Involvement and development
My first contact with tourism research was in the field of information search and travel decision-making among tourists; at that time, everything was still analogue and published under my maiden name Mäser (Weiermair & Mäser, 1996; Mäser & Weiermair, 1998). As this research area was not solely driven by scientific interest but by my personal interest in travel, I completed my PhD thesis and became aware of other topics, such as cultural issues of tourists (Pikkemaat & Weiermair 2001), event management (Peters & Pikkemaat, 2005a) and crisis management at tourism destinations (Peters & Pikkemaat, 2005b).
The latter triggered my interest in destination management and shifted my focus more to the tourism supply side. At that time, the tourism industry was characterized by predominantly saturated markets, at least in Tyrol where I settled down. As we often discussed Butler’s (1980) “tourism area life cycle model” in tourism lectures and classes, I quickly asked myself about the further development of Tyrol, as a saturated tourism destination, and was convinced that the tourism industry would soon need to develop new products and innovations for rejuvenation. From then on, I was passionate about innovation research in tourism (Pikkemaat, 2008; Pikkemaat & Zehrer, 2016; Pikkemaat, Peters & Chan, 2018).
Innovation research was still in its infancy at the turn of the new millennium and only began to develop slowly. Since the concept of innovation is a very broad one and is applied in a wide variety of research contexts, I concentrated my research on small and medium-sized tourism enterprises in rural areas with fragmented destination structures and managerial deficits. At the beginning of my innovation research contributions, I was fascinated by the concept of innovation, and how to conceptualize and measure it both at the micro and small business level and at the destination level (Pikkemaat & Weiermair, 2004; Pikkemaat & Peters, 2005). Thus, it was mainly the article by Johannessen et al. (2001) on innovation as newness: What is new? How new? And new to whom? that stimulated further avenues of my innovation research.
The measurement of innovation in the destination context is particularly exciting, as other influences, such as the cooperation between key stakeholders and different entrepreneurs (families), but also the role of the destination management organization, determine the development of innovative products and services and thus the long-term success of the destination (Pikkemaat & Weiermair, 2007). Especially in community-model destinations, the entrepreneurial network, cooperation, and knowledge are decisive for an innovative development of the destination (Pikkemaat, 2008), in addition to competition, location and resources.
The majority of small hotel entrepreneurs in rural areas focus on product innovations or hardware investments, such as architectural redesign or new facilities and buildings while process innovations or software investments are neglected. The desire to be the first mover is often not very pronounced, with copy and paste being the predominant innovation strategy, resulting in only incremental changes at a low level of innovation (Pikkemaat, Peters & Chan, 2019). However, key determinants for successful tourism innovation seem to be the entrepreneur, his/her knowledge and leadership, cooperative behavior, and personal characteristics, such as being open-minded, social, and prepared to take risks.
Another important factor fostering innovation activities even in SMEs seems to be employees’ engagement, achieved through measures such as continual training and empowerment (Peters & Pikkemaat, 2005b). Highly skilled and open-minded employees are needed to create an innovation-friendly culture within the firm and to help transform ideas into successful innovations (Grissemann, Pikkemaat & Weger, 2013). Therefore, innovation-supporting structures are needed which ideally cover all parts of a firm in a comprehensive network. However, establishing such an innovative culture that involves all employees is only possible where there is a mutual symbiosis between entrepreneurial management and employees, and becomes even more complicated at the destination level.
Since small tourism firms are often faced with deficits in strategic orientation and innovation, not only employees but also customers appear to have a decisive influence on innovation management in SMTEs as their inclusion in the tourism experience enhances innovative developments and fosters innovation in small tourism firms (Pikkemaat & Zehrer, 2016). As a prerequisite, tourism experiences must be appropriately managed by collecting and evaluating relevant market information on customers’ needs, expectations, and satisfaction (Pikkemaat & Peters, 2006). Moreover, it seems that tourism firms and DMOs tend to be less aware of the importance of customers as innovation co-creators and stimulators of innovation management processes (Pikkemaat, Peters & Chan, 2018).
DMOs take a leading role in fostering and developing innovation initiatives in their communities but their success depends heavily on governmental structures and policies in the region. Unless all destination stakeholders can recognize the importance of innovation and of identifying the need for cooperation, an efficient innovation management at the destination level seems to be extremely difficult. Consequently, to gain new impetus and trigger innovation in tourism, the innovation process must become more open: not only customers but all stakeholder opinions should be treated as valuable sources for improving products and services (Pikkemaat & Peters, 2015).
Maturity and rejuvenation
To return to the beginnings of my innovation research, it was Anne-Mette Hjalager (2010) whose work later guided me, both in teaching and research. Ever since she published her article “Innovation research in tourism”, I had always wanted to write a systematic review linked to her 10 research gaps, showing the progress made in innovation research. Nearly ten years later, we accomplished this, coming up with research streams and actions for the future of innovation research in tourism.
Following our analysis, scholars have developed a lot of new knowledge about innovation in tourism, e.g., about technological context, organizational context, public-policy context, experience context, knowledge and determinants of innovation, network-cooperative context and reviews and typologies. More research is, however, still needed in areas such as small and micro enterprises, eco-innovations, governance and policy (Pikkemaat, Bichler & Peters, 2019). So, there is still a lot to do, and we can safely say that we are not running out of work in the field of innovation research in tourism!
However, after 8 years of experience in private industry, during which I founded and successfully ran a private research firm (you can read more about that in my letter), I decided to re-enter academic life in 2016 – which became possible through the newly established tourism research team of my friend and research partner Mike Peters at the University of Innsbruck. I immediately made a decision to let myself be guided more by my young, highly motivated, and wonderful colleagues and co-authors Bernhard, Sarah, Tanja, Ursula, Marius, and Johnson, which also signified a move away from innovation research. This has given rise to fabulous research projects, such as recent analyses of a superspreader destination (Mayer, Bichler, Pikkemaat,& Peters, 2021), responsible tourism behavior after COVID-19 (Eichelberger, Heigl, Peters & Pikkemaat 2021), the understanding of students as hosts (Petry et al., 2021), online destination image (Jiang, Chan, Eichelberger, Ma & Pikkemaat, 2021), determinants for revisiting restaurants (Bichler, Pikkemaat & Peters, 2020), entrepreneurial ecosystems (Eichelberger, Peters, Pikkemaat & Chan, 2020), and the crowding-satisfaction relationship of skiers (Pikkemaat, Bichler & Peters, 2020). I would not have missed these outstanding experiences for the world as they have broadened my horizons, such that I am now more open than ever to new ideas and exciting projects.
Written by Birgit Pikkemaat, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Read Birgit’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers
Bichler, B.F., Pikkemaat, B., & Peters, M. (2020). Exploring the role of service quality, atmosphere and food for revisits in restaurants by using a e-mystery guest approach. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, 4(3) 351-369.
Butler, R. (1980) The concept of a tourist area cycle of evolution. Canadian Geographer 24, 5–12.
Eichelberger, S., Heigl, M., Peters, M., & Pikkemaat, B. (2021). Exploring the Role of Tourists: Responsible Behavior Triggered by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sustainability, 13(11), 5774.
Eichelberger, S., Peters, M., Pikkemaat, B., & Chan, C. S. (2020). Entrepreneurial ecosystems in smart cities for tourism development: From stakeholder perceptions to regional tourism policy implications. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 45, 319-329.
Grissemann, U.S. & Pikkemaat, B., Weger, C. (2013). Antecedents of innovation activity in tourism: An empirical investigation of the Alpine hospitality industry. Tourism: An interdisciplinary Journal, 61(1), 7-27.
Hjalager, A. M. (2010). A review of innovation research in tourism. Tourism Management, 31(1), 1-12.
Jiang, Q., Chan, C.S., Eichelberger, S., Ma, H., & Pikkemaat, B. (2021). Sentiment analysis of online destination image of Hong Kong held by mainland Chinese tourists. Current Issues in Tourism, 1-22, ahead-of-print, https://doi.org/10.1080/13683500.2021.1874312
Johannessen, J.-A., Olsen, B. & Lumpkin, G.T. (2001). Innovation as newness: what is new, how new, and new to whom? European Journal of Innovation Management, 4 (1), 20-31.
Mäser B. & Weiermair K. (1998). Travel Decision-Making: from the Vintage Point of Perceived Risk and Information Preferences. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 7(4), 107-121.
Mayer, M., Bichler, B.F., Pikkemaat, B., & Peters, M. (2021). Media discourses about a superspreader destination: How mismanagement of Covid-19 triggers debates about sustainability and geopolitics. Annals of Tourism Research, 91.
Peters, M. & Pikkemaat, B. (2005a). The Management of City Events – The Case of ‘Bergsilvester’ in Innsbruck, Austria. Event Management, 9, 147-153.
Peters, M. & Pikkemaat, B. (2005b). Crisis management in Alpine winter sports resorts – The 1999 avalanche disaster in Tyrol. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 19 (2/3), 9-21.
Petry, T., Pikkemaat, B., Chan, C.S., & Scholl-Grissemann, U. (2021). Understanding students as hosts: moving beyond sightseeing. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, ahead-of-print, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCTHR-09-2020-0215.
Pikkemaat B. & Weiermair K. (2001). The Importance of Cultural Distance in the Perception of Evaluation of Service Quality. Journal of Quality Assurance in Hospitality & Tourism, 2(1/2), 69-87.
Pikkemaat, B. (2008). Innovation in small and medium-sized tourism enterprises in Tyrol, Austria. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 9 (3), 187-197.
Pikkemaat, B. Bichler, B. & Peters, M. (2019). Innovation research in tourism: Research streams and actions for the future. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Vol. 41 (December), 184-196.
Pikkemaat, B., Bichler, B.F., & Peters, M. (2020). Exploring the crowding-satisfaction relationship of skiers: the role of social behavior and experiences. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 37(879), 902-916.
Pikkemaat, B. & Peters, M. (2005). Towards the measurement of innovation – A pilot study in the small and medium sized tourism industry. Journal of Quality Assurance in Hospitality and Tourism, 6 (3/4), 89-112.
Pikkemaat, B. & Peters, M. (2006). Market Information: A Key Success Factor for New Product Development Processes in Tourism. In Weiermair, K., Brunner-Sperdin, A. (eds.), Erlebnisinszenierung im Tourismus (81-96), Erich Schmidt Verlag: Berlin.
Pikkemaat, B. & Peters, M. (2015). Open innovation – A chance for the innovation management of tourism destinations? In Egger, R., Gula, I., Walcher, D. (Hrsg.), Open Tourism – Open Innovation, Crowdsourcing and Collaborative Consumption challenging the Tourism Industry (153-169). Springer: Heidelberg, New York Dordrecht London.
Pikkemaat, B., Peters, M., & Chan C.S. (2018). Needs, Drivers and Barriers of Innovation – The case of an alpine community-model destination. Tourism Management Perspectives, 25(1), 53-63.
Pikkemaat, B. & Weiermair, K. (2004). Zur Problematik der Messung von Innovationen bei komplexen, vernetzten Dienstleistungen – dargestellt am Beispiel der touristischen Dienstleistung. In Stauss, B., Bruhn, M. (eds.), Jahrbuch Dienstleistungsmanagement 2004 – Dienstleistungsinnovationen (359-379), Gabler: Wiesbaden.
Pikkemaat, B. & Weiermair, K. (2007). Innovation in destination through cooperation: First results of an empirical study in Austria. Anatolia: An International Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, 18 (1), 67-84.
Pikkemaat, B. & Zehrer, A. (2016). Innovation and service experiences in small tourism family firms. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 10 (4), 343-360.
Weiermair K. & Mäser B. (1996). Information and information search behaviour of tourists: A cursory review of the literature, preliminary empirical tests and further research questions. The Tourist Review, 3, 4-23.