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WCU hires regional expert to lead hospitality, tourism program

Well-known regional tourism expert Steve Morse has been hired by Western Carolina University to head its hospitality and tourism program.


WCU has “great vision,” said Morse, who has more than 20 years of experience with the industry. “We just think it’s a perfect match.”

The first task in his new position is to recruit students, he said. Morse is speaking to high school hospitality teachers in the state this week about WCU’s hospitality and tourism program.

“Those teachers are the best people to recommend to the students where to go,” Morse said, adding that he hopes to show people that hospitality and tourism jobs are more than minimum wage positions and that opportunities are ample.

“It employs a lot of people,” Morse said. “The job market in Western North Carolina is great.”

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WCU has worked with the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce to provide tourism volunteers and interns before, but Julie Spiro, head of the chamber, wants to create stronger ties between the two entities.

“We have partnered with the program in the past,” she said. “I am hopeful that we are able to grow that relationship now that he is here.”

The second goal for Morse is research. He has received industry awards for his research including the 2010 Shining Light Research Award from the Southeast Tourism Society, the 2011 Hospitality Professor of the Year from the Tennessee Hospitality Association, and the 2011 Tourism Industry Spotlight Award from the Tennessee Association of Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus. He is also the recipient of an award from the Southeast Chapter of the Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Educators.

Morse’s research focus at WCU will be in economic impact and demand analysis in the hotel, restaurant, attractions, and tourism sectors of the economy. Morse said he wants it to encompass every county in the state and help WCU move toward becoming the go-to university for tourism-related information.

“Something that all 100 counties can use in the future,” Morse said. “We hope to be the leader in the state in that type of information.”

A goal set out in WCU’s 2020 Vision strategic plan is to broad the university’s connection with surrounding community. Ken Flynt, the associate dean of WCU’s College of Business, said Morse’s experience with the region and background with research and consulting will help the university meet that goal.

“We now have the ability to go out and deal with large entities like Harrah’s, and we can also grab small bed and breakfasts,” Flynt said.

Morse has visited WNC before, giving speeches on the economics of tourism and conducting regional and business-specific research. He previously worked with the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Nantahala Gorge on studies examining the economic impact of whitewater rafting and adventure travel industry.

“He has done hands on work with every county in our region,” Flynt said. “There is no learning curve for Steve (Morse). He is already here and knows the agencies.”

Prior to accepting the position at WCU, Morse taught in the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and directed the Tennessee Tourism Institute, which conducted tourism-related research in various communities.

He has frequently spoken at national and state hospitality and tourism conferences as well as hosted seminars for county and regional tourism organizations. He is also the president of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Research Association’s Southeast Chapter.

Morse is married and has an 11-year-old son, Chance.

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