Carson College Helps Measure COVID-19’s Impact on Industry and Offers Insights for Recovery

By Eric Hollenbeck

During the economic disruption caused by the novel coronavirus, the Carson College of Business continues to provide timely research to help businesses in the Pacific Northwest and nation address the pandemic’s fallout.

“We’re investing in research to help industries adjust and adapt,” says Deborah Compeau, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and research. “I’m especially proud of our researchers’ ability to respond quickly to address new questions raised during the pandemic.”

Current projects focused on COVID-19 are helping industry managers and policy makers make informed decisions about customer behavior, operations, management, and leadership during unprecedented times. Researchers’ work addresses how hospitality workers are faring, whether consumers are ready to dine out, safety protocols for winery re-openings, barriers to contact tracing, and leadership strategies for boosting employee morale.

Examining impacts of COVID-19 layoffs and furloughs for the hospitality workforce

The outbreak of the COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on the hospitality industry. Chun-Chu (Bamboo) Chen, an assistant professor of hospitality business management at WSU Vancouver, researched the effect on U.S. hospitality workers’ personal finances, health, and psychological well-being.

His study of 607 unemployed and furloughed hospitality workers revealed respondents experienced significant financial and psychological distress. Further, financial strain, social isolation, and pandemic-induced panic led to depression, which impaired respondents’ health and well-being. The researchers found social isolation had the strongest adverse effect on well-being.

The publication of Chen’s paper, “Psychological tolls of COVID-19 on industry employees,” is forthcoming in the Annals of Tourism Research.

COVID-19 study for the restaurant and hotel industries on customer sentiments

A team of researchers from the School of Hospitality Business Management is investigating U.S. consumers’ sentiments towards dining out, traveling to a destination, and staying at hotels during the pandemic. Professors Dogan Gursoy and Christina Chi, working with doctoral student Oscar Chi, identify the changes in consumer sentiments over time.

In a seven-month nationwide study, the research team found many people still don’t feel comfortable dining in a restaurant. The Columbian reports:

  • For the month of October, approximately 48 percent of those surveyed say they plan on dining at a sit-down restaurant.
  • Willingness to dine indoors increased 6 percent over the previous month, but a majority of people surveyed don’t plan on dining out.
  • Fifteen percent of survey respondents report they will feel more comfortable dining inside a restaurant when their communities’ ability to test, trace and isolate COVID-19 cases significantly improves.
  • Eighteen percent say they will feel more comfortable dining in when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. Additionally, hotels may see a further dip in occupancy rates in the coming months as 49 percent of respondents said they are not willing to travel to a destination and stay at a hotel over the next month.

To view all reports to-date, visit the Hospitality and Tourism Management Academy website.

Providing guidance to wineries for safe opening

Byron Marlowe, Don Smith Distinguished Professor and director of the wine and beverage business management program at WSU Tri-Cities, partnered with the Washington Wine Commission to create a set of guidelines to help wineries return to business under phase two of Governor Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan for phased reopening in Washington.

The guide included recommendations on winery procedures for dine-in service, employee safety and health, cleaning and sanitation, the WSU Insider reported.

Since health officials expect a spike in COVID-19 cases as winter months approach, another round of restrictions placed on non-essential business is possible, Marlowe says. For smaller, direct-to-consumer wineries, he stresses the importance of winemakers getting their products on the shelves of essential business, such as grocery stores and wine shops.

Even selling at cost or slightly under, this strategy helps smaller wineries generate cash flow, get their products in front of consumers, and offsets costs associated with keeping inventory on hand.

Information privacy tensions and decisions in families during COVID-19

Robert E. Crossler, Philip L. Kays Distinguished Associate Professor and chair of the Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship, is investigating barriers to widespread adoption of contact tracing apps. The research is part of a collaboration with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and is funded by a $200,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation.

Contact tracing systems are one of the key factors that will allow businesses to reopen and economies to rebound, says the research team. Contact tracing quickly notifies people who have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

For the tracing program to be successful, 80 percent of smartphone users must use the contact tracing app. However, surveys indicate that 71 percent of U.S. adults would not use the app due to privacy concerns, says Crossler.

The team plans to explore how dynamics within a family and individual preferences on information privacy affect decisions around contact tracing choices.
“We hope to provide insight that will help lower barriers to adopting contact tracing apps,” says Crossler.

Transformational leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic

Hana Johnson, assistant professor of management, is exploring how transformational leadership—where leaders inspire and motivate others—can reduce employees’ emotional exhaustion and productivity loss during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented uncertainty and rapid change within organizations, leaving employees more susceptible to burnout and productivity loss,” says Johnson.

Identifying factors that help or hinder employees’ ability to maintain their well-being and work performance is key to helping organizations and their leaders understand how to support their employees, she says.

For research news, please visit the Carson College news webpage.