65 TOURISM INNOVATION – Contributions by Isabel Rodriguez
Even though I made some modest contributions to tourism planning in the topic of tourism destinations’ life cycle and the need for renovation and diversification of mature destinations, I believe that my most relevant contributions are made within the topic of tourism innovation. My interest for this started with my PhD. It was a radically new direction to take but it meant the beginning of my research autonomy and leadership. At that moment innovation was a trendy word everywhere and especially in political discourses which captivated my attention. What was really behind this fuzzy word and how could you measure it with tangible results? My initial interest was from a policy perspective by documenting innovation in tourism policies and innovation policies outcomes (Rodriguez, Williams & Hall, 2014). Soon I moved to the business/entrepreneurial side trying to understand innovation as a risky and uncertain process rather than as a simple successful output (Rodriguez, Williams & Brotons, 2017; Rodriguez, Williams & Skokic, 2020). I found that customers’ behaviours and responses to the innovation were key to understanding most of the innovation endings: success or failure (Rodriguez, Williams & Andreu, 2019). This opened a new research avenue pointing out to the field of behavioural economics which is within my current work and future interest. A longitudinal observation that most innovation companies I had approached ended up failing introduced me to the concept of failure and the possibility of observing this from a different dimension: what if ‘commercial failure’ or activity cessation is only the beginning of new ideas in the longer-term trajectory of ‘failed’ entrepreneurs? This is my current interest and work in progress: the investigation and conceptualisation of innovation post-failure knowledge mobility.
At some point in my innovation journey, I wanted to export the innovation process concept to the field of scientific research and this is how with my usual innovation colleagues (Allan Williams and Teemu Makkonen) started this spin-off research in the field of originality in tourism research (Rodriguez, Makkonen, & Williams, 2019; Rodriguez et al., 2021). With them (Williams, Rodriguez & Makkonen, 2020) we also ventured into a conceptual piece bringing selected issues from the innovation literature to offer insightful perspectives to smart destinations (another fuzzy concept!).
Most of my work in tourism innovation aimed to have an impact in policy making and society. I have produced policy briefings and a policy recommendations report based on co-production of knowledge with policymakers and entrepreneurs’ survey consultation. Besides policymakers, entrepreneurs have also been potential users of my research thanks to the incorporation of stories in the production of case study videos.
In summary, I believe that these are my most noteworthy contributions to this field:
The insight that innovation in policies is a rarity and that it is difficult to translate policy ideals like innovation into action
Despite the fact that innovation was rapidly emerging as an important topic in the tourism policy, when I started my research, there was still a gap between work on tourism policy and that on innovation outcomes which tended to be disconnected. To gain insights into the innovation outcomes of the tourism policy process and governmental strategies to encourage innovation, I observed the implementation process and innovation outcomes of selected tourism innovation programmes in Spain. I approached this from different angles. From a longitudinal perspective, I examined the outcomes of tourism policy changes in order to identify innovation. I provided evidence of how innovation outcomes of tourism policy are difficult to attain and therefore infrequent being highly influenced by factors such as crisis or periods of significant change. This confirmed that policy innovation is a rarity and that incremental adaptation and policy succession are predominant. Additionally, I examined the relationship between innovation policy and tourism policy, particularly where they intersected, and I documented the longitudinal governmental stimulus to tourism innovation through a mix of policy instruments. Finally, I addressed more specific and operative aspects of programme implementation and innovation outcomes through the exploration of two tourism innovation programmes targeting different agents and forms of attaining innovation: one was a clusters programme targeting cooperative innovation and the other a young entrepreneurs programme with innovation being at the heart of enterprise startups. The innovative clusters case study in the work “Tourism innovation policy: implementation and outcomes” (Rodriguez, Williams & Hall, 2014) provided evidence of the difficulties in translating policy ideals like innovation into action and the questionable effectiveness of these types of systemic instruments to promote tourism innovation.
Light into the “black box” of the innovation process or how innovations are developed and implemented over time
When we started this research there were virtually no systematic studies of the process of tourism innovation and the tourism literature was rather fragmented, mostly suggestive and focused only on different aspects of this process. We aimed to provide an overview of the innovation journey of a relatively understudied type of entrepreneur: ‘the new-to-tourism entrepreneur’ establishing start-up firms by interviewing founders and analyzing the sequence of events or tasks they were going through from idea to innovation commercialization. We developed our own model of the process that provided detail of a range of barriers to innovation and strategies adopted to minimise these together with valuable insights to inform the work of policy-making and implementation bodies that ultimately could contribute to more effective tourism innovation practices. Key characteristics of the process, its uncertainty, inspired future work on uncertainty, risk, and risk management (Williams, Rodriguez & Skokic, 2020) and pointed to the need of following the processes in a longitudinal study to explore the firms’ development patterns including failure (forthcoming paper).
Insights into the shifting and blurred meanings of risks and uncertainty across the different stages of the innovation process
In the work “Innovation, Risk, and Uncertainty: A Study of Tourism Entrepreneurs” (Williams, Rodriguez & Skokic, 2020) we reflected on the range of risks (known risks) and uncertainties (unknown risks) that tourism entrepreneurs face during the innovation process. We were aware that the innovation process largely depended on the entrepreneur’s capacity to manage variable levels of risk and uncertainty and therefore decided to explore this in detail by bringing a differentiated approach between the two concepts (previous works had treated risk and uncertainty as synonymous). This qualitative study contributed the first detailed analysis— generically, and not only in tourism—of the different types of risks and uncertainties encountered along the innovation process, as understood by the entrepreneurs. We confirmed that individuals are more averse to uncertainty than risk and that different competences are required to manage these. Risks can be incorporated into the business plan, and operations: they are in effect “insurable” but uncertainty, when manifested, necessarily requires an agile response by the entrepreneur. Uncertainty was especially important at the idea generation stage, and for those with little prior business knowledge of the tourism sector. Over time, increased experience and knowledge, including tourism knowledge, allows entrepreneurs to convert some uncertainties into risks. However, uncertainties persist, and—although pervasive to the entire innovation process—become even more focused in the diffusion stage because of difficulties in predicting customer resistance. Our work ended up by considering some policy and practice implications such when (at which stage) and how (training) the business support services need to target the predominant risks and uncertainties that emerge across the different stages of the innovation process.
Customer resistance is the greatest risk to innovation
Innovation is essentially and literally a risky business, and the literature reports high failure rates for innovation. While risks exist in all stages of the innovation process, perhaps the most critical stage is innovation diffusion since the marketplace is the battleground where the fate of the innovation is decided. More often than might be expected from reading the often-advocative innovation literature, new ideas generate uncertainty in the minds of potential adopters, who can perceive them as a known or unknown risk or as a potential threat. Moreover, the more radical the degree of change associated with the innovation, the more likely it is to conflict with current habits, ways of thinking and previous experience, and to encounter substantial resistance. The study “Customer Resistance to Tourism Innovations: Entrepreneurs’ Understanding and Management Strategies” (Rodriguez, Williams and Andreu, 2019) empirically explored the entrepreneurs’ perceived sources of resistance and how they deal with them by merging the literatures on innovation, entrepreneurship and customer resistance. The tourism industry has proved to be very attractive (because of its magnitude and economic importance) for innovators originating outside this domain. However, these entrepreneurs—who have the potential to bring new ideas into tourism and hospitality businesses—often encounter resistance from customers, satisfied with the status quo and with no or low appetites for innovation. Our study showed that two aspects are of relevance for customers’ innovation acceptance or resistance: the innovation attributes and the subjective perception of these attributes by customers, since these can develop into risks and perceived risks are a critical variable for decision making. Indeed, the findings highlighted the importance of understanding, anticipating, and responding to these.
This work has been a preliminary step to future research work I aim to conduct into behavioural economics and human behaviour towards innovation in a context of real-life experiments and under the influence of digital nudging.
An increased understanding of what is originality in tourism research
The notion of originality surrounds us researchers but it is still an elusive concept which had received little scholarly attention in tourism. With our work “Peer review assessment of originality in tourism journals: critical perspective of key gatekeepers” (Rodriguez, Makkonen & Williams, 2020) we addressed this gap by interviewing journal editors and editorial board members in tourism who constitute “gatekeepers of science” and certify that a work is worthy of attention because of its originality. We provided insights into the extent to which there was a shared understanding of what constitutes originality in the domain of tourism research, the level of importance attached to it in their assessments and what informs decisions when judging originality (e.g. tacit or codified knowledge embedded in the review process, intuition, willingness to take risks, conflicts of interest or bias). This study provided a comprehensive picture of the multidimensional nature of originality with overlapping dimensions such as novelty, significance and relevance. Different types and levels of originality were recognised and we discovered a variable and highly intuitive basis for the assessments depending on the reputation of the journal. We introduced a ‘spectrum of originality’, from radical to minor incremental, in relation to different tiers of journals which enriched previous understandings of the topic. Reconstructing the cognitive process of assessment described by many interviewees, we provided a roadmap of the relevant criteria to be met for paper acceptance. Originality is highly important in the assessment process, being an essential but not a sufficient condition which competes for importance with relevance and methodological rigour.
Subsequent work “Originality: the holy grail of tourism research” (Rodriguez et al., 2021) came as the logical continuation to keep on adding understanding to the complexity of this concept. Some tourism authors do emerge as highly original researchers and this raised the question of what characterises these individuals who produce original ideas that lead to original publications and what facilitates this within particular research contexts. We discussed originality as shaped by multi-scale factors by interviewing and analysing the perceptions of highly original tourism researchers and identified the factors that facilitated or obstructed original research. A picture of highly original academics emerged: these have interdisciplinary backgrounds – variously interpreted – and an (open) unorthodox way of looking at the world. They are also self-confident and highly motivated, engaged in (international) networks and supported by an encouraging research environment. Unfortunately, we could not identify clear routes or “recipes” that lead to originality since both pathways and understanding is highly personal but we could show how some individuals have navigated their contrasting journeys to originality.
Figure 2. Originality in tourism research. Click to open in a larger size.
Overall, I think innovation is a fascinating topic to the understanding of which I have contributed to from some angles but there are still many gaps and intersections with other topics yet to come.
I am deeply grateful to my colleagues for contributing to all these works and making this innovation journey an enjoyable one. Also, to the European Commission [grant agreement 700893] which provided the financial support that made possible most of the contributions discussed in this chapter.
Written by Isabel Rodriguez, University of Surrey, United Kingdom
Read Isabel’s letter to the next generation of tourism researchers
Rodriguez, I., Mantecon, A., Williams, A. M., Makkonen, T., & Kim, Y. (2021). Originality: the holy grail of tourism research. Journal of Travel Research (accepted paper).
Williams, A. M., Rodriguez, I., & Skokic, V. (2020). Innovation, risk and uncertainty: a study of tourism entrepreneurs. Journal of Travel Research, 60(2), 293-311. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047287519896012
Williams, A. M., Rodriguez, I., & Makkonen, T. (2020). Innovation and smart destinations: Critical insights. Annals of Tourism Research, 83, 1-10.
Rodriguez, I., Williams, A. M., & Andreu, H. (2019). Customer resistance to tourism innovations: entrepreneurs’ understanding and management strategies. Journal of Travel Research, 59(3), 450-464.
Rodriguez, I., Makkonen, T., & Williams, A. M (2019). Peer review assessment of originality in tourism journals: critical perspective of key gatekeepers. Annals of Tourism Research, 77, pp. 1-11.
Rodriguez I, Williams A. M., & Brotons M. (2017). The innovation journey of new-to-tourism entrepreneurs. Current Issues in Tourism, 22(8), 877-904.
Rodríguez, I., Williams, A. M., & Hall, M. (2014). Tourism innovation policy: implementation and outcomes. Annals of Tourism Research, 49, 76-93.