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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Lori Pennington-Gray, the new director for the Richardson Family SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development, stands beside the bronze statue of Cocky.

Pennington-Gray joins UofSC to lead tourism research center

The University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management is proud to welcome Lori Pennington-Gray as its newest faculty member. Pennington-Gray has been named the new endowed chair and director of the Richardson Family SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism, which is part of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.

Pennington-Gray comes to South Carolina from the University of Florida, where she served as a professor in the Department of Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management and director of the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative. Her research focuses on tourism development and crisis management, and she is recognized as a global leader whose expertise is featured regularly in national and international media outlets.

“I am extremely excited to have Lori joining our team at South Carolina,” says Matt Brown, interim dean of the College of HRSM. “She is a leader who will build upon the SmartState Center’s success and focus its activities on meaningful research that will make a positive impact in the state of South Carolina.”

The SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development was established in 2004 and is dedicated to conducting research and sharing knowledge that informs and supports the growth of South Carolina’s tourism industry. Pennington-Gray will work to develop a new strategic plan for the center to guide its research team’s growth and goals for the years ahead.

Pennington-Gray’s current work is focused on the pandemic’s disruption of the global tourism economy, specifically developing an anxiety index that can be used by destinations to monitor and forecast the impact of COVID-19. In addition to crisis management, she plans to explore opportunities to expand knowledge on South Carolina’s diverse tourism sectors, including sport, entertainment, culture, healthcare, natural resources and more. She looks forward to collaborating with state and industry leaders in a state whose biggest industry is tourism.

“I can’t imagine that there’s a job anywhere that’s a better fit for me,” says Pennington-Gray. “This position embodies all of my interests: tourism, research, policy, building partnerships, helping the tourism industry solve challenges, being part of an academic institution with outstanding scholars. I’m very excited to continue my career at the University of South Carolina.”

While at the University of Florida, Pennington-Gray consulted with numerous destination marketing agencies on statewide projects and conducted visitor study research for numerous counties. Additionally, she has completed research projects in countries and regions such as Canada, Mexico, Korea, South Africa, Russia, Peru, and the Caribbean.

A native of Canada, Pennington-Gray earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo, her master’s of science in leisure studies from Penn State, and her doctorate in park, recreation and tourism resources from Michigan State.

In her free time, Pennington-Gray enjoys spending time with her family. She and her husband have two young daughters whose activities in competitive volleyball are the focus of much of their parents’ leisure time.

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