Funded PhD Opportunity Tourism and sustainable development: a Northern Ireland perspective

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Business and Management Studies


Data available from the World Tourism Barometer (UNWTO, 2018) indicates that in 2017, international tourist arrivals exceeded 1,322 million. Generating 10.4% of global GDP, 9.9% of global employment and 30% of world services exports, the travel and tourism sector is seen as a significant contributor to economic and social development (WTTC, 2018). Within the context of Northern Ireland, the tourism industry has played a significant role in regional economic growth, in supporting employment and in attracting investment. Recent data (to year ending March 2018) shows a 5% increase in visitor numbers, 9% increase in visitor spend and an export value of £622m (NISRA, 2018). Alongside this there are significant socio-cultural benefits. These can be individual or collective and are as diverse as the revival of traditional customs, increased local infrastructure, inter-community collaboration and an increase in self-esteem.

The Northern Ireland Economic Strategy (DETI, 2012) recognises that the ‘tourism sector… provides enormous opportunities for our economy’ and a draft Tourism Strategy (DETI, 2010) set out an objective to ‘double the income we earn from tourism by 2020’.  Key areas of focus are increasing visitor spend, capitalising on the desire for experiential and authentic tourism, promotion of green and eco-tourism and on sustainable business growth.

Outcomes of the more recent Programme for Government Consultation (DETI, 2016) include identification of business opportunities for development and innovation, growth of exports, and an increase in the attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a region to live in, to visit and to invest in. Nevertheless, questions have arisen in regard to the value of tourism as a development tool. SMEs represent the majority in terms of business structures in the tourism sector (Morrison et al 2010).  However, their competitiveness is constrained in terms of growth and innovation.

Challenges include limited capacities, conflict in the supply chain, adherence to policy guidelines, lack of collaboration and the seasonal nature of the tourism offering, leading to an image of low paid, low skilled and short-term employment. As a result, business churn is high. Secondly, research has indicated that the benefits of tourism are not widespread, can cause disharmony in stakeholder relationships, inflate property prices and change or damage fragile eco-systems. This proposed study spans these topics.

Justification and Scope:

While tourism remains a growth industry in Northern Ireland, there is scope to investigate how new consumer trends, developments in technology and a changing political landscape will impact on the provision of tourism offerings in Northern Ireland.  In particular it will investigate how SMEs can exploit these opportunities.  It is proposed that the research be carried out via a quantitative survey followed by qualitative interviews.

Indicative contributions:

The research will contribute to the regional and local tourism agenda, by providing new insights for relevant stakeholders in relation to policy development and sustainable tourism practices, as well as theory.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Research proposal of 2000 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Masters at 65%


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
week commencing 11 March 2019

Contact Supervisor

Professor Elaine Ramsey

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #344930 when applying for this PhD opportunity