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|Author :||Janne Liburd & Anja Hergesell|
|School/Work Place :||University of Southern Denmark, Denmark|
This article reports on an ongoing project that focuses on learning and innovation as prerequisites for sustainable tourism in a transnational environment defined by the European North Sea Region. According to Buhalis (2000: 113) providing innovative and well co-coordinated tourism products is exceedingly important for tourism regions. Similarly Hjalager (2002) agrees on the need for innovation in tourism, i.e. creating additional, commercially relevant value through the redesign of products, processes, management, logistics, and/or collaborative and regulatory structures. Hjalager (ibid) further argues that there is a gap between existing literature emphasizing the importance of tourism innovation, which is currently not reflected in practice. A number of inhibitors can be identified, of which some relate to human resource practices and the sector’s organizational structure. In particular, lack of retention, training and succession planning challenge the sustainability of the sector’s many small and medium sized tourism enterprises (SMTEs) (Liburd 2007). Also lack of trust and fear of change constitute major barriers to the generation and use of knowledge to nourish innovation (Hjalager 2002; Cooper 2006; OECD 2006).
Developed on behalf of the European Commission in 2006 these impediments are addressed in the Tourism Learning Area (TLA) approach. The TLA objective is to improve human potentials in tourism at local and transnational levels by developing a suitable framework to improve learning opportunities and facilitate sustainable tourism development. The concept thereby recognises the importance and ephemerality of specified knowledge and the need for lifelong learning in a variety of formal and informal settings (European Commission 2006). Moreover, it underscores the need to enable training of human resources in co-operation between competing and complementary destinations (Buhalis 2000: 114). In accordance, a key component of the TLA approach is to establish information and cooperation networks between stakeholders from relevant sectors with either a thematic or spatial focus. Also proposed as a problem-solving methodology the approach implies a mutual understanding of issues and goals (European Commission 2006). Moreover, partnerships among research and educational institutions for the identification and analysis of problems as well as dissemination of findings are strongly encouraged.