Applying the Concept of Social Entrepreneurship to Tourism Studies

The concept of social entrepreneurship can allow for further theorization of sustainable tourism development because the elements of social value it aims to deliver can be economically, socially and/or environmentally derived. This concept can guide critical inquiry into two topical areas: (1) the nature of social entrepreneurs as key actors involved in sustainable development; and, (2) the interactions between social entrepreneurs and the resident communities they serve.

Firstly, in-depth analyses related to the type of social entrepreneurs (e.g., a politician, civil servant, interest group, a citizen activist) involved in sustainable tourism can contribute to the understanding of the elements that imbue such actors to engage in social entrepreneurship but also the understanding of the nature of their entrepreneurial tourism related endeavors (i.e., profit, non profit or public sector). Scholars interested in this line of inquiry can adopt a variety of theories such as theory of planned behavior or theory of reasoned action to examine attitudes and behaviors associated with social entrepreneurs. A quintessential research question for this line of inquiry is: In what ways are social enterprises able to offer sustainable solutions to the world’s social problems within the context of tourism? It is important for research of this nature to avoid idealizing social entrepreneurs (see Bornstein, 2007) and rather attempt to unveil varying ways in which the identified attitudes and behaviors can be or are enacted by many other actors in society (Light, 2006). Generally, further research on the nature of social entrepreneurs will allow for an important ontological discussion related to social actors who influence social change but it will also grant scholars an interesting opportunity to undertake critical institutional analyses (i.e., profit, non profit or public sector) of tourism related social enterprises. Additionally, the emergence of studies from different parts of the world will help shape knowledge on the various social roles enacted by social entrepreneurs within our global community.

Secondly, research related to the interactions between social entrepreneurs and the placed based or non-place based communities they serve can augment our understanding of the nature of collaborative efforts and political climates conducive to social change. Critical analysis into the nature of the collaborative efforts can provide insight into the nature of community involvement in a given social enterprise. A variety of social theories can guide inquiry into the ways in which issues of power, agency, resistance, and empowerment inform collaborations between social entrepreneurs and the communities they serve. For instance, post colonial theory or the theory of decoloniality can be used to problematize conceptions of ‘social value’ but also entanglements of power, acts of community resistance, and also social entrepreneurship as a possible form of neocolonialism. Such lines of research inquiry allow for structural analyses of power and inequality in tourism, which are inherent to global and neo-liberal capitalist structures (Bianchi, 2009). Alternatively, scholars can examine the influence of political climates, which characterize various geopolitical areas, on the emergence of certain types of social enterprise.

Certainly, some forms of social entrepreneurship may contribute to community solidarity and a sense of place so theoretical concepts such as communitas and theories of place attachment can be utilized to describe and explain community outcomes related to social entrepreneurship. Research questions that can guide this line of inquiry include but are not limited to: Who defines what constitutes social change and when the desirable social goals have been achieved? How involved are the communities, for whom social changes are being designed, in the social entrepreneurship project? Do social enterprise led initiatives contribute to a sense of community? What lessons can be gleaned from cases in which social entrepreneurs’ social missions differ from the visions espoused by communities? Given that social entrepreneurs aim to produce social change for communities (Shockley & Frank, 2011) it is imperative for future tourism scholarship to problematize the relationship between these interlocutors in order to provide detailed and nuanced analyses regarding the social value related outcomes.

Equally important, is the need for further research into the types of tourism sectors most conducive to social entrepreneurship. For instance, in the wake of the global refugee crisis, a recent media covered example from the Austrian hospitality industry demonstrates the tourism industry’s potential role in creating solutions for social problems. The Last Hope Hotel, has recently gained notoriety given its creation of a business opportunity that offers often unemployed refugees an opportunity to work in a hotel setting while gaining skills necessary to help them sustain jobs in the service industry. One of the biggest challenges often faced by refugees is the inability to be economically self-sufficient once relocated to a host nation; this is generally due to lack of required skills and education, as well as linguistic barriers. The Last Hope Hotel helps a small group of refugees by providing one-on-one training per refugee employed. The profits gained by the hotel are re-invested in the social enterprise. Further research into such initiatives related to various tourism sectors will be useful in amassing evidence for best practices within the field. It is important for such scholastic endeavors to offer a well-rounded account that not only celebrates social enterprises but also critically questions the sustainability of these initiatives.

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