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Four ways that design can contribute to tourism innovation

Bruce Wan, School of Design, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University


Wan, B. (2020). Four ways that design can contribute to tourism innovation. In AIRTH Encyclopedia of Innovation in Tourism and Hospitality. Retrieved: <insert-date>, from http://www.airth.global


Although the concept of innovation has been around in the tourism industry for long, yet, little is known about a clear guide on how to achieve innovativeness in the industry. Even more interesting is the fact that the incorporation of design thinking and processes which informs radical innovative ideas[1] is yet to gain grounds in tourism research. A well-known example of an innovative idea eluding industry practitioners and academic researchers is the breakthrough created by the sharing economy. Against this backdrop, four ways in which design thinking can facilitate tourism innovation are proposed: (1) provision of a knowledge base that supports design decision-making, (2) aligning the roles of the design team with the design process, (3) the use of design methods that facilitate innovation, and (4) through design outcomes of idea development and communication.


Figure 1. Design thinking within the double diamond model (Adapted from[2]).

Relevance for tourism innovation

As a first step, a knowledge base that supports design decision making is required. Informed decision-making entails that the design team establish mutual understanding and agreement regarding the knowledge at hand. Although a design decision can certainly be made based on explicit knowledge, research has also found tacit knowledge to be a great source of creative power that can lead to disruptive innovation[3]. With the increasing interest in exploring design practices specific to tourism[4], it is suggested that the generation of tacit knowledge about tourism innovation via a learning-by-doing process can be realised by implementing design thinking (i.e., design process and methods) in the curricula of tourism education or in companies.

Secondly, it is important to understand the different roles the design team members should play in the design process. This is especially as design thinking involves the cognitive, strategic and practical methods that designers and design teams use throughout their design investigation processes to generate outcomes that satisfy design goals or questions[5]. Hence, adherence to participatory design principles and the active engagement of end-users and experts from the tourism and hospitality industries are expected. Since the design process involves a range of activities, such as field study, observation, ideation, and prototyping; clarifying the roles of the designer, design team members, and participants will facilitate the implementation of tourism innovations.

Thirdly, Design investigation requires that the design team master various design methods. There is an abundance of “generic” design methods[6] to help a design team advance through the stages of the design process. However, a design team with diverse backgrounds can easily become overwhelmed by the multiplicity of these tools. Furthermore, the tools may be too generic and thus ineffective in producing valuable outcomes. Therefore, design and tourism researchers should curate a collection of design methods to create new tools (for instance, tourism hackathon) specific to the industry for tourism innovation.

Lastly, design outcomes refer to the artefacts produced by the design team throughout the whole design process. Two types of outcome can be produced: those that are a result of design investigation, and those produced for the purpose of communication[7]. The findings of the former can be incorporated into the latter, which can then be used as explicit knowledge for communicating design concepts. These design outcomes can be presented in both textual and visual formats. Developing explicit knowledge about these artefacts can contribute significantly to tourism innovation because they are the essence of the success or failure of the innovation.


Although innovation is a driving force in tourism development and has been transforming the industry since the last century, innovation research in tourism is still in its infancy. There is also an apparent gap in design-thinking research with respect to its application to tourism innovation. Thus, implementing design thinking in tourism can help researchers and industry players to identify the processes and conditions that contribute to successful tourism innovation. This article highlighted four areas in which design and tourism researchers can work together toward the advancement of the tourism industry.

[1] Fesenmaier, D. R., & Xiang, Z. (Eds.). (2017). Design science in tourism. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42773-7

[2] Design Council. (2005). A study of the design process. Design Council, 44(0), 1–144.

[3] Leonard, D., & Sensiper, S. (1998). The role of tacit knowledge in group innovation. California Management Review, 40(3), 112–132. https://doi.org/10.2307/41165946

[4] Egger, R., Gula, I., & Walcher, D. (Eds.). (2016). Open tourism. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-54089-9

[5] Dorst, K. (2011). The core of “design thinking” and its application. Design Studies, 32(6), 521–532. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2011.07.006

[6] Kumar, V. (2013). 101 Design methods: A structured approach for driving innovation in your organization. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

[7] Cooper, R., Junginger, S., & Lockwood, T. (2009). Design thinking and design management: A research and practice perspective. Design Management Review, 20(2), 46–55. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1948-7169.2009.00007.






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