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Put in context: place-based sustainable tourism strategy evaluation in the Orkney islands.

Roitershtein, Olena (Alöna)




This study proposes a method for understanding local contextual circumstances and their effect on tourism-related sustainability needs. Based on this understanding, it offers a Place-based Strategy Evaluation Framework (PSEF), which can recognise whether a tourism strategy addresses the context-specific sustainability needs of a local destination. Using the Orkney Islands as a case study, this research focuses on the sense of place of the members of Orkney communities as a foundation for their perceptions of tourism value and sustainability needs in the tourism context. Underpinned by pragmatism and interpretivism, this study aims to create actionable knowledge, which is used to evaluate the Orkney Tourism Strategy 2020-2030, as a tool for sustainability transition in tourism. This knowledge provides not only an understanding of the lived experiences of Orkney people and their sustainability meanings, but also uses it to contribute to a practical solution for a complex context-dependent problem. To achieve its aim, the study uses a multi-method qualitative methodology, consisting of semi-structured interviews with the members of Orkney communities, as well as unstructured observations, underpinned by elements of digital ethnography. The findings of this research confirm that sustainability in tourism is highly contextual and that studying the layers of context of a destination is essential for its sustainability transition. The study also reveals that the sense of place of the residents is a key contextual factor and that its understanding can provide a firm basis for aligning the strategic direction of sustainable tourism development. Moreover, the Orkney case study shows that a context-specific sustainability definition is driven by the perception of tourism value, underpinned by the perception of benefits and impacts of tourism development on the destination. These perceptions are driven by the extent to which tourism development aligns to the sense of place of Orkney residents, and by the degree of transparency around how the benefits are distributed across the archipelago. The relationship between these elements is underpinned by power dynamics between the various tourism stakeholders, which form a binding element for sustainable tourism strategy implementation. The study makes a theoretical contribution to the field of strategic planning by proposing a place-based, value-driven approach to sustainability transition in tourism in both Orkney and beyond. The proposed PSEF tool delivers a practical contribution to destinations undergoing their sustainability transition. It also contributes to the field of cold-water island tourism, as well as to the currently understudied subject of archipelagos. By using a pragmatic blend of qualitative methods, this study also provides an innovative methodological approach to studying context-sensitive contested issues, which are often embedded in sustainability transitions. It alleviates concerns about taking an innovative, non-traditional approach to case study research, where a mix of philosophical perspectives, digital methods and semi- or unstructured data collection approaches can facilitate robust and well-rounded research.


ROITERSHTEIN, O. 2024. Put in context: place-based sustainable tourism strategy evaluation in the Orkney islands. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 24, 2024
Publicly Available Date May 24, 2024
Keywords Sustainable tourism; Island tourism; Archipelago tourism; Rural tourism; Tourism strategies; Digital ethnography; Orkney
Public URL
Award Date Apr 30, 2024


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