Think about the amazing people with excellent ideas and powerful intellect spending hundreds and hundreds of man hours carefully analysing and studying the world of tourism and travel. What is it worth to the industry? What would the annual figure be in millions of pounds?
OK, not all of it is usable or always strictly relevant to the industry end user, but shouldn’t it be? Isn’t that the real purpose of research?
I’d be very surprised if more than 10 per cent of research work at tourism universities and colleges around the world find real-time use in the industry. Now, I am stretching my neck out with that number based on what I have seen and experienced. There does not seem to be enough data on this.
And in most cases, it is not a reflection of the quality of the work. There seems to be a missing link between the academic work and the industry. Some universities like Cornell, Oxford Brookes, Bologna University and University of Applied Sciences, Salzburg are doing some excellent work together with the industry. And I am sure there are much more.
Can tourism universities and colleges collaborate more with the industry? Should more tourism universities derive commercial benefits as well from this research? And if the answer is yes, how can tourism universities do it?
Let us start by looking at why:
The industry needs research. The customer is evolving fast and so are their needs. Tourism companies are drowning in data not knowing how to put it to good use. Technology is on a furious march. Change in business needs to happen faster. This can happen only with sound research-based decisions.
Economic challenges and funding cuts faced by the education sector, particularly in the UK, make it prudent for universities to find new ways to target industry challenges more specifically and be paid for it.
Purely academic research remains unused. It can miss out on fulfilling the needs of the industry. Focused industry-specific and industry-driven research allows universities to build a strong bridge between business and academic learning.
Universities that develop a sustainable commercial proposition through its research are likely to attract a wider range of businesses to hire from it.
Research helps generate new revenue streams. Focused industry-driven research provides universities with an opportunity to optimise existing strengths to generate additional revenue sources.
The benefits are obvious:
· Universities can generate more revenue from their research
· Revenue from research can be a sustainable and profitable income stream
· In-demand research products provide more credibility for the institution
· It allows for closer working with the industry and builds better ties
· High-quality research measured against exact industry requirements develops students to have a more suitable fit within the industry – in turn, this leads to a higher profile for university students within the industry
· Everyone gets to benefit – the students, the university and the industry
Here are some specific models of monetizing research opportunities that work well:
· Universities could easily develop a paid membership site for access to research
· Research presented in mixed use data set models; e.g. http://tourismdataforafrica.org … The African Development Bank (AfDB), in collaboration with New York University (NYU) Africa House and the Africa Travel Association (ATA), has developed the Tourism Data for Africa Portal to provide access to tourism-related data on African countries
· Paid research on request menu for companies that seek to investigate specific aspects relevant to them
· Develops massive open online courses (MOOCS) in conjunction with research projects
· Universities can provide action-oriented e-learning and training platforms for hotel and tourism companies
· Registering patents for specific discoveries
· Investigating government-led models, such as the UK’s Private Knowledge Transfer Programme
· Delivers events based on research in fast evolving areas of travel including data science, unified customer profile across systems, internet of things, block chain technology, virtual reality and more
So, if a university is new to this idea of monetizing research, here is how I would get started:
· Review and understand the big challenges – ask the market, including hotels, travel companies and travel buyers
· Estimate market size and segments relevant to your institution
· Create a clear vision – pick an area to specialise in; e.g. apply data to generate bookings and be world class in that area
· Tailor available research mechanisms to develop a minimum viable product for sale
· Develop a preliminary blueprint to bring convergence between research, entrepreneurship and market-ready products
· Develop a business plan
· Finalise market ready products; e.g. a research subscriber, undertake a custom research project or purchase individual reports
· Create or adapt existing mechanisms to develop and deliver
· Build a strong online marketing platform to promote and build lists/prospects to announce new products
As someone deeply passionate about the tourism industry and the education sector, it will be wonderful to persuade more universities to consider this more urgently. Is there a danger of universities becoming too commercial with this approach? Whatever the concern, I believe that there should be far more real world alignment between the needs of the industry and research at universities.
By Vineeth Purushothaman
Vineeth has a strong global background in maximising sales, technology adoption and online distribution for hotels. In corporate roles, he achieved significant efficiencies in sales and only distribution for chain hotels worldwide by improving business processes and technology. In an entrepreneurial role, he co-founded an online distribution services company in India which helps independent hotels and small chains manage online distribution and increase online revenue. Vineeth has also consulted for leading hotel chains including Orient Express, Concorde and Principal Hayley in areas of sales management to maximise commercial impact. He is currently based in Oxfordshire and focuses primarily on consultancy services for hotels seeking to maximise their online revenue opportunities through his company White Sky Hospitality.