WIT’s latest ‘Fulbrighter’ to research trust in tourism network in Missouri

School of Business
Olive O'Connor, Fulbright Scholar Felicity Kelliher, Leana Reinl and Siobhan Harkin

Olive O'Connor, Fulbright Scholar Felicity Kelliher, Leana Reinl and Siobhan Harkin

Dr. Felicity Kelliher, a senior lecturer in Management Studies and co-chair of the Rikon Research Group at the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), was among the recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, which were announced at a ceremony in the US Ambassador’s Residence, Phoenix Park, Dublin last week.

Fulbright scholarships have provided Irish students, scholars and professionals with the opportunity to study, lecture and research at top universities and institutions in the U.S. since 1957. As a 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholar, Dr Kelliher will examine the role of trust in building rural tourism network engagement, while based at the University of Missouri.

Tourism is Ireland’s second largest service industry and the vast majority of firms in rural tourism are micro in nature, having less than ten employees. Creating sustainable, productive networks among this group has significant potential for the economy.

According to Dr. Kelliher, “An additional employee in each of the service-based micro firms in Ireland equates to 106,550 individuals and in the US equates to over 4.5m jobs so the importance of understanding and supporting micro firm engagement and collaborative action in rural business communities should not be understated.”

“The overarching aim of this research is to examine the role of trust in building rural tourism network engagement and explore what actually occurs within and between relationships in a rural network environment.” Dr Keilliher continues. “It is anticipated that this study will contribute to the development of an integrated model of rural network engagement, in pursuit of collaborative network activity, and ultimately sustainable rural communities.”

From April to July 2015, Dr Kelliher will spend time immersed in the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), housed at the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. As the leading rural policy centre in the U.S., RUPRI’s core aim is to study the challenges, needs, and opportunities facing rural America, an ambition similar in ethos to that of RIKON in rural Ireland. As a guest of Prof Thomas G. Johnson, Director of RUPRI, Dr. Kelliher will examine the role of trust in rural tourism networks in Missouri and ultimately compare local, county and regional findings to that which has been observed by the RIKON group in Ireland.

According to Prof Thomas G. Johnson, Director of RUPRI, “RUPRI is excited to host Dr. Felicity Kelliher during her Fulbright-supported research. We have ongoing research projects related to local food systems, rural entrepreneurship, and rural tourism which will benefit from Dr. Kelliher’s own work in this area.

“Our research is based on a comprehensive wealth framework and Dr. Kelliher’s interest in the role of trust and networks in micro business success fits well into this framework. Trust and networks are key elements of social capital, and social capital is a key component of rural wealth”.

Prof Johnson continued, “We hope and expect that Dr. Kelliher’s research leave will develop into a lasting relationship between the University of Missouri and Waterford Institute of Technology, involving joint research and future student and faculty exchange.”

Dr Kelliher has been studying management capability development and learning network engagement in micro and small firm environments for more than twelve years and expects to dedicate her remaining research careeer to this forum, in liaison with RIKON research colleagues.

Dr Kelliher and RIKON have developed a number of cross-country longitudinal studies in micro-firm network engagement in liaison with colleagues in Ireland, Canada and the UK. Dr Kelliher explains, “Because we take a long-term perspective on how micro-firms engage with their networks and wider communities, we can observe inter-personal relationships over the long-term, sometimes for up to five years. By doing so, we can gather longitudinal evidence about how trust is generated and embedded in the network over time or indeed, how trust is eroded, depending on the particular relationship. As sustainable network engagement is highlighted as key to rural/ regional development, when accumulated, this research gives us data that can help us understand how micro-firm networks can be sustained with the help of government agencies, educational providers and community stakeholders.”

The Fulbright awards are jointly funded by the Irish and US governments under the Ireland-United States (Fulbright) Commission for Educational Exchange.

Waterford Institute of Technology has had five recipients of the Fulbright scholarship including Dr Jimmy O’Brien-Moran, Prof John Nolan, Dr Thomas O’Toole, Dr Anne Graham and Dr Felicity Kelliher.

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