Faculty Spotlight: Andria Godfrey Using Data and Research Expertise to Nurture Sustainable Tourism and Economic Development

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Andria Godfrey
Photo: Andria Godfrey

“I truly believe in the power and benefit of travel, and its positive impact on people and communities. It broadens our knowledge, helps us to have a greater view of the world and a better understanding of each other.”

Andria Godfrey has turned her passion for travel into a rewarding career. She currently serves as the Senior Vice President of Longwoods International, leading the company in new product development, research production, and technology integration. Her work is primarily focused on market research and Resident Sentiment, which supports community and economic development through the travel industry.

Godfrey earned a BA in communications and an MS in recreation, park and tourism sciences, both from Texas A&M University.

Below, Professor Godfrey discusses her passion for helping to advance the industry, the importance of mentorship, and what students can take away from her MSHT 535 course.

How did you begin your journey in the hospitality and tourism industry?

I grew up always traveling – whether it was camping or visiting national parks with my parents. I was actually pre-med in my early years of college, but I changed my major and had the opportunity to complete a work-study in Shanghai during my senior year. It was a cultural emergence that I’ve never experienced before. During my time there, I felt like I was learning so much from a culture that was so different from myself and I knew then that I never wanted to stop traveling. I loved it so much that I decided to start a career in travel and tourism, and earned an extra minor in Recreation Parks & Tourism.

How would describe your expertise?

When I was working on my master’s degree, I took a lot of marketing and statistics classes that were focused around research. That’s when I realized that I liked problem-solving. Over the course of my career, my roles have been structured in data and solution development, which means that I can come into an organization or a destination and identify what the needs are and develop solutions around them.

I’ve had several roles where I’ve worked with community development initiatives. Initially, I worked in ecotourism development in Costa Rica in conjunction with a Texas A&M incubator. After that, I led research for Travel Texas and Georgia Tourism, both of which are focused on driving economic development for the state by promoting and developing tourism. In general, my career, while focused on data infrastructure and research development, has been focused on efforts for developing sustainable tourism and supporting economic development.

To what do you attribute your career success?

I feel strongly that people need to find mentors and create reciprocal relationships. At the beginning of my career, my background was primarily research-based. I had a bit of data experience, but absolutely no product development experience. While at ADARA I ended up forming a mentorship with the company’s Chief Technical Officer. He immersed me into working with the company’s data science team, and then the product development team. Over time, I was able to build a holistic understanding of tech through his mentorship and my immersion with other teams throughout the company.

Especially in hospitality and tourism, there’s so much upward momentum in terms of job mobility. Many people who are industry CEOs now have more than likely started as a bellman, a housekeeper, or a front desk worker. It’s through building bonds and mentorship that your knowledge and experience grow. I’m truly a prime example of that.

Where do you see technology taking the hospitality and tourism industry?

When we talk about technology and the future of travel, we know that there has to be a people component. For the industry, developing new technologies and improving the way that we bring people to work in certain environments, has to be a focus. We’re never going to replace people, rather build technology that compliments the human component to design better visitor experiences and work environments for our teams. Importantly, we have to ensure that the people working in the industry are happy and seeing that it benefits their quality of life.

Does sustainability play a role in your current job?

A lot of research that we do in this industry today is focused on environmental sustainability, but a good portion of ‘sustainability’ is about economic and community sustainability. My work currently includes looking at how communities can restart travel and tourism in sustainable ways that are beneficial to their partners and the overall quality of life for their residents.

Sustainability is at the core of every project I undertake. It’s important to note that long-term sustainability is key for the success of the tourism and hospitality industry and the benefits it provides to the larger economy and people. When I approach my work from an environmental perspective, I keep in mind the importance of how certain factors will affect the future of the industry, be it the organization or customers.

You’re teaching HT 535: Applied Research Method for Hospitality and Tourism. What are the top takeaways that you want students to gain from the course?

In this course, I strive for students to think differently and approach problems within their own work more strategically than they did before coming into this course. Since it’s an applied research methods course, students will be able to take scientific methods and make them more relatable to business, specifically in hospitality and tourism.

What inspires you to educate the next generation of industry leaders?

A lot of why I’ve had growth and success throughout my career has been because of mentors that helped to support and guide me along the way. I want to do the same, and be able to pass along my experience to other future leaders in travel and hospitality in order to benefit the industry as a whole. Hospitality and tourism, compared to other industries, is very new from an academic perspective, and we have a long way to go in building theory that is a valuable foundation for the industry. So, I believe that it’s important to continue growing that through education.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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