Study on the impact of trust on rural business networks published in top journal

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Pictured from left: Dr Felicity Kelliher and Dr Leana Reinl

Pictured from left: Dr Felicity Kelliher and Dr Leana Reinl

Cross country study details findings from WIT researchers in liaison with the University of Missouri in the US and the University of Guelph, Canada

A recent research study carried out by academics based at the RIKON group, WIT School of Business in partnership with colleagues at Missouri University, US and University of Guelph, Canada has culminated in a Journal of Tourism Management publication - one of only two journals in tourism at 4 star ranking, the highest level in the UK.

Promotion of international research in rural contexts

This paper details findings from Dr Felicity Kelliher’s Fulbright Scholarship research, carried out in liaison with Prof Tom Johnson of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) at University of Missouri and research carried out by Dr Leana Reinl, Irish Research Council Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow, in cooperation with Prof Marion Joppe, School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management, while based at University of Guelph Canada.

As lead authors, Drs Kelliher and Reinl acknowledge the support of WIT School of Business and Research Support Unit in promoting cross country collaboration and in securing their respective scholarships which enabled the completion of this study. Dr Kelliher noted that such support is vital in, ‘promoting international research in rural contexts, which can help realise the potential for greater cohesion in rural business communities in pursuit of a sustainable future’.

Trust highlighted

Discussing the research study, Dr Reinl highlights that ‘Micro-firms, those with less than 10 employees, represent the vast majority of rural business providers in Ireland and are pivotal in the development of rural economies. These firms work together in an attempt to overcome resource constraints and to minimise the impact of peripheral locations’. Dr Kelliher adds that ‘while the ultimate goal is to collectively grow their business relationships, we don’t fully understand the impact of trust on rural business networks, the core focus of this research’. Indeed trust was highlighted as a critical but little understood component of successful rural development at the 2018 OECD Rural Development Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland.

This important study highlights the impact that both social interactions and past behaviour have on trust in a rural business network. While willingness to engage with a network may initially be motivated by potential business gains or valuable business connections, it is only over time that trust is built between members, based on repeated positive interactions and the building of mutual gains. A perceived need for harmony can lead to unchallenged inappropriate network member behaviour, undermining trust over the longer term. Findings also point to a separatist rural identity, with members believing they needed to ‘stick together’ to the detriment of developing relationships outside the immediate network, which hampered stakeholder and government support.

Rural small business development is one of the core research focuses within the RIKON group in the School of Business at WIT. This study augments our on-going contribution to rural regional growth and social renewal. Looking further afield, we continue to work with international colleagues in developing our understanding of rural business networks.


More details on the study can be found by contacting Felicity Kelliher at [email protected].

The study is citable at: Kelliher, F., Reinl, L., Johnson, T.G., Joppe, M. 2018. The role of trust in building rural tourism micro firm network engagement: a multi-case study. Journal of Tourism Management, 68, 1-12. 

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