Empost-net: Emerging paradigm of sustainable tourism - a network perspective

Zinaida Fadeeva (Editor), Minna Halme (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportAnthology (editor)Research


The EMPOST-NET project studied a new phenomenon: networking across different public and private sectors of society towards the most important goal of today – sustainable development. Sustainability networks are of special importance within the field of tourism, which is among the largest industries of today’s world, yet its environmental and socio-cultural impacts are often given too little attention. However, tourism stakeholders have recently started to recognise these impacts, but they face problems because single actors, in the field of tourism, are too small and scattered to take any larger system towards sustainable development. In order to gain momentum to solve various environmental and socio-cultural questions, innovative actors in the field have begin to co-operate in the form of networks. The main goal of the EMPOST-NET project was to determine what kinds of networks are successful in enhancing sustainable development in tourism. Essentially, it appears that the process of co-operation (networking) is more important vis-à-vis achievements regarding sustainable tourism than the structure of networks. We propose ways in which networks that seek to enhance sustainable development in the tourism context can be more effective and efficient. Our evidence is based on nine multi-actor networks in five European countries - eco-tourism municipality network in Alcùdia (Spain), Calviá’s tourism resort’s Local Agenda 21 network (Spain), farm and nature holidays circle Finnland Natürlich (Finland), Hidden Ireland - heritage homes network (Ireland), Kinsale’s Chamber of Tourism (Ireland), Molyvos town network(Greece), Sälen’s mountain tourism resort (Sweden), YSMEK - network for developing environmentally friendlier tourism in Finland, Åre’s mountain tourism village network Sweden).

These networks involve actors from the tourism business sector, governments, and Non Government Organisations (NGOs), and academia. The sample consists of two types, based on how these networks act upon sustainable development. The community-action networks (ComAct) seek to enhance sustainable development at a community level, whereas business-action networks (BusAct) implement sustainability through improvements of their member enterprises. It should be emphasised that we not only studied “best practices”, but rather we examined a variety of sustainability initiatives.

Tourism actors – like most actors in society – have a fragmented and occasionally contradictory understanding about sustainable development (environmental, socioeconomic
and cultural aspects), and they implement it depending on pressing problems and on their awareness level. When establishing a network, a crucial success factor for networking among different public or private actors is the development of a common vision. This process of articulating individual values and preferences should lead to the identification of a sense of a common goal. The membership composition of a network should be relative to the goal. A network should include varied expertise of the respective area of sustainable development (knowledge diversity) and also actors that are influential with regard to the specific sustainability goal of the network(influence diversity). A too-narrow membership base may limit the understanding of sustainability within the network, whereas an overly large number of members may hinder implementation.

The motives of network actors for working towards sustainable tourism are usually interrelated with other motives, experienced at a personal level, for the firm or for the municipality/region. For instance, improvement of the livelihood of a region or competitive advantage of an enterprise is such a motive. These are important from a motivational viewpoint, especially if networking is on a totally voluntary basis.

Most of the present policy measures assist in establishing sustainability networks. Attention should also focus on maintaining their viability and effectiveness in the course of time. “Small wins”, that is, controllable opportunities of a modest size that produce tangible outcomes, should be created fairly early to support the network’s learning for sustainable development. However, it is advisable to adopt a long-term orientation when starting a network. As trust between diverse actors is based upon previous interaction, a network needs time to become adept at explicating tacit knowledge among its actors, and to develop the network so it can facilitate the creation of more fundamental results. Long-term orientation also applies to public funding providers: networks should not be expected to run on their own after two or three years. Short-term funding has a tendency to lead to fragmentary results and to thwart the possibilities of acting upon sustainable development, at a local level.

Trust is a crucial success factor for sustainable tourism networks. It can be simultaneously considered an outcome and a necessary condition for networking, as the perceived outcomes of trusting behaviour among network actors will facilitate or constrain future interactions within the network. Conditions affecting the level of trust in networks are initial trust, credibility and reciprocity of undertaken actions.

Too strong a leadership may destroy the activity of other network members, even though some co-ordination and leadership are necessary. Leaders should allow the network to re-form naturally and subnetworks to emerge. They provide an additional information sharing medium and may speed implementation of certain actions.

Tourism networks apply a variety of policy instruments, most notably EMS, Local Agenda 21, informative instruments and environmental labelling in their efforts to enhance sustainability. Those networks that actually developed their own variant of these instruments were more prominent in succeeding than those that copied from examples of others.
Original languageEnglish
Publisher[Publisher information missing]
Publication statusPublished - 2001

Publication series

ISSN (Print)1650-1675

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Network
  • Tourism


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