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ESIC policy workshop in the Canary Islands: Diverse high added-value activities across the value chain as means to achieve sustainable tourism

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The regional work done in ESIC has reached the peer review phase. The aim of the ESIC activities carried out in all model demonstrator regions has been to assist regional policy-makers to test, update and improve their existing policies as well as to boost emerging industries by transformative service innovation. Via the expert analysis and regional self-assessment the summary assessment reports have been finalised by the ESIC consortium. The peer review phase, in turn, encourages policy learning and provides external input into the policy development of the region and leads eventually towards regional policy recommendations.


The ESIC peer review held on 18-19 February in Tenerife, the Canary Islands, attracted some 30 participants including: representatives from the regional development agencies, cluster organisations, the regional government, enterprises from Tenerife and several persons who participated through video conference in the islands of Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The objective of the event was to discuss the key challenges and opportunities in service innovation related to the Canary Islands demonstrator strategy, to encourage policy learning, and to provide external input into the policy development of the Canary Islands.

Juan Ruiz Alzola (Director of Agencia Canaria de Investigación, Innovación y Sociedad de la Información), emphasised the importance of tourism, services as well as the ESIC for the Canary Islands. He also pointed out the productivity dilemma in the tourism sector: while the sector employs 35% of the labour force it generates 30% of GDP. Therefore it is important to diversify the service offering in the Islands, paying attention to the island specific characteristics and still maintaining sustainability.

Some excellent examples of such development were presented in the peer review. Alejandra Martinón Suárez, Cabildo Insular de Lanzarote, explained how the island of Lanzarote has promoted a model based on sustainability since the 1960's. Any action on Lanzarote must respect the island's natural and cultural heritage protection, following the example set by architect and designer César Manrique. Further development followed in the form of the zoning and rural plan (erected in 1991), declaration of the Man and Bioshphere (by the UNESCO in 1992), and the Reserve Biosphere strategy (2001 -2004). While preserving the environment and exceptional landscape Lanzarote is developing new tourist offerings, e.g. promote sport tourism. At the same time new services that cross-sectors are being developed. For instance locally produced food (e.g. fish and shellfish, vegetables, goat meat, black canary pork, and wines) is linked to quality tourism, adding value to the agro-food sector that has traditionally not been valuable in itself.

Sectoral boundaries have also been crossed in the island of La Palma, known for its clear skies. According to Ana Castañeda, Cabildo Insular de La Palma, not only is La Palma defending the night sky and starlight, (which is one of the reasons why many astronomy research team  are operating on La Palma) it is also creating astrotourism and has gathered 52 companies (e.g. hotels, restaurants and other service companies) under the Star Island brand. An important feature in both cases is the public-private partnership which is less common on the two main islands of Gran Canary and Tenerife.  The theme of Star Gazing was the basis for several service innovation initiatives: e.g. coaches help to install telescopes in the cooperating rural houses, signs along a route point at certain stars and restaurants and shops have adapted their service to the theme.

Profiling of tourists was called for by Anna van Welie, Zuyd University, as means for identifying the visitors in the future and building related marketing. She emphasised that no tourist is alike as the trend is increasingly towards unique experiences based on tailor-made services. This represents both an opportunity as well as a challenge for the Canary Islands that still rely on mass tourism (controlled by large, international tour operators), but have a lot more to offer.

Due to the structure of the tourism sector no drastic changes can be expected in the near future. Nevertheless, small niche markets are emerging without public sector intervention. The public sector does, however, play a key role in the development of the framework conditions for innovation ecosystems. Metka Stare, University of Ljubljana, divided these to the following four groups: human resources, dynamic markets, digital infrastructure and related services as well as supportive public policy.

In addition to suitable framework conditions, collaboration in Innovation Platforms of various actors across sectors and disciplines is highly important in terms of an innovative region. Petri Räsänen (Council of Tampere region), presented the case of Demola as an example of a platform that allows the flow of innovations in a sustainable and efficient way. The Demola model is based on three simple principles: create new combinations of knowledge, move faster and make it very affordable to start. Demola combines the real life problems or challenges of companies and public sector actors with students. These talented and motivated individuals form teams that have jointly engaged in more than 500 projects, created 100+ start-ups, and attracted €18m funding in 4.5 years.

The framework conditions for service innovation, the company cases of Effi-e and Lopesan, the example of Demola and other ways to increase cross-sectoral collaboration, were discussed in the last two sessions of the peer review. It was acknowledged that the Canary Islands have often been among the first regions to test new technologies or innovations (e.g. water sanitation, wind energy), but these opportunities have not been capitalised on. The Canaries need to tap into existing talent and increase cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary approaches in order to fully utilise the specific characteristics of the seven islands and the ability to act as a test bed. Otherwise the opportunities will be missed also in the future.    

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