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The Road Less Travelled. Tourism and Innovation:

The UNWTO Knowledge Network
Eduardo Fayos-Sol
p. 143-147

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 “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…
I took the one less travelled by,
And it has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost, 1916

The author wishes to express his recognition to Prof. François Bédard at UQAM for his support in preparing this paper


1Like Frost’s anonymous traveller, contemporary tourism is at a crossroads. One of the roads is just going down a trodden landscape of déjà-vu products and methods; 20th century tourism is a product of fossil-fuel era low-cost energy, and has exhausted much of its life-cycle.

2But as that era comes to an end, we may start thinking whether tourism is doomed or if, perhaps, it can be transformed into a vector for knowledge, development, sustainability and better macro-governance. A less travelled road.

3Defenders of tourism-as-usual have argued that tourism is an extraordinary vehicle for the alleviation of poverty, and even for development. Yes, they admit, tourism may be wasteful, it does impact the environment, and it may have very undesirable secondary effects. But other instruments for the creation of employment, of incomes, of economic growth having failed, it might still be that traditional tourism offers a way of improving the lot of poor communities and nations.

4However, let’s first consider how often growth has been confused with development. With notable exceptions, we are still obsessed with GDP increases, which we equate with prosperity and well-being. But, as a new society is born, we should become increasingly aware that development is in fact at least as dependent on knowledge, institutional capital and participatory governance as it is on physical and financial, conventional capital. It is only the accumulating human and social capital that has somehow counteracted an accelerated concentration of conventional capital and subsequent monopoly of power in elites. Recent geopolitical events back this observation.

5And it is knowledge that is really feeding the growth of more equally spread human and social capital. It is knowledge, very often for free, that is multiplying our creativity, improving participation and quality in our institutions. It is knowledge as well that is resulting in increased economic productivity and an environment of raised standards for science, technology and education.

6Thus, when contending that tourism is a vehicle for development, there must surely be a rationale beyond the fact that any private investment in tourism is made with profit generation in sight and that this profit may trickle down in the way of some added employment, income and training. Of course net investments in tourism produce growth… but development? The increase in social-institutional and human capital normally associated with development will come only if tourism investments are explicitly dealing with the production, dissemination and application of knowledge. In short, knowledge management and innovation in tourism may not only be a pre-requisite for profitability and competitiveness; it may well be a sine-qua-non condition for tourism-led development.

7It is in this framework, that the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has recently launched the UNWTO Knowledge Network initiative. This has been done in the implicit understanding that knowledge management is not only an essential instrument for competitiveness and ultimate survival, but the key to a new tourism paradigm with ambitious objectives of development, mitigation of climate change and excellence in macro-governance.

8UNWTO has developed over the years a considerable capacity to coordinate political decision making in policy issues relevant to tourism activities worldwide. Then, as tourism has become increasingly relevant in world affairs, its transversal nature has made it essential to interact with knowledge management in a variety of areas, ranging from microeconomic issues of transportation, accommodation and entertainment to the UN Millennium Development Goals. Thus UNWTO must now crucially involve itself in all matters of knowledge management and create a permanent Global Community of Knowledge related to Tourism. The proven political decision-making capacity of UNWTO is now to be fostered by this community of knowledge.

9This is of course in line with the programme of work of several specialised agencies of the United Nations such as FAO, WHO or UNESCO, which have created extensive knowledge networks in their respective fields of competence. The former WTO (World Tourism Organisation) became itself a UN specialised agency in 2003 and joined the UN Group of Knowledge Management Initiatives in 2006. UNWTO Member States now consider tourism policy not only of sectoral interest but, as commented, also an essential instrument for key transversal public policies.

The UNWTO Knowledge Network

10The UNWTO Knowledge Network is a special programme of the Organisation, under the direct leadership of the UNWTO Secretary-General. Its purpose is to develop and manage a worldwide association of UNWTO Tourism Think Tanks (UNWTO.TTTs), UNWTO Knowledge Strategic Centres and UNWTO Knowledge Institutions, setting research and knowledge management procedures and standards on tourism analysis, tourism policy and tourism governance. The national and regional UNWTO.TTTs, Knowledge Strategic Centres and Knowledge Institutions, grouped in the UNWTO Knowledge Network, serve the Organisation and its Member States in all matters concerning technical advice and decisions in the areas of sustainability and climate change, innovation in products and procedures, competitiveness and excellence in tourism governance. The national and regional UNWTO.TTTs are consortia formed by institutions and organisations from the public and private sector, including universities, research centres, scientific and technological parks, private companies and clusters active in research and innovation. The UNWTO Knowledge Strategic Centres and UNWTO Knowledge Institutions are self-standing organisations. The UNWTO Knowledge Network participates actively in all pertinent UNWTO Committees and bodies, as well as in UNWTO projects, where technical expertise and knowledge management capacities add substantial value.

11Mission and objectives

12The mission of the UNWTO Knowledge Network is thus defined as follows: « To support UNWTO and its Member States in all matters concerning Science, Technology, Innovation and Knowledge Management related to Tourism Operations, Tourism Policy and Tourism Governance, with a view to contribute to sectoral competitiveness and global development objectives as defined by the United Nations and other international institutions of governance ».

13The objectives of the UNWTO Knowledge Network are (i) to create a Community of Knowledge in matters relating to Tourism, contributing to competitiveness, sustainability, development and good governance; (ii) to create a repository of recommendations, best practices, voluntary standards, codes and norms constituting a Codex Turismus, with wide applications for operations, policy and governance in tourism and related fields; and (iii) to proactively participate in the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge related to tourism, whether in the UNWTO Programme of Work or in projects launched or financed by other institutions or organisations.


14The UNWTO Knowledge Network is built upon accomplishments of the former UNWTO Education and Science Council and is made up of the following classes of members:

UNWTO Knowledge Institutions

15These are institutions or organisations with a knowledge management capacity that may become formally involved in UNWTO through Affiliate Membership and collaborate with UNWTO in the implementation of its Programme of Work. The UNWTO Knowledge Institutions may thus enjoy all the regular benefits of Affiliate Members and also those specific to the UNWTO Knowledge Network. In the transitional stage, all members of the former Education and Science Council may automatically become UNWTO Knowledge Institutions.

UNWTO Strategic Centres

16These are institutions or organisations properly accredited for having innovation as an important part of their functions and structure. They may become UNWTO Knowledge Strategic Centres by submitting to a process of formal accreditation. They are permanently involved in specific UNWTO programmes and projects and may lead a UNWTO Tourism Think Tank.

17UNWTO Tourism Think Tanks (UNWTO.TTTs)

18A UNWTO.TTT is a consortium with a legal capacity to act, made up of at least one UNWTO Knowledge Strategic Centre and other institutions, organisations and enterprises whether in the private or public sector, belonging or collaborating with the UNWTO Knowledge Network. The UNWTO.TTTs occupy hub positions within the UNWTO Knowledge Network and serve its mission and objectives by providing services to UNWTO at national, regional and global level as well as to the UNWTO Community of Knowledge, including all its Members. The UNWTO.TTTs coordinate their actions in UNWTO through the Executive Secretary for the UNWTO Knowledge Network in the Office of the Secretary General and through the Regional Directors.

Members and activities

19Since its inception, in the autumn of 2010, the UNWTO Knowledge Network has attracted some 130 members from over 40 countries. Network members are active in research, development and innovation programmes and projects, some of them directly addressing issues in tourism, but many others involving actions in a variety of wide fields, such as energy, architecture, design, nature conservation, law, and science and technology in general.

20The UNWTO Knowledge Network held its kick-off meeting in January 2011 in Madrid. The meeting was the first occasion for Network members (some 110 attended) to meet personally and start establishing lines of operation. Several lines of research and innovation were presented on this occasion by Network members from the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe, ranging from climate change mitigation approaches to renewable energy solutions and design of 21st century tourism destinations. This was intended as inspiration on road-maps for action and collaboration. Participants were able to introduce themselves and express their strategic views on innovations relating to tourism.

21Then, in June 2011, the UNWTO Knowledge Network, in collaboration with the University of Algarve, held the Forum Tourism and Science: Bridging Theory and Practice, in Vilamoura, Portugal. The aim of the Forum was to achieve an informed consensus on tourism research and governance, setting a reference framework vis-à-vis the main strategic challenges that tourism faces today, chiefly development, climate change/sustainability, and participatory implementation of policies at public and private levels. The Forum was also concerned with ways and means regarding market positioning, product and process innovation, and competitiveness, among others.

Closing remarks

22UNWTO has recognised, in responding to the needs of its Member States, that knowledge management is a critical factor for success in many areas, ranging from strategic issues of development, mitigation of climate change and good macro-governance, to quality and efficiency at the operations level, both in private enterprises and in the public sector. Knowledge management—the process of identifying, capturing, sharing and applying knowledge— has become a success strategy as well as a requisite of everyday performance. In its own, tourism has become a transversal activity with enormous repercussions for public policies in general and private well-being in particular. Thus, the concept of knowledge management in tourism deserves a central positioning in the design and implementation of both sectoral tourism policy and when dealing with issues of income creation, employment and, ultimately, development and good governance. In this light, UNWTO has created its Knowledge Network to respond to growing demands of its Member States and the tourism industry in general. The tourism industry is at a crossroads; so is tourism policy and governance. It is perhaps the time to briefly ponder… and take the up-to-now less travelled road.

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Bibliographical reference

Eduardo Fayos-Sol, « The Road Less Travelled. Tourism and Innovation: », Téoros, 30 - 1 | 2011, 143-147.

Electronic reference

Eduardo Fayos-Sol, « The Road Less Travelled. Tourism and Innovation: », Téoros [Online], 30 - 1 | 2011, Online since 01 August 2011, connection on 13 December 2017. URL :

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About the author

Eduardo Fayos-Sol

Executive Secretary of the UNWTO Knowledge Network
Professor of Economics, Universidad de Valencia

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