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Finding out what you need to know

Thoughts and musings from a talk by Professor John Swarbrooke at EuroCHRIE conference in Bulle, Switzerland, 19 Feb 2010.

1. Let's not kid ourselves about the information in academic papers and what this says is important. 2. Applied research is very different from some academic research situations where the primary need can be only to demonstrate a research process. 3.Get an understanding of the breadth of experience - that's relevant - that's needed to make things happen.

John looked at two areas of research - meal experiences, and using embedded researchers as active participants and observers.

Leaving school early, John Swarbrooke worked in a 3* Paris restaurant, where he learned the power of observation. Rather than fill in a smiley face or ever, ever ask people if their meal is OK - because a professional knows that that their meal is OK - and what they're saying, what parts of the meal are they savouring, how is the wine going down. Observed behaviour is far more valuable than many scientific questionnaires.

On a couple of occasions, we used an 'embedded researcher' to get information about what was working. For a 'hedonistic' tour operator, they put a small number of students on the operator's holiday. He wanted to find out if women would buy the holidays - obsevation said yes - and sales went up by 130%. Observation showed that their reasons for buying the holiday were no differently from the men's. He also used unappealing images - older people, early shutting bars etc as a reason for making a resort less appealing to those they didn't want to see there.

To be able to predict the future, you have to have information on the longitudinal studies that demonstrate patterns over 30, 40, 50 or more years. One airline was looking at smoking on planes - do you smoke? if you do smoke, do you like smoking on aeroplanes (N), and then the addicts. So they created a smoker's flight until the regulations changed. Ask those groups anything that you like.

Focus groups can get used when students can't get questionnaires to work. For a destination that had suffered from a terrorist attack. Can we use a terrorist attack as an approach to segmentation - because some people will say "nothing will stop me going anyway".

For new developments, test the design of a new hotel online - get customers to design the hotel in a colour scheme that appeals to them. W Hotels have just brought in a fashion designer as well as their architects etc - they have very different start points than many architects.

In the Epirus region of Greece, there was a desire to move towards Ecotourism. They had to learn about what a voluntary group of entrepreneurs could do to create a professional response at a local level. It was the personal relationships that were more important than anything else. The biggest debate in the project was about the 40 year history of one family in the war. Although the project collapsed when European funding was given, one hotelier carried through and was nominated by National Geographic for an international award.

The Resonsible Tourism Committee of the Association of Independent Tour Operators approached John about building greater transparency and accountability. There's a myth about the rational economic drivers of small operators, who often do good green things because it's the right thing to do, not because it makes money. No charitable donations - that's a citizen's job. This is about making your tourism a good thing - and the bigger operators hated this - giving money to animals and children looks good in the media.

In conclusion, John Swarbrooke reflected that applied research and some more risk taking gives the opportunities that are denied to most academic researchers. Whilst data from this research may be confidential, there are still ways of disseminating through personal reflections. Students need to be involved in this research so that they benefit too.

Questions? email

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