As a response to increased competition and higher and more complex consumer demands, innovation in tourism is an upcoming concern for tourism practitioners and an emerging theme for scholarly research. The purpose of this chapter is to contribute to the conceptual understanding of innovation in tourism and to illustrate this with a study of the challenges of innovation in rural development. Two terms are introduced: sustaining and disruptive innovations. Accordingly, the intention is to use a classical theoretical perspective as a reference to discuss the nature and extent of innovation. The dichotomy of disruptive versus sustaining innovation may potentially be applied with regard to many types of tourism: mass tourism, sustainable tourism, business tourism, events and festivals, voluntary tourism etc. With evidence from the EU-based LEADER program, which promotes development in rural areas, this chapter provides a critical re-examination of the nature of innovations, with a particular emphasis on innovations in rural tourism. It is often assumed that innovations in rural areas lag behind, but evidence on this issue is very ambiguous (Asheim et al., 2007; Dargan & Shucksmith, 2008; Mahroum et al., 2007). Case-based studies of progress in rural areas emphasize that dense social and business relations enhance innovativeness as such and promote the depth of the innovations (Neumeier, 2011). There are no studies specifically about disruptive versus sustaining innovations in rural areas, and there is a lack of quantitative evidence about whether rural business actors blaze a trail of innovations to any particular degree.
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