Demi Deng (second from left) with Dr. Bob Harrington and other PhD students during Hospitality Week.

Doctoral Student in Hospitality Follows Faculty Research to WSU

By Becky Kramer

Deng has dived into WSU activities, attending sports events, concerts and other activities.
Demi Deng was managing restaurants and bars in New Zealand when she started following the Carson College of Business’s hospitality research.

She wanted to know more about how to increase brand loyalty and provide the best customer experience. “I was looking for strategies to boost revenue,” Deng says. “I knew there must be a place to find answers to these kinds of questions.”

Her husband, Tony Hao, a graduate student in food science, encouraged Deng to read academic journals about hospitality research. As Deng dug into the studies, one name popped up over and over—Bob Harrington, director of the college’s School of Hospitality Business Management.

Harrington’s work in wine research and the customer experience eventually drew Deng to WSU Pullman for doctoral studies in hospitality business management.

“Dr. Harrington’s work inspired me to become a professor; it was turning point in my career,” says Deng, who will graduate with her doctorate in 2023. “It took me a while to realize I wanted to work in academia, but the time I spent in industry wasn’t wasted.”

At WSU, Deng focuses on hospitality research with practical applications for the workplace.

“Demi brings a strong background in hospitality operations management to the PhD program, which contributes to the relevance and timeliness of her research,” Harrington says. “Her international experience is also a plus, encouraging her fellow students to consider the industry through a global lens.”

An International Background

Deng grew up in China’s Sichuan province, which is home to giant panda nature reserves and the internationally known hotpot cuisine. Her mom operated a travel company, giving Deng an early exposure to the tourism industry.

She earned an undergraduate degree in tourism management at China Agricultural University in Beijing and later worked in the hospitality industry in New Zealand and China. Along the way, she earned a master’s degree in wine studies.

As an undergraduate student, Deng’s food science classes introduced her to winemaking and wine sensory evaluation. In New Zealand, she studied under a master sommelier to hone her knowledge of food and wine pairings, spirits, and beverage services.

“Wine hasn’t historically been part of China’s food and beverage culture, but its popularity has grown rapidly during the past decade,” Deng says. “The interest comes from younger people who have lived and studied overseas. When they return home, they bring an appreciation for wine with them.”

Value of Research Collaboration

Deng’s research on wines sales and social media influencers won a first place award last year in WSU’s Academic Showcase and GPSA Research Exposition. Her work analyzed wine videos on TikTok’s Chinese version, which allows influencers to embed a shopping cart for product purchases in their videos. TikTok videos promoting wines and allowing customers to make an immediate purchase could become an international driver of online wine sales, she says.

Deng credits Soobin Seo, an assistant professor at WSU Everett, for helping her with the research methods for her project.

“WSU’s doctoral program in hospitality has allowed me to work with so many well-known researchers,” says Deng, who also has worked on studies with Professors Christina Chi, Jenny Kim, and Harrington.

In addition, Deng is part of a project to increase off-season tourism in the city of Federal Way. Mark Beattie, associate vice chancellor at WSU Everett, invited her to join the interdisciplinary WSU research team.

Deng’s doctoral dissertation looks at how small and mid-sized wineries can use social media promotion and online sales to attract customers, particularly while the COVID-19 pandemic keeps people at home.

Her thesis committee included the late Byron Marlowe, director of WSU’s wine and beverage business management program. “I’m so sorry we lost him,” Deng says. “I want to say thank you to Dr. Marlowe for his help and ideas.”

Outside of her studies, Deng has dived into WSU activities, attending sporting events, visiting student clubs, and taking in concerts and cultural activities.

“Being in the hospitality field, I value cultural diversity, and I have a high interest in involvement,” she says. “I would have missed out if I hadn’t chosen WSU for my doctoral studies.”