Social innovation and sustainable tourism lab: an explorative model

Javier Castro-Spila (Innovation Momentum Lab, San Sebastian, Spain) (Ecole Superieure Des Technologies Industrielles Avancees, Bidart, France)
Rosa Torres (Universitat d’Alacant, Alacant, Spain)
Carolina Lorenzo (Innovation Momentum Lab, San Sebastian, Spain)
Alba Santa (Universitat d’Alacant, Alacant, Spain)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Publication date: 13 August 2018



The purpose of this paper is to devise an experimental lab like infrastructure in the higher education connecting social innovation with sustainable tourism.


In order to model a laboratory of social innovation and sustainable tourism lab (SISTOUR-LAB), the method of agile research was employed. This method involves the creation of successive and accumulative prototypes of four kinds: conceptual, relational, functional and transferable. Thus, agile research enables the integration of different social perspectives into the same prototype in a recursive manner.


The SISTOUR-LAB is a work-based learning strategy that allows for the development of a mapping process on tourism vulnerabilities (linked to opportunities for social innovation); the development of experimental training in prototyping social innovations on sustainable tourism; the design of hybrid social innovation business models linked to sustainable tourism; and the development of a relational model of evaluation linking together social innovation competencies with processes of transition toward sustainable tourism.

Research limitations/implications

The SISTOUR-LAB is a prototypical lab that combines social innovation and sustainable tourism in an experimental setting. The SISTOUR-LAB has been modeled based on the agile research method, but it will be necessary to test it empirically to stabilize the model. Once stabilized, the model shall lead to a better understanding of the relationship between work-based learning, social innovation and sustainable tourism in the area of higher education.

Practical implications

The SISTOUR-LAB has four implications: teachers: the SISTOUR-LAB provides teachers with a setting for the development of experimental education models that connect the problems of conventional tourism with social innovation in order to foster new learning environments oriented toward sustainable tourism; students: the SISTOUR-LAB enhances the employability of students since it connects them with agents and demands of touristic transition, while also fostering entrepreneurial development by means of improving the acquisition of social entrepreneurship competences for sustainable tourism; organizations: the SISTOUR-LAB provides an experimental setting for the prototyping of social innovations so as to assist organizations in the formulation of models, prototypes and evaluations that facilitate the transition toward sustainable tourism; policymaking: the SISTOUR-LAB promotes the design of evidence-based public policies, which fosters inclusive models of innovation and the regional monitoring of transitions toward sustainable tourism.


There exist little reference to the link between social innovation and sustainable tourism in the academic and institutional literature. The SISTOUR-LAB is a work-based learning strategy that fosters the structuring of experimental relations between social innovation and sustainable tourism by integrating touristic organizations to the development of competencies in higher education. The SISTOUR-LAB has programmatic and prospective value. It can be considered as a guide for the development of generative competencies, i.e. competencies that generate social innovations that impact chain triggers transitions toward sustainable tourism.



Castro-Spila, J., Torres, R., Lorenzo, C. and Santa, A. (2018), "Social innovation and sustainable tourism lab: an explorative model", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 274-290.

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