BORIS Theses

BORIS Theses
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Social Innovations in Tourism: Their Potential for Swiss Mountain Regions

Wirth, Samuel (2023). Social Innovations in Tourism: Their Potential for Swiss Mountain Regions. (Thesis). Universität Bern, Bern

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Swiss mountain regions cover two thirds of the country's territory and are home to a quarter of the population in Switzerland. In these regions, tourism plays a central role in providing jobs and income, but also in attracting guests pursuing their leisure activities or enjoying the beauty of nature, as the nature is the main motive for visiting Switzerland. Regional development in such regions is often concerned with economic development, such as efforts to provide jobs and opportunities for businesses. However, regional development seems to increasingly involve broader approaches that view such regions as “living spaces”, which include local communities in regional development. Along these lines, social innovation is finding its way into the New Regional Policy (Switzerland’s policy to develop mountain regions). This dissertation focuses on the topics of social innovation, tourism, and growth independence. While acknowledging the importance of tourism, this dissertation considers the negative consequences caused by intense tourism and aims to reflect on growth-independent tourism. The dissertation investigated the development of social innovation in tourism and the contribution of social innovation to growth-independent regional development. It consists of four research papers, a discussion of the papers’ results and an application of the results for tourism. The findings of the papers I and II showed that growth independence inducing social innovations exist in the Bernese Oberland. They were characterised by four entrepreneurial decisions in relation to re-localization, de-commercialisation, low capital, and self-governance. Specifically, growth independence inducing social innovations operated on regional/local markets, established short and regional value chains, and maintained close relationships among economic actors. Furthermore, actors in these social innovations aimed for de-commercialisation of the social innovation’s production and/or service delivery and made small or no efforts for advertisement and marketing. In addition, growth-independence inducing social innovation used low levels of debt capital and low levels of capital intensity in production/service delivery. Another entrepreneurial decision of the actors in these social innovations was to remain a small or medium sized social innovation with democratic ownership, equity and self-governance. The findings of the papers III and IV showed that diverse actors – ranging from private individuals to tourism organisations to public policy actors to companies to associations – are involved in the development of social innovations in tourism. During the development process, social innovations could overcome a tipping point at which they began to spread to other regions and to unfold their full impact. They could do so as new actors joined the social innovation or stepped into action. These new actors were public, and/or public-private actors. During the development process the involved actors performed altering types of agency. At the beginning of a social innovation, innovative entrepreneurship (agency in a new field characterised by risk taking activities and the search for new (economic) opportunities) and place-based leadership (agency related to mobilising and connecting actors with different knowledge, resources and networks) were dominant. When it came to the implementation of the social innovation, innovative entrepreneurship, place-based leadership and institutional entrepreneurship (agency related to the introduction and implementation of divergent institutional change) were performed. When it came to operating the social innovation, again innovative entrepreneurship and place-based leadership were the main performed agencies. The results of the four papers were applied for tourism. Specifically, the entrepreneurial decisions from actors in growth independence inducing social innovations were adopted for tourism in Switzerland. In doing so, the dissertation seeks to deduct how tourism could look like taking these entrepreneurial decisions into account. The dissertation aims to initiate discussions and provide thoughts and ideas concerning how a growth-independent tourism could look like. The results from the paper about social innovation and agency imply that the types of agency that were found throughout the whole social innovation development process could also be expected to transform tourism towards growth independence. It was hypothesised that of the three agencies, particularly institutional entrepreneurship is needed to implement the entrepreneurial decisions that were made in growth independence inducing social innovations for transforming tourism towards growth independence. This dissertation was written as part of a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) including three PhD students and three supervisors. The project aimed at analysing social innovations in Swiss mountain regions and their contribution to shifting away from growth dependency in the tourism, construction and health care industries. This dissertation takes an alternative perspective on innovation in mountain regions and innovation in tourism, namely through the lens of social innovation. It outlines a first approach how growth-independent tourism could look like. In doing so, the dissertation brings together the topics social innovation, tourism, and growth independence and provides entry points for future research on growth-independent tourism and in particular on the (transformative) impact of social innovation.

Item Type: Thesis
Dissertation Type: Cumulative
Date of Defense: 24 January 2023
Subjects: 300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 330 Economics
700 Arts > 710 Landscaping & area planning
900 History > 910 Geography & travel
Institute / Center: 08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Human Geography > Unit Economic Geography
Depositing User: Sarah Stalder
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2023 10:04
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2023 02:07

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