The UK’s top research funding body has backed a project led by Institute of Travel and Tourism professor Rhodri Thomas to investigate how academic research can shape business practice in the industry.
The ITT professor has become a business placement fellow of the Economic and Social Research Council to pioneer a study on how links between universities and companies in the travel industry can be improved to inform general business practice. The project will specifically look at environmental management.
Thomas said the decision showed the ESRC – a semi-autonomous organisation that receives government funding – was taking the travel sector seriously for the first time.
He said: “The ESRC is the gold standard of research funding in the UK. We [the travel industry] have been seen as marginal in the past and what’s significant is that it has taken notice of the sector. It’s about time.”
He added: “I am hoping for a longer relationship where we and the ITT will be able to influence the agenda.”
Thomas, who is professor of Tourism and Events Policies at Leeds Metropolitan University, has been retained on a part-time basis to oversee the project.
The project will involve roundtable discussions of academics and senior executives from the travel industry to look at if and how current research can be applied to help businesses achieve their goals on environmental practice.
“If not the research agenda needs to change,” said Thomas, who will also look at how knowledge can be exchanged between the two sectors and events that could aid networking between academics and travel executives.
Research on the travel sector is often not read by those leading travel businesses, said Thomas. “The problem this is seeking to address is how to make the connection between academic research in universities and businesses. There has not been much knowledge exchange between senior people in universities and senior people in the industry.”