During the last decade a substantial part of academic and practical work on innovation is very much focused on sustainability issues. The CSD Secretariat's Partnerships for Sustainable Development database contains about 300 partnerships, 17 of them having a primary or secondary focus on innovation. Innovation is a mechanism that can contribute to a great extent towards sustainable development. The technological achievements of the last decades created valuable products, services and tools applicable on environmental management. The term "eco-innovation" is emerging and the environmental community is addressing more and more innovation to seeksolution to environmental problems, related mainly with:
- Resource planning and management
- Water use
- Waste management
- Energy efficiency
- Air pollution
- Land use planning
- Biodiversity conservation
Uncovering innovation's dynamic towards sustainable tourism, and in a further step revealing and using its added value for sustainable tourism development, is a great challenge for researchers, politicians, decision makers, practitioners and managers. The majority of the stakeholders in the tourism value chain is not convinced -since the available knowledge is limited- that innovation has the power to support the economic efficiency of the tourism business and at the same time contribute to environmental protection. This knowledge shortage should be mainly attributed to the small amount of existing theoretical and practical work related with innovation and sustainable tourism, which should be further linked to the fact that innovation is a relatively new element of the global development and environmental agendas.
For many years the main emphasis of innovation researchers and practitioners was on new products and production processes, especially in manufacturing. Research and development on innovation in the service sector was underestimated mainly because the service sector was considered as "a secondary user" of innovative products and not a creator of innovation. On 1995 OECD, in the Oslo Manual (PDF), treats equally technological, product and process (TPP) innovations while Barras (1986) has already provided one of the first frameworks towards a theory of innovation in services and establishes a scientific dialogue that continues in our days. Within this dialogue the academic, policy and operational contributions related with innovation and tourism are relatively new. However, and since they benefited from previous work related with innovation in other sectors, these contributions are revealing a certain level of novelty and maturity.
Within this context, the tourism value chain should explore the benefits that innovation may bring to sustainable tourism development and undertake proactive actions to advocate innovation within the sector.
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