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On July 1, 2021, after seven years in the role, Nancy McGehee will step down as department head of the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management. She will take over as co-editor of the Journal of Travel Research, a Pamplin Elite research journal focusing on travel and tourism behavior, management, and development. Current Associate Professor Zheng “Phil” Xiang will move into the department head position.

“I thought about what I had set out to accomplish as department head and began to think that maybe it is time for me to face a new challenge and for the department to have a fresh voice,” said McGehee.

McGehee’s list of accomplishments as department head is quite impressive. In 2018, she oversaw the naming of the department after Howard Feiertag, a longstanding faculty member and industry icon.

Also in 2018, McGehee helped steward a $2.1 million grant from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, which will be used to build the HOKIE Lab, a state-of-the-art hospitality food operations teaching and research lab for the department. She oversaw the move of the Master of Science in Business Administration: Hospitality & Tourism Management program to the greater Washington, D.C., metro area.

For McGehee, though, one of her biggest accomplishments has been helping to build a sense of community among the faculty and students in HTM.

“During my tenure, eight full-time positions have been filled,” she explained. “The new and continuing faculty have created a collaborative environment. In the teaching evaluations, students comment that the faculty are ‘supportive, caring, and want to see us succeed.’”

And succeed the students have. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc upon the hospitality and tourism industry, the department still had a 93 percent placement rate among its 2020 graduates.

Despite the new role, McGehee will remain an active faculty member with the department, continuing to perform research and teaching intro- and graduate-level courses.

“That is still important to me and still what I have a passion for,” she said.

As co-editor of the Journal of Travel Research, McGehee will be tasked with reviewing a portion of up to 100 research manuscripts submitted each month, as well as the promotion and invigoration of the journal.

“I see it as my responsibility to help take an already excellent journal to the next level,” she said.

McGehee will be the first female co-editor of the Journal of Travel Research, and, for the first time in history, women will head the “big three” tourism journals – Annals of Tourism Research and Tourism Management being the other two. McGehee said that she and the other editors are already discussing ways they can work together.

When Xiang steps into the role in July, he will be leading a department that was recently ranked the #5 Hospitality and Tourism Management program in the nation. Judging by his resume, however, Xiang should have no issues picking up where McGehee left off.

“I’m excited about Phil stepping in,” said McGehee. “He will bring a fresh perspective to the role. He has a stellar international reputation.”

Xiang was just recognized by the Web of Science Group as a highly cited researcher for 2020, his second year in a row receiving such recognition. He is one of three Virginia Tech faculty members and one of only four scholars in the global tourism and hospitality field to receive such recognition.

Among other honors, Xiang was also named president of the International Federation for IT and Travel & Tourism (IFITT) during the ENTER2020 eTourism Conference.

“We are fortunate to have an internal candidate of his caliber to take over,” said McGehee.

“It's a great honor to be appointed as the head of the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management,” he said. “I would like to thank the leadership of Pamplin and my colleagues at HTM for entrusting me with this opportunity to serve the communities within and surrounding this prestigious program.”

Xiang continued, “It’s a big role change for me. Obviously, there is a lot to learn such as securing and allocating resources, coordinating responsibilities, and working with different stakeholders. Also, there has been a lot of ground shifting recently in our external environment, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic creating huge challenges for the field of hospitality and travel. I am also confident that, with the support from our faculty and staff, the college, and our industry partners, we can work together to build a stronger, more innovative program in hospitality and tourism education.”

McGehee stated that she and Pamplin College of Business Dean Robert Sumichrast have worked hard to ensure that Xiang has a strong onboarding process.

“I will continue to do everything I can to give Phil a smooth start,” she said. “From business cards to nameplates to weekly meetings.”

McGehee added, “This is the way it is done in industry and successful organizations.”

Looking forward, Xiang stated that he already has some goals he would like to accomplish.

“First and foremost, I would like to build upon what my predecessors have done to build an inclusive and collegial working environment for our faculty and staff,” he said. “The spirit of hospitality is about being inclusive and welcoming. As ‘practitioners’ of hospitality, our organizational culture should reflect that.”

He also mentioned that he would like to continue to improve upon the department’s already stellar placement rate for students, faculty research productivity, and overall global reputation.

“I would like to work with everyone to make sure we continue to excel in all these areas,” added Xiang.

He is also cognizant of the challenges facing the field as the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The field is changing,” he said. “Not to mention the unprecedented, ongoing challenges of the pandemic, in the last two decades or so we have seen several mega forces such as technology, climate change, and globalization that have, to varying degrees, transformed society – especially the field of hospitality and travel.

“The future success of the Feiertag HTM program will depend on our ability to stay relevant by engaging with our students, alumni, and industry partners. I would like to lead the team to develop a shared vision and translate it into concrete and ‘smart’ actions while moving forward.”