Sharing Economy and Sustainability in Tourism: New Challenges for the Tour Operators

Sharing Economy and Sustainability in Tourism: New Challenges for the Tour Operators

Nunzia Borrelli (University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy) and Monica Bernardi (University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8434-6.ch003
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The chapter focuses on the growing importance that the sustainability issue is gaining in tourism and on the increasing research of sustainable forms of tourism among travelers, looking to the relation with the emerging market of the sharing economy. Three streams of literature are merged: the contemporary tourists, the sustainable tourism and the sharing economy. This triangulation allows reflecting on the challenges that tours operators and in general the traditional tourism sector have to face in order to maintain their position on the market while accomplishing the sustainable goals. The analysis of three case studies, peer-to-peer platforms from South Korea, Italy, and the USA, favors the identification of some preliminary suggestions.
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The chapter focuses on the increasing research of sustainable forms of tourism among travellers and relation with the emerging market of the sharing economy.

The neoliberal tourism industry (also called neo-colonialist, see Corvo, 2005) and the related mass-tourism have indeed demonstrated to be large-scale, highly focus on popular destinations and with little regard to local community (Mosedale, 2016), with major impacts on the natural and built environments and on the wellbeing and culture of host populations (UNEP& WTO, 2005). The growing attention, in the last 30 years, for the sustainability dimension represents a reaction to this impacting form of tourism and refers not only to the natural environment but also to the social, economic and cultural spheres as well as the built environment.

The idea of making tourism more sustainable finds today a new ally in the spread of the Information Communication Technologies (ITCs) (Ali & Freu, 2014) and, in particular in the emerging market of the sharing economy. What before was provided by businesses such as hotels, taxis or tour operators, today can be directly provided by individual, with a peer-to-peer approach, sharing temporarily with tourists what they own, do or know (e.g. house or car, meals or excursions) (Juul, 2017). The internet-based booking platforms used to match supply and demand facilitate the spread of alternative tourist offerings and services (Brauckmann, 2017), that appear more sustainable, low-impact, and respectful of the environment and of the local communities then the traditional tourist offer.

Nevertheless, this kind of triangulation – tourism, sustainability, sharing economy – is posing new challenges to the traditional tourism operators, which cannot ignore the effect of the peer-to-peer relations in the tourist sector and should try to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon, carrying out specific strategies to accomplish the sustainability goals and maintain their position in the market. The chapter reflects on these challenges starting from the analysis of three sharing economy platforms operating in the tourism sector and with different geographical origins. Reading the cases through the lens of the sustainability allows identifying some preliminary suggestions useful for the traditional tourist operators to face the current challenges.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sharing Economy: A new economic model that uses online platforms to match offer and demand, working in a peer-to-peer logic to connect who need with who has. In this way idling assets, dead capital and latent expertise can be recirculated opening new economic opportunities, reducing waste and consumption and favouring new forms of socialization. At tourist level it opens new opportunities and solutions often more valuable and more affordable than those provided by the traditional tourist market.

Sustainability: A more respectful approach to local culture and the environment that is not prejudicial to the social and economic interests of the population in tourist areas, to the environment or, above all, to natural resources.

Travel: The action and the experience of travelling.

Contemporary Tourist: The current tourist who is interested in the emotional dimension of the travel, on the opportunity to do real travelling experiences based on the connection with local community, and by the refusal of the standardisation and commodification of tourism experiences. He seeks for a sustainable and tailored travel.

Traveler: A distance from the concept of tourist; interpreted as a better way of interacting cross-culturally, without creating the problems associated to the so-called mass tourism.

Sustainable Tourism: A form of tourism that preserves the local cultural heritage and consider as key elements the respect for the environment and the local cultures, the equal distribution of the economic benefits that derive from tourism, the cooperation on a local, national and international level.

Tour Operator: A company/agent that makes arrangements for travel and places to stay, often selling these together as package holidays (travel and accommodation are booked for the tourist).

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