The key challenges in tourism economics are the necessity of innovation and differentiation of the touristic supply. In tourism, real innovations are rare, which makes a strict definition almost useless. The transformation towards a sustainable economy demands new kinds of innovations that go beyond products and technologies and embed social processes and considerations.
In recent years, this led to the concept of social innovations that is established among various academic disciplines internationally. Social innovations are seen as potential solutions to problems like climate change, unemployment and demographic change. These are all topics closely related to tourism.
We investigate the potential of social innovations for the development of the rural areas in Switzerland with a special focus on tourism.
Within an SNF-project and cooperating with the Eidg. Forschungsanstalt für Wald, Schnee und Landschaft (WSL), we investigate the potential of social innovations in the Alps and ask to what extent these could be an alternative to traditional economic growth models.
Especially, the tourism, construction, and health sectors in the alpine regions hit growth boundaries. This might, for example, be caused by climate change or urban sprawl. Due to these growth boundaries, a transformation seems inevitable. Social innovation can contribute to reduce the dependencies on growth in these sectors and regions thereby increasing the resistance to economic shocks.
The concept of social innovation delivers promising possibilities for new paths of coping with social challenges like migration, lack of services, or aging populations, especially in the rural context. An investigation of the private actors and industries are missing in this literature so far. This project aims to close this gap in research investigating traditionally growth-orientated sectors like tourism, construction, or the health sector in the alpine region.
Our results from prior studies indicate that alpine regions reach growth boundaries. In tourism for example, the decrease in snow days together with changing preferences of the guests leads to a decreasing demand for skiing. Compensating for this loss needs long-term strategies that are less growth-orientated.