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Home arrow Travel arrow Social Entrepreneurship and Tourism: Philosophy and Practice


The world is in turbulence. Shocks to its economic, social and environmental systems are increasingly frequent. As we seek to understand and predict these, we must also strive to create new and different systems that address disturbing problems such as human rights, social justice, economic imbalances and inequalities, environmental degradation and climate change. Governments have not been able to address many of society’s problems due to lack of resources, lack of political will, short election cycles, and warring ideologies as one regime replaces another contributing to a breakdown of civil society (Kickul & Lyons, 2012). Tourism exists within this turbulent world, and the call for more sustainable, resilient and responsible tourism development is getting louder. Tourism researchers are working to address tourism’s impact on destinations, and tourism’s place in the world of the future. If tourism is to thrive in the future, a more agile, responsive and forwardlooking industry is necessary to help society move through these profound changes. We must also urgently consider whether tourism can continue as an end unto itself, or whether it can realize its potential as a force for good by contributing to conscious social, economic and environmental development.

Tourism is an economic and social phenomenon that is both a cause and effect of the exploding levels of human connectivity over the past decades. Its diffusion and success (in terms of the number of customers, host businesses and tourist spending) has been largely due to the efficient application of a production-consumption model that has created and serviced an expanding mass market. As demand has grown rapidly for a finite “product” (places on earth to visit), this operating model is now exhibiting signs of stress evidenced by overuse of physical resources (land, landscapes, water, wild lands etc.), congestion, increasing costs for infrastructure and regulatory administration, diminishing returns and reduced yields.

At the same time, market preferences are evolving with more experienced tourists preferring less structured group travel and more intimate experiences of people and places. While profit maximization remains the primary motivation for most enterprises, changing customer values, combined with growing social and environmental concerns, are creating demand for greater corporate commitment to social and environmental responsibility; the generation of greater social and shared value; and for de-coupling growth from resource use (Gossling & Peters, 2015).

The pursuit of growth (in numbers of visitors, guest facilities, visitor spending and investment) as an objective in its own right is being questioned in some quarters, unless that growth increases and/or improves net benefit with positive social, cultural and environmental impact on host communities (Pollock, 2015). Diversifying organizational forms, objectives and ownership structures within a destination and encouraging social entrepreneurship in particular provides one strategy for addressing that need.

Tourism is but a subset of a larger economic system that is similarly showing signs of systemic stress. These symptoms include high levels of wealth disparity, volatility, boom and bust cycles, fluctuations in commodity prices, associated environmental challenges such as waste, pollution, resource scarcity, and loss of biodiversity. Negative socio-cultural impacts such as crime, addiction, mental illness, obesity, and social unrest are also evident.

In both cases, social enterprise is one of society’s attempts to address specific problems while informing and contributing to a deeper set of explorations into systems change. It is one of several organizational forms, including co-operatives, worker-owned companies, community companies and trusts, partnerships and not- for-profits that are emerging or being re-vitalized to deliver greater social impact. In agriculture, health, technology, retail, manufacturing and many other sectors, passionate, risk-taking individuals with innovative and creative ideas are creating and testing new solutions to old problems. Attention is being paid to social enterprise because of its speed of growth, the relatively low barriers to entry and its appeal to a digitally-savvy, entrepreneurial generation—the millennials. Social entrepreneurship is a key aspect of intensifying explorations into a “new economy” and “whole systems change” that include such expressions as Conscious Capitalism, the Next System Project, Regenerative Capitalism, Economics for the Common Good, the movement towards localization (as in Transitions Towns and the Business Alliance for Local Economies); along with the rise of the so called Sharing Economy.

Tourism is already rich with entrepreneurial activity in many sectors: accommodations, food and beverage outlets, tour operations, mobile app developers, local events and attractions all provide opportunities for creative, risk-taking individuals to use their talents for profit. It also is ripe with opportunities for social entrepreneurs to move the industry forward and impact destinations in transformative ways by uniting the profit motive with the mission to change the world for the better. The tourism and hospitality industry provides many opportunities to absorb the creativity and passion that social entrepreneurs bring, but mostly they remain nascent. Few systematic approaches to creating awareness of those opportunities have been undertaken by destinations, governments, NGOs or secondary educational institutions. This book will explore how social entrepreneurs can change the nature of tourism, bring new value-driven creativity into the industry, and help destinations to transform for the better.

This first chapter lays the foundation for the study of social entrepreneurship in a tourism and hospitality context. It examines the core issues and change dynamics underpinning the sector that provide fertile ground for social entrepreneurship. It also scans and integrates the various definitions, concepts and terminologies used in general, and places them in the tourism and hospitality context. The chapter begins by discussing the factors that constitute a definitional understanding of social entrepreneurship, extending them to the unique context of tourism and hospitality. The chapter then goes on to analyze the context and scope of social entrepreneurship in the tourism and hospitality field, and assesses the work done to date. The chapter ends with a preview of the remaining chapters in the book.

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