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Soledad Morales: "Tourism is the sector of activity the collaborative economy has influenced the most"

Researcher in the New Perspectives in Tourism and Leisure group

Soledad Morales has a PhD in Geography from the Universitat Autnoma de Barcelona and started her teaching and research career in the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business in 2009. She is a member of the New Perspectives in Tourism and Leisure (NOUTUR) research group, where she looks at the links between the collaborative economy and tourism, among other questions. She is also academic director of the master's degrees in Sustainable Tourism and ICT, and in Strategy and Sustainable Management of Tourism Destinations, which is run in conjunction with the UN's World Tourism Organization.

What are the NOUTUR group’s aims?

NOUTUR is a research group that brings a critical and analytical eye to tourism. It's an interdisciplinary group with geographers, economists, engineers and experts in marketing. We work holistically, employing horizontal structures for collaboration and different leadership styles. This makes it easy and rewarding to work there.

How do the new ways of promoting tourism fit with the collaborative economy?

We have carried out a broad scope analysis to identify the initiatives and projects related to the collaborative economy in tourism. They exist in almost all sectors of tourism: from accommodation, restaurants, tourist guides, experience tourism, mobility to crowdfunding.

Is the collaborative economy seen in tourism purely for profit?

Services like Airbnb have made themselves out to be part of the collaborative economy, when in fact they're just forms of platform capitalism. We carried out an analysis in Barcelona and less than 30% of the transactions could be attributed to the collaborative economy; i.e. directly between host and guest. Almost 70% of bookings involved large-scale agents. But there are services like Blablacar's car-pooling that do meet the true definition of the sharing economy. Platforms represent one of the major concerns for tourism, because they can have an important impact on access to cities and, above all, to accommodation. However, the collaborative economy can also be used to generate new discourses, new ways to manage tourism. In fact, in our research the key question we have is the extent to which the collaborative economy is contributing to the development of a more sustainable system of tourism and to the development of healthier and more responsible societies. And there are other initiatives that can be more disruptive and provide new visions and new paradigms that should make us reflect on tourism. When we talk about touristification, we are talking about the right to mobility, the right to adequate housing and the right to tourism.

In terms of your international research, you singled out the Improved Employability and Apprenticeship in the Tourism Sector (IDEATE) project. What did it involve?

It set out to conduct an analysis of the professional skills required to generate a more sustainable kind of tourism with all those involved in the sector: employers, universities, companies, students and people working in tourism. We developed e-learning training courses that facilitated the acquisition of these skills.

You looked at the impact of the Msica Viva de Vic festival: what is the role of this type of event in terms of the impact of tourism?

We designed a methodology for analysing the impact of the event. The organizers of the festival are using the results to improve the event’s sustainability and its social impact. The festival in not just a music marketing platform, which is one of its main objectives, but in the 30 years it has been running, it has also become a cohesive agent within Vic society, as well as a hub for the generation of social capital. Impact studies represent an exercise in transparency, especially when it comes to public institutions running this type of event.

Could you recommend a piece of work that might give us an insight into your area of research?

Maybe the film Roma. What does it have to do with tourism? On a low budget, and with great sensitivity and simplicity, it conveys a message and gives people on the fringes of society a voice. And that has often been the leitmotif for my research.