Has resilience become ‘the new sustainability’? The GenZ seminar highlighted the need to take a critical stance towards resilience research

The hybrid GenZ seminar, organised on November 7th at Tellus Backstage, aimed to offer new perspectives to challenge resilience thinking in tourism in times of shocks and changes. The GenZ project organised the seminar in collaboration with the university of Oulu’s Geography Research Unit, bringing together national and international tourism experts to give resilience-focused keynote speeches, and some of the experts also participated in an on-site panel discussion. After the seminar, Professor Michael Hall from the University of Canterbury and Associate Professor Robin Nunkoo from the University of Mauritius shared their views on their main takeaways of the seminar. Read their comments and a brief synopsis of the keynote talks below.
The GenZ seminar panelists discussed the rebuilding of sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism in the post-COVID-19 world

The term ‘resilience’ has gained popularity in academia, and it is also one of the three main research themes in the University of Oulu’s GenZ strategic profiling project. In the GenZ project, resilience is regarded as the ability to adapt to change while continuing to develop. Resilience can be examined at three different levels: individual, organisational and regional. Promoting resilience at all three levels is crucial when building a foundation for the future world, which is continuously being shaped by digitalisation. Resilience is an inherent feature of the tourism industry, as external shocks and changes, including the COVID-19 pandemic, new developing technologies and the emerging climate crisis continue to shape the industry in both temporal and permanent ways.

In the GenZ Seminar, international and national tourism experts were invited to share their perspectives on resilience thinking in tourism in the current era of digitalisation, COVID-19, emerging climate crisis, and other shocks and changes. Although the experts approached the resilience theme from different angles, the unifying themes present in all the speeches were the link between resilience and sustainability, the need to take a critical stance about resilience research, and the need to incorporate systemic levels of analysis into resilience research.

Resilience in tourism should not be used as another buzzword

Richard Butler, who is an Emeritus professor of Tourism at the University of Strathclyde, gave the first keynote in the seminar. The keynote emphasised the difficulty of implementing resilience in tourism, an industry prone to undergoing constant changes. Butler elaborated that when considering resilience research, the perspective of “to” or “from” should be preliminarily defined: whether resilience in tourism is regarded as the ability to withstand shocks and return to the original state, or if tourism is used as a feature to advance resilience in society after a shock.

According to Butler, the key descriptor of tourism is change, as the industry is driven by both intentional and unintentional forces, such as placement of airports or the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, tourism inevitably creates changes, which are both temporal and permanent, gradual and sudden. Butler noted that tourism is a dynamic industry, because relationships within the industry are also molded by change. Butler concluded his talk by noting that resilience should not become yet another buzzword similar to that of sustainability. Instead, resilience should be clearly defined and appropriately used, while aiming at the transformation of practices at destination-level.

The challenge of using appropriate and clear definitions of resilience was also addressed by Dr. Stefan Hartman, who is the head of the department of European Tourism Futures Institute at NHL Stenden University. Hartman spoke about adaptive capacity and resourcefulness of tourist destinations, bringing the concept of resilience to destination level. Hartman started on the notion that tourist destinations are in a ‘persistent state of becoming,’ due to being influenced by external forces and constant changes, a point also introduced by Butler. The adaptive capacity of the destinations - and resilience - can be promoted by ensuring that the key conditions, including, for instance, diversity, environmental sensitivity, and storytelling are in place at tourist destinations. While resilience at destination level has been regarded as the ability to bounce back, recover, and do business as usual, Hartman noted that destination level should also be about the ability to ‘bounce forward’, ‘rethink’ and do ‘business as unusual’ – the core definition of resilience should therefore be contested.

The scale of sustainability and resilience matters

In his keynote speech, Professor Michael Hall from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand agreed with Hartman on the notion that resilience in tourism should not be about ‘bouncing back,’ but about adaptation and survival. Hall argued that resilience is not automatically a catalyst for positive change, especially when considered from a narrow scale and as ‘bouncing back,’ or from the perspective of economic growth solely. According to Hall, resilience in tourism should be conceptualised in a multi-scalar fashion, considering the totality of the system. Hall emphasised that the scale matters, using the current global sustainability efforts as an illuminating example: even though the climate crisis remains a pressing issue, sustainability efforts are realised on a very small scale. Similar to sustainability, resilience is also about scale, and considering the different levels of resilience results in the ability to transform practices.

In Hall’s view, research should thus move away from single levels of analysis, and towards a holistic approach highlighting the interplay of different levels of the tourism system, including, for example, individuals, communities, destinations, and so on.

Interdisciplinary and joined efforts are needed

Robin Nunkoo continued on the idea of advancing resilience research by extending the scope of it. Nunkoo is an associate professor of Management at the University of Mauritius. Nunkoo first noted that the concept of resilience is closely related to sustainable development, and sustainability research should draw from environmental, social, and economic sciences. According to Nunkoo, the current challenges are multilayered and complex, transcending the traditional disciplinary boundaries. Multidisciplinary research utilises the knowledge of several different disciplines while the disciplines stay within their borders. Interdisciplinary research, in turn, aims at synthesising the disciplines, and such an approach, in Nunkoo’s view, is needed to address the current problems. The concept of resilience is by nature interdisciplinary, as suggested by recently published research. Nunkoo concluded his talk by saying that several different meanings have been attached to resilience, but to aid sustainable development, multidisciplinary research teams consisting of ecological and social scientists should join their efforts together to improve the conservation of ecosystems and the protection of societies – this is how the resilience value can be fully realised in research.

Resilience is necessary, but the status quo needs to be challenged

Marina Novelli, who is a professor of Tourism and International Development at Brighton School of Business and Law, spoke about the ‘quest for a better future’ in tourism, and how that relates to resilience. In her keynote speech, Novelli drew from her own research and projects which she had conducted across different tourist destinations in Africa. She named issues such as ‘overtourism’ and ‘tourismophobia’ as some of the negative shaping forces of the contemporary tourism landscape, leading to, for instance, conflicts with local residents, impacts on environment, commercial gentrification, and workforce outsourcing. Novelli then noted that in order to develop more responsible tourism, the tourism industry should reinvent itself towards “less quantity, more quality, more shared values, and better jobs.”

Some of the solutions lie in the recovery of employment in other sectors which are more resilient to shocks, but Novelli also encouraged scholars to develop a mutual research agenda, the readjustment of public policies. Novelli added that a consensus of ‘what is good tourism’ needs to be developed so that the tourism industry may realise its full potential of connecting and empowering communities. Novelli concluded her speech by expressing that resilience is necessary to adapt to the constant changes, but approaches that really challenge the status quo of tourism are needed.

The GenZ project makes impactful research on resilience

Towards the end of the seminar, Hall and Nunkoo participated in a panel discussion on the topic of (re)building resilient, inclusive and sustainable tourism in the post-COVID-19 world. They were joined by Associate Professor Henna Konu from the University of Eastern Finland, Dr. Juulia Räikkönen from the University of Turku, as well as Professor Jarkko Saarinen from the University of Oulu's Geography Research Unit. The discussion was facilitated by Assistant Professor Alberto Amore from the University of Oulu, and the experts discussed topics such as sustainability, generation Z behaviour and climate change.

Nunkoo said that his main learning outcome of the seminar was communicated in the panel discussion. Considering the current climate crisis, there is a need for urgent action before it is too late.

“And I think that the discourses that we had in the debate show that we need to be really careful in terms of the kind of research that we do. We should not be doing research that has definitional issues. We need to think of resilience as a practical concept, which has implications to the way we do our research,” Nunkoo commented.

Hall agreed with Nunkoo and explained that in addition to the shared feeling of depression around climate change, he also found the issues surrounding the definition of resilience – and how it is used by policymakers - as an interesting takeaway of the seminar.

Hall and Nunkoo also emphasised the importance of conducting high-quality research in the future.

“The element of climate change and resilience are very much linked, and we need more action research. And to me, the most important question is, whose responsibility is it to get that research done, the kind that would really make an impact,” Nunkoo expressed.

“It is really notable that you have got a good team here in this GenZ project – it is not just theoretical research that you are doing, but research that can actually make an impact on society,” he continued.

When asked about his visions, suggestions and thoughts about the GenZ project, Hall replied:

“I have a son who is gen Z - a case study of one. He is a mine craft geek, and it is really great, for social connectivity and other things. I think it is always interesting to look at generations and how they change. I only hope that the university will support longitudinal research. To what extent do some of the things we have done as part of the project hold true in the future? Long-term thinking in this way is important, because otherwise you kind of leave generation Z in isolation.”

Hall and GenZ Assistant Professor Siamak Seyfi have collaborated on a paper dealing with generation Z cohort research. In the future, Hall wants to continue his work on generation Z research from a wide variety of different locations. He is particularly interested in the cross-cultural validity of generation Z research. Hall is also intrigued about the role of technology in contributing to sustainability.

Last updated: 10.11.2022