COOPETITION: COOPERATING TO COMPETE
It’s no longer true that large fishes eat small ones; nowadays fast fishes eat slow ones. (A. Pontremoli)
In December Smartourism took part in the Buy Tourism Online (BTO), the 7th edition of the tourism exhibition focusing on innovation and tourism trends and held in Florence.
Experts from all sorts of backgrounds came with their best recipes to satisfy any type of clients, by ensuring better revenues, better visibility, higher efficiency, better connectivity and much more. We were about to doubt of finding someone sharing our bottom-up vision of promoting tourism, based on local players responding to the offer fragmentation with a systemic and community approach.
However, someone talked about COOPETITION.
- cooperating for defining a shared framework and rules (COOPeration)
- competing when offering innovative tourist services (compETITION)
But what do we mean by systemic approach? It means generating value added through collaborations, sharing skills and knowledge, working together to reach synergies and to offer more valuable services and products than those who could be provided if working in isolation. It also means equal opportunities for all the stakeholders involved in destination management, no matter whether they belong to the private or public sector or which is their size: the systemic approach would increase the competitiveness of the destination by giving all the service providers a market visibility that they could not reach alone.
To facilitate the implementation and the success of such an approach, a favourable ecosystem is needed, where there are clear rules and a shared infrastructure to manage local resources. Public and private stakeholders must contribute to market their destination to their clients, without any discrimination and by taking advantage of the systemic infrastructure.
There are some key ingredients to plan and develop an ecosystem of coopetition. First, it requires a clear focus, i.e. what is the destination’s unique selling proposition? what are the boundaries of the destination? what are the specific themes that interest our markets? A strategic business plan is a second vital element: clear strategic objectives coupled with a feasible financial plan to reach them are the pillars of a successful ecosystem. To enable and develop a coopetition strategy a tech vision is needed. And last but not least, a coopetition ecosystem requires some governance, in order to manage the contribution of the variety of local stakeholders involved.
If the theory is relatively easy, its implementation is rare, especially in Italy. This is true for both the tourism sector and other sectors that would benefit from a systemic approach. There are both structural and cultural motivations for this resistance.
Italian companies are mainly small and medium enterprises, facing barriers when trying to access credit and to exploit international markets. Previous and existing collaboration models, including tourism districts and supply chains, are struggling to grow and to use the latest technology to compete globally. Services offered by the public sector are also often fragmented or inconsistent with the firms’ needs.
The lack of a systemic approach led to the incapability for local SMEs and local players of exploiting strategic resources and growing their business. This allowed larger and better structured international providers to take advantage and fill the lack-of-cooperation gap.
From a cultural perspective, there is resistance in Italy to coopete due to a garble vision of the systemic approach; local stakeholders often perceive it as a way of reiterating existing monopolistic privileges, of subsidising enterprises who would not otherwise survive, of favouring protectionist policies or even of a public control on key economic sectors.
In the tourism sector, top-down and non-coopetitive approaches do not work and are too expensive. The successfull alternative is the mobilisation of local stakeholders, sharing the same strategic vision and working together to manage and market destinations. The latter approach generates positive and sustainable benefits.
Smartourism promotes an inclusive and modular bottom-up approach, valorising existing planning and resources and avoiding the colonisation of the destination.