Beyond Buzzwords: Harnessing and Celebrating Innovation in Travel and Tourism

 

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July 13, 2014

Innovation in Travel and Tourism

We often hear about and talk about innovation, but what does it mean, why is it important, and how can it be a meaningful part of social development and business solutions? Is it about problem solving? Staying current? Disruption? Breaking rules? Making a difference?

Innovation in Tourism: What Does It Mean?

The term "innovation" in recent years has become somewhat of a buzzword, often describing tech startups that come up with a new app to “disrupt the industry” by mainstreaming new ways of doing things - from online shopping to fundraising. But innovation in business, in any field, is not a new concept, nor is it something reserved only for Silicon Valley start-ups.

When we think about companies, organizations or initiatives that have created innovative solutions in the tourism industry, which ones come to mind, and what do they have in common? What makes them innovative?

While our ideas of innovation in tourism may include a wide range of approaches and outcomes - from grassroots community business ideas to the latest travel apps - at the core, innovation in tourism is about addressing existing problems and finding and creating new and effective ways of solving those problems.

"Innovation always starts with identifying a problem. Even the best teams will churn out rubbish ideas if they are not clear on the problem that they must solve." - Lucy Gower, Innovation Director, Clayton Burnett

The Roles of Innovation in Sustainable Tourism

Not all the innovative solutions in tourism are earth-shuttering. Some may revolutionize a market and completely change the status quo. Some may bring about slow changes that in the long-term prove to be revolutionary.

When it comes to the tourism industry's efforts to make tourism more sustainable, innovation - of all kinds - plays an important role in bringing about the necessary change.

To promoting more sustainable models of tourism businesses, we need a paradigm shift: recognizing that the "business as usual" is not only unsustainable but also counter-productive in the long term; and shifting our views of sustainable and responsible approaches - from something that's only for a small number of players with truly altruistic motives to something that should be a part of any business that wishes to successfully compete in the increasingly globalized and connected world of travel and tourism.

"Green innovation in tourism can improve existing business models, leading to positive results to companies, customers, public authorities and local communities" - Arab Hoballah, UNEP Chief of Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch

Who's Pushing for Innovation in Travel and Tourism?

The Airbnb's of the world - those businesses and platforms in what is often called the sharing economy or the P2P (peer-to-peer) travel sector - are no doubt part of what many will picture when thinking about innovative business models in travel and tourism.

From accommodations to transpiration, to local meals to peer-sourced travel activity guides, the loosely defined and growing field of the travel sharing economy is helping many travelers rethink the way they travel, and bringing attention to areas previously largely overlooked by the industry’s policies and regulations.

Posing questions that are by nature difficult to address - because the industry had not previously faced the need to address them - these peer-to-peer travel companies are bringing about changes in the way both travelers and the tourism industry think about and approach how the world travels.

And they may also be able to bring about much-needed innovative solutions to make travel more sustainable, by questioning the status quo in our industry, and by rewriting the norms of "the way things have been done".

So How Can We Create Innovative Solutions?

The sources of innovation - by definition - lie in unexpected places. The key to being innovative and creating innovative solution, therefore, is to develop the skills for looking critically at what we currently do in the tourism industry, and being open to new possibilities for addressing problems that currently lack solutions.

And when you think about it - these skills that businesses need to come up with innoative ideas and to successfully innovate in their fields are the same types of skills and practices that they need to stay competitive in today's fast-changing travel and tourism markets: paying attention to customers' needs, listening to and learning from them through various forums, and finding ways to effectively and efficiently address existing problems by turning good ideas into meaningful solutions.

Thoughts on Innovation: Business, Creativity and More

Here are some comments, inspirations, trends, and ideas related to thinking about, talking about innovation, and better yet, the right kind of innovation. What are some of your favorite examples of innovative ideas and innovators?

TrainingAid is an international tourism e-learning company offering online training courses and skills development opportunities for tourism professionals.