(Update: Adding video, comments)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregon State University–Cascades announced Wednesday it will establish a research laboratory to provide data and services to help tourism entities around the country and in Bend balance visitor needs and community impact, thanks to a $125,000 commitment from Visit Bend, made through the OSU Foundation.
“We’re grateful to Visit Bend for their generosity and visionary leadership in helping launch a research lab that can support sustainable economic, social and environmental futures for tourism destinations like Bend,” Andrew Ketsdever, interim vice president of OSU-Cascades, said in the announcement news release.
Tourism represents 10% of the world’s gross domestic and $12.8 billion in direct spending in Oregon in 2019. Until now, little research has been available to support best practices within the industry globally, according to Todd Montgomery, executive-in-residence and the Robin and Curt Baney Professor in Hospitality Management for the hospitality management program at OSU-Cascades, and the director of the new Sustainable Tourism lab.
“Tourism brings economic benefit to destinations, but left unchecked, it can also degrade the natural areas that make these places desirable to visit and live in,” Montgomery said. “We not only want to help sustain what makes these destinations special, but also balance issues like fair wages and affordable housing for tourism workers in these communities.”
"If it's only benefiting a few, it doesn't work -- doesn't work long term," Montgomery added. "But if you can get everybody behind it, understanding that it's complicated, but using this lab as a way to build ideas, new ideas to hopefully move that needle, then that's a really powerful thing."
The gift from Visit Bend will support the ongoing measurement of community sentiment towards tourism in Bend and compare results to similar markets. Feedback will be sought from a range of community audiences including business owners, recreation enthusiasts and underserved populations to understand how the benefits and challenges of tourism are viewed throughout a community.
“I am grateful to Visit Bend for their generous commitment to this project,” said Shawn L. Scoville, president and CEO of the OSU Foundation. “This research laboratory is a prime example of how organization donors can partner with OSU to help communities thrive.”
"I think we open our minds to the idea that the people who work in the industry are as important as the dollars the industry generates," said Kevney Dugan, CEO of Visit Bend. "And that's when you get into wages or affordable housing, and other issues, and when you look at the entirety of the industry, are we really accounting for all that's happening within it?"
Past research conducted within the OSU-Cascades’ hospitality program has investigated pre-pandemic labor shortages in the national hospitality industry and recommended retention strategies for employers. It has also examined technology solutions to food waste in the hospitality industry. Montgomery is the co-host of a television program exploring the intersection of technology in the hospitality industry around the world.
The Sustainable Tourism Lab will leverage the skills of undergraduate student interns and faculty researchers in fields including business, computer science and energy systems engineering. It is anticipated to serve as a resource for the tourism industry, as well as for nonprofit, government and academic research partners, and communities.
“Visit Bend is deeply committed to supporting sustainable tourism,” Dugan said. “By pledging financial support to this initiative, we’re helping to preserve Bend’s special places for community members and future generations of guests.”
"I think we can learn a lot from destinations like Hawaii, or other places about how they've tackled housing or how they tackled wages or employee benefits," Dugan added. "I think for us it's really trying to become smarter and as this industry evolves we understand what that landscape looks like."
"Employers want to know what benefits and what things they can do to attract and retain the best response," Montgomery added. "The employee side -- they want to make sure they're in a job they can stay with."
About OSU-Cascades: Oregon State University’s campus in Bend brings higher education to Central Oregon, the fastest growing region in the state. Surrounded by 2.5 million acres of mountains and high desert, OSU-Cascades is a top-tier research university where small classes accelerate faculty-student mentoring. Degree programs meet industry and economic needs in areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship, natural ecosystems, health and wellness, and arts and sciences, and prepare students for tomorrow’s challenges. OSU-Cascades is expanding to serve 3,000 to 5,000 students, building a 128-acre campus with net-zero goals.