtable centered on how data sets can be used to better understand visitor expectations, changing demographics and preferred modes of travel.

For the project, students in a hospitality and tourism strategies course analyzed information including hotel room sales data showing visitor trends in areas bordering public lands by using complementary data sets provided to them by Smith Travel Research, a global leader in hotel and tourist travel data based in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Their findings shed light on the significance of the October 2013 federal government shutdown and the importance of fall foliage travel to the Western North Carolina economy.

Morse said he was honored to be asked by the Transportation Research Board, which serves as an independent adviser to the federal government and other entities, to share more about the students’ work at WCU.

“When I assigned this project to my class, we never thought we would discover a new way to examine visitor trends on areas around national parks and federal public lands,” said Morse. “This is a good example of how campuswide and across many disciplines, WCU students discover and reach new heights when challenged to find solutions to local issues.”

Morse said the project gave students hands-on experience that bridged the gap between textbook theories and real-word applications in a way that instilled in them an understanding of what it means to be part of a regionally engaged university such as WCU. A student who worked on the study, Chloe Jordan, a senior from Wilmington majoring in hospitality and tourism management and entrepreneurship with a minor in economics, said she was thankful for the analytical skills she learned and anticipated discussing her work on the project and its impact with prospective employers someday.

Darrell Parker, dean of the College of Business, also said that the study has been significant.

“The research that Dr. Morse and the Hospitality and Tourism Program are doing has an impact on the local Western North Carolina economy and on public policy for tourism in the area,” said Parker.

When the partial federal shutdown forced closure last fall of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Morse presented findings from the fall season travel trends study that suggested the closure in its first 10 days cost $33 million in lost visitor spending in the 18 North Carolina and Tennessee counties located within 60 miles of the park. He also shared findings that suggested the closure resulted in more than $12 million in lost wages for workers, $1.8 million in lost state taxes and $1 million in lost local taxes for municipalities and counties. The study was widely reported, and in less than a week government leaders including N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam had worked together to find a way to reopen the park.

For more information about WCU’s College of Business, visit cob.wcu.edu online. To contact Morse, send an email to scmorse@wcu.edu or call 828-227-3386.