Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

The Effects of Formal Networks on Territorial Tourism Offers. Current Usage of Network Contracts in Italy

Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

The Effects of Formal Networks on Territorial Tourism Offers. Current Usage of Network Contracts in Italy

Article excerpt

Introduction and background of the study

The Italian tourism industry1 is made up of various actors (i.e. hotels, restaurants, service providers, private and public promotion agencies, tour operators, attractions like amusement parks, etc.), which usually design their own offers independently. Moreover, Italy is characterized by many small and mediumsized businesses (SMEs) which do not cooperate nor coordinate their actions with other actors (OECD, 2011). As a result, territorial systems are fragmented. When businesses cooperate they do so only occasionally for specific activities or projects. Their cooperation is usually built on social, trust-based relationships, as they are reluctant to lose their decision-making autonomy by being formally inserted into precise organisational schemes (Travaglini, 2005).

However, researchers as well as the Italian Government advocate for the emergence of integrated territorial systems capable of enabling and enhancing tourism throughout Italy (Rispoli and Tamma, 1995; Pencarelli and Forlani, 2002; Sciarelli, 2007). Currently, several travel destinations2 in Italy lack competitiveness, making this call for cooperation even more important. Italian destinations are not able to attract large volumes of new tourists coming from China or India (Banca d'Italia, 2013) because they lack resources and implement uncoordinated marketing and tourism promotions that prevent them from reaching foreign markets.

To overcome this issue, several forms of cooperation have already been tested and then critically analysed by academic researchers. This literature focuses on territorial local systems (Rispoli and Tamma, 1995; Bonetti et al., 2006; Sciarelli, 2007) and destination management issues (Pechlaner and Weiermair, 2000; Franch, 2002; Martini, 2005; Angeloni, 2013), emphasising benefits of alliance creation between public and private entities devoted to promote places like regions, provinces, cities, towns and mountain areas as well as destination brands (Pencarelli and Gregori, 2009). As experienced in other countries (Prideaux and Cooper, 2003) and highlighted by international researchers (ErkusÖztürk and Eraydin, 2010), the economic, social and environmental benefits of alliance creation are great, especially when there is a cooperative marketing effort within and among destinations (Wang and Fesenmaier, 2007; Wang, 2008; Mariani et al., 2014).

On the contrary, scarce attention is devoted to studying formal business networks (contractually formalised networks which stem from the mere entrepreneurial initiative of private businesses) in their attempts to create or develop a territorial tourism offer autonomously.

Theoretically, a network of private businesses can actively contribute to developing the tourism offer of a territory. Moreover it can play an important role in promoting the geographical area in which it is located (Dalli, 2013). For example, network activities can contribute to the identification and sponsorship of a territory left unmanaged by local public agencies suffering from scarcity of funds. A formal network can also sustain an existing territorial brand (usually called a place brand) by adopting or integrating it into the network brand, thus leveraging and reinforcing the positive image of the specific place at the same time.

In view of these considerations, this paper aims to answer to the following research question: which benefits do formal business networks created by SMEs offer to existing territorial tourism systems? To answer this question, the authors analysed networks of enterprises recently created by some Italian tourism SMEs using a new legislative instrument called the 'network contract'. They examined various networks' goals and activities (planned and achieved) which may impact on the tourism offer and analyse those network design factors (governance mechanisms, internal resources and network entry modes) that reveal the network's ability to support goal achievement. …

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