Letter from a professor at a University of Applied Sciences (UAS) to my younger colleagues,
I have to confess that I came to work in tourism research by chance, but the day I got my first job as a researcher in this field was definitely the luckiest day of my life.
As a statistician with a background in computational science and cognitive science it was very difficult in the 1990’s to find a job in cognitive science in Switzerland, where I was trying to make a living.
I was working as a statistician applied to public administration. My research activities with public administrations (regional, cantonal and federal) helped me to increase my consulting experience. I was working with the chair of Professor Antonio F. Gualtierotti at the University of Lausanne, to whom I owe a great deal of my training in the practice of statistics.
I have learned the following four lessons that have guided me throughout my career ever since and I have applied these not only to my students but also to myself.
- To deeply get to know customers’ needs.
- To build a feasible research plan both from the timing and budget allocation, in order to get the necessary data.
- To be able to apply sound statistical methods in order to transform collected data to information relevant for the customer.
- To develop the competences to explain your results using three different kinds of language:
- Scientific: based on technical terms in order to be able to support your methodological choice vis-à-vis any peers.
- Managerial: based on action plans. Keep in mind that a client will never spend resources (time, money) if, in the end, he does not get information on guidelines for action. The cardinal difference between pure academic research and consultancy activity is the after-sales services. Some examples of the questions that the client has in mind are: What aspect of my leadership is wrong? What set of actions should I take and what is the order of priority of these actions? What happens if I take this action?
- Journalistic: being able to communicate the action to the media or to a wider part of the groups involved in your research, e.g. in the case of a staff satisfaction survey, being able to communicate the result to the respondents.
No matter how theoretical or applied your work is, if you are missing some of these explanations, your research can still be improved. If you can only explain from a scientific point of view, but you are not able to give the answer “how will this research be relevant for the sector” (management aspects), you are probably missing some relevant aspects that could enrich your research questions. If you are missing the journalistic explanation, there is still something unclear about your research: the more you understand your topic, the easier it will be to explain in simple words. A public relations director of one of Switzerland’s largest companies gave me this advice once when I had to answer a TV interview about one of my research questions: “When you explain your results on TV, look at the camera and imagine that it is your grandmother”. Moreover, this aspect is very important, as the dissemination of knowledge is one of the main mandates of the academic world.
Although my activity in the field of public administration research and consultancy was interesting, I felt that my career was stagnating as I did not have enough publishing opportunities to get a professorial position. I therefore decided to apply for a position at one of the schools belonging to the Applied University of Western Switzerland (Haute Ecole spécialisée de Suisse occidentale– HES-SO) specialised mainly in the hospitality sector in the canton of Vaud. In 2001, I was hired by Professor Colin Johnson, head of the research centre. Then, in 2004, I moved to the Institute of Tourism of the same applied university (HES-SO) but in another canton, Valais/Wallis. Initially as a research officer, I only became a UAS professor in 2009, I was exactly 50 years old.
I have to admit that my career in e-tourism can be considered opportunistic, as technological advances have guided my lines of research, but this does not bother me, on the contrary, I am happy that I have been able to overcome these challenges.
Working in tourism research at that time, at the beginning of the 21st century, was a blessing. Not only have I witnessed the reshaping of tourism by the fifth (ICT) industrial revolution, but I have also been able to participate in the monitoring and analysis of its evolution, especially in Switzerland, my adopted country. It was a great opportunity and a great challenge. In our institute in Valais and thanks to the collaboration with my dear friend Professor Roland Schegg we were able to develop a technology diffusion forecast on the adoption of different generations of ICT technology, including the platform economy. The business interpretation of our forecasting model was made possible by national and international networking. Our collaboration with Professor Jamie Murphy and Dr Peg Young (1953-2017) – among others – was fruitful. I owe it to senior colleagues like them that they have taught me a lot, from how to improve my written reports to acquiring new statistical methods.
Inspired by the seminal work of Dan Fesenmaier and Bob McKercher – among others – and thanks to the geolocation facilities provided by smartphone technology, Professor Rodolfo Baggio and I were able to develop a new avenue of research: The analysis of visitor flows. Once again, a technological breakthrough and the collaboration with a colleague like Rodolfo, an expert in network analysis, have sparked a new avenue of research in my career.
Each new phase of research has forced me to acquire new knowledge, both technical and theoretical, and this is another important lesson: always improve your skills. Nowadays it is not possible to have a whole career with the same methodological/theoretical knowledge or the same data management skills. I have observed too many cases of researchers trying to build their whole career on a single statistical method, i.e. structural equation modelling or Chi-square Automatic Interaction Detector (CHAID), etc. This is not a good strategy for you or for science. Hannes Werthner (2021) pointed out, referring to e-tourism, that most research is based on survey data and very little on open data or large-scale web-based data. I believe that this latter fact is probably due to a lack of data management skills or, worse, to the subordination of research plans to already known methods, when the opposite should be the case.
Acquiring new skills needs peer support, which is why networking and team building at the national and international level is so important for career development. So is participation in international scientific associations; in my case there were mainly three: the International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST), the International Federation for Information Technology and Travel and Tourism (IFITT) and the International Institute of Forecasting (IIF).
Finally, it has been a long journey, my friend. I am now professor emeritus at the HES-SO Valais/Wallis Institute of Tourism, so I am still on the road but I am moving more slowly and enjoying it more, and still finding a lot to learn.
I have the impression that, for women researchers, the rule about our competences in any attempt to get a professorship or a high-level position is:
“None of those acquired are sufficient and all those requested are necessary”.
while for all others it is:
“None of those required are necessary and all of those acquired are sufficient”.
This double selection standard has made career progress and promotion very difficult but I have the impression that the wind is changing. It is all those difficulties I have faced that make it even more beautiful to have become a professor HES – even at the age of 50 – and now to have been the first woman to be appointed Professor emeritus at the HES-SO Valais/Wallis Management School. The more difficult the path, the more valuable it is to reach the goal.
Never lose confidence in yourself. Never give up!
HES-SO Valais-Wallis -University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland Valais / School of Management / Institute of Tourism, Switzerland
Werthner, H. (2021). An Informatics Perspective. In Z. Xiang, M. Fuchs, U. Gretzel, & W. Höpken (Eds.), Handbook of e-Tourism. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.
- Thank you to Professor Dr. Jürg Stettler - Hochschule Luzern (CHE) for the portrait ↵