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Published: 14 June 2018

The innovation journey of tourism entrepreneurs: evidence from Spain and the UK and policy implications

INNOVATE, a European funded project which aims to deepen understanding of the different stages of the innovation journey followed by entrepreneurs in tourism to the design of more effective innovation policies.

The research

This 2 year project conducted by Dr Isabel Rodriguez and Prof Allan Williams included an analysis of the innovation pathways of 70 entrepreneurs (some of them unsuccessful). Critical factors for success or failure were identified from the innovator’s narratives and were discussed with policymakers in Spain. The results of this discussion was the co-production of an online survey allowing the potential policy measures to be discussed with a wider sample of innovative entrepreneurs. The survey was completed by 269 tourism innovators both in Spain and the UK. The output of this survey consultation, incorporating the views of all the participants at the different methodological stages, has been a policy recommendations report highlighting opportunities to minimise the risks of innovation.

Innovation is a highly complex and uncertain process which explains the high failure rates. In fact, when facing innovation all actors (both private and public) operate under conditions of uncertainty during the whole process. Success or failure will largely depend on the entrepreneurs’ capacity to manage risks but also will depend on external factors in the product market or the financial market where policy makers can play a key role. While uncertainty pervades the whole journey of all actors, entrepreneurs specifically face different types of risks: operational, financial, personal, market-related, etc. Governments can influence the balance to help minimise the risks.

Through in-depth interviews the research has highlighted multiple types of risks that entrepreneurs could not overcome, and critical events and factors at different stages. Critical factors are: financial (persistent financial under-performance and impossibility to secure private investment), customer-related factors (lack of market credibility and trust, lack of understanding of the value proposal, insufficient funding for innovation diffusion, etc.) and insufficient knowledge (of the tourism sector or innovation/managerial key skills).

Some of these issues have been summarized in a video format to reach a wider audience of practitioners and policy makers. The aim of the video:Learning from innovation failure in tourism - five most common pitfalls, is to highlight in an accessible and humorous way the most common critical mistakes and factors reported by real-life entrepreneurs participating in the research, mistakes either leading to failure or making the process more difficult. With the video Rodriguez and Williams aim to disseminate their research findings, receive feedback from the research but most importantly reach current and potential entrepreneurs to remind them about the importance of a proactive and active management of common potential risks. The video also brings teaching opportunities to academics lecturing entrepreneurship and innovation in tourism in order to attract their students’ interest and shape their future careers as potential entrepreneurs.