The feeling of optimism expressed by local hoteliers is echoed across the nation, a researcher at Washington State University says.

“People are getting used to paying $3 a gallon for gas,” said Dogon Gursoy, Ph.D. That means they’re traveling for vacations again, and that’s good for restaurants, hotels, motels, B&Bs and RV parks on the North Coast and the Peninsula.

His optimism is echoed by Nancy Swanger, Ph.D., director of the School of Hospitality Management at WSU.

Room night demands are edging up, she said. “Room rates may not be totally where they were before everything fell apart, but there is a little bit of growth.”

While the economy may hiccup or go into convulsions, Swanger said curriculum remains much the same.

“We have a few folks on our faculty who own businesses, and they can tell stories every day about something that economically impacted them,” Swanger said. “So I think the topics of discussion become very real life.”

Mom & Pops

Once travelers hit the road, their choices of where to stay can be downright dizzying.

Dogon said there remains a strong market for traditional “mom and pop” lodgings.

Uniformity in corporate hotels leaves some travelers looking for something different, he said.

“You go places to learn about the culture, to learn about the people,” he said. It’s easier to do that in a small lodging such as a B&B over a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer than it is in a large, impersonal hotel.

The challenge many mom and pops face is marketing, he said. Corporate hotels have the money to market themselves on a large scale and ensure their website pops up high in online searches. Many smaller operations do not have the money for that.

Formula for success

According to the U.S. Travel Association direct spending on leisure travel in the United States in 2011 totaled $564 billion, generating $86 billion in taxes.

Gursoy said states, cities and wide spots in the road vying for their share of that money can help even the odds for success by following a few guidelines:

• Find out who’s coming to town;

• Find out what they like;

• Find out what they want;

• Distinguish yourself

• Be competitive.

Every destination has a life cycle, he said. Once it reaches maturity you have to change the product or it starts to decline.

Future of Hospitality

Swanger said graduates from the Hospitality Management program at WSU primarily go into hotels, food and beverage operations, sales and events and even rent-a-car management.

A growing segment is entering the senior living industry, she said. “It’s a huge growth area. Not the nursing home group; it’s the non-skilled nursing: Independent living, assisted living, dementia care in seniors housing.”

The school also added a wine business management major in the last few years. “It’s a very unique, one-of-a-kind program in the country,” she said. It combines viticulture and business.

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