Nancy McGehee
Nancy McGehee

Although time has proven to be a relative concept in the year 2020, nearly five months have passed since much of the world began to lock down in an effort to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. The pandemic has led to over one-third of the global population being placed on lockdown, resulting in the largest global recession in history. The hospitality and tourism management industry has shouldered more than its fair share of the economic burden. It was among the pandemic’s earliest victims, with travel restrictions and restaurant closures among the initial efforts to slow the spread of the disease.

Nancy McGehee, department head of the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Managementrecently sat down with Pamplin College of Business Dean Robert Sumichrast to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality and tourism management industry, and how it is beginning to recover. McGehee has published over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, two books, and five book chapters. She is a Fulbright Specialist Program Awardee, received the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Excellence in International Research in 2014, and was cited as an Outstanding Woman in Travel Research by Women in Travel and Tourism International in April 2017.

“During these unprecedented times, the hospitality and tourism management industry is engaging in some exciting and forward-thinking innovations,” McGehee said. She explained that currently four major strategies are being developed in response to the pandemic.

The first is the examination of the physical spaces of hotels, airports, attractions, etc., to ensure a safe and healthy environment for travelers, as well as those who work in the industry. Second is innovation regarding the flow of people across physical space as well as across seasons. The third is the development of new standards of hygiene and safety. Finally, technology is being developed and utilized to create “smart” destinations.  

We’re seeing the development of online platforms that will help you plan your trip in a way that will help you naturally social distance,” she added.

McGehee explained that she is also seeing signs of good news from within the industry.

“The extended-stay element of the hotel industry is very strong right now,” she said. “The hotel construction pipeline does not seem to be diminishing either as we are continuing to see construction. Disney World has planned to reopen July 11 – it’ll be exciting to see what new protocols they have in place to make it a new and better experience.”

McGehee also mentioned the “quiet good,” or how the industry has assisted their host communities by helping those in need. According to McGehee, tens of thousands of hotel rooms have been donated to essential personnel, and millions of meals have been provided despite the obvious hurt the industry is currently suffering.

As we move into the heart of summer, the question on many minds is, “When we do travel again, how will we do so?” McGehee weighed in.

“First and foremost, regardless of what you are thinking about doing, always check with the Centers for Disease Control for information about not only your destination, but also the points in-between.”

She continued, “The research is telling us that a lot of people are thinking about domestic travel – the classic family vacation in a car to a destination a day-or-less away. There is also an increase in outdoor activities. People are looking for rural and ‘off the beaten path’ destinations rather than urban or large-scale attractions.”

She added, “I believe that great travel experiences await us, we just need to rethink what we are looking at.”

To see this or other conversations with industry experts, please visit Pamplin’s Virtual Events page.

- Written by Jeremy Norman