Creating meaningful connections and collaborations 


Creating meaningful connections and collaborations 

Welcome to our new ‘Sharing Insights’ blog series, offering a unique opportunity to demonstrate the skills and expertise of some of our academics at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU)- opening new avenues for communication with businesses and a broad range of stakeholders.

Dr Karen Thomas, Director of the Tourism and Events Hub at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), explores why collaboration is vital, to the visitor economy and to the world of Higher Education, where universities need to be meaningful to society and the regions they call home. 

Working at the heart of the visitor economy, academics, practitioners, policy makers and advocates understand the importance of collaboration and partnership working. Tourism, hospitality, and events, vital components in the shaping of places, experiences, and memories, co-exist within a complex ecosystem of organisations who deliver and add value to society. As trends continue to shape the demand for new experiences, it is also often the bringing together of different and unusual partners which deliver innovative and competitive visitor experiences.  

This blog explores a key theme to emerge from the two-year Culture Kent Research Programme (delivered by the CCCU Tourism and Events Hub in collaboration with Visit Kent) in a new light. It reflects on findings linked to cross-sectoral working between tourism and culture/the arts and identifies some lessons which can be applied to building stronger university-industry/stakeholder collaborations. The creation of such, can enhance universities’ abilities to build meaningful connections and create impact, provide opportunities to shape the talent pipeline with students who have access to effective interactions with industry, and support industry by providing targeted support to address business needs. 

Collaborations at the heart of cultural destinations 

Key to the vision of the Culture Kent Project (funded by Arts Council England and VisitEngland, as part of the Cultural Destinations Programme), was to position Kent as a leading cultural destination and to facilitate cross-sectoral working between tourism and cultural/arts organisations. Central to this were six pilot partnership projects, developed to trial new ways of working across the sectors and to test new initiatives and cultural tourism offers.  

Reflections on what the research team learnt from researching the experiences of stakeholders involved in these pilots, highlights how networks and collaborative partnerships were key to the success of these projects. Strong networks were found to deliver multiple benefits; many of relevance to this blog, namely, extending organisational reach to access sources of complementary data, knowledge, expertise and new audiences, and providing platforms for innovation and funding applications.  

Collaborations: Working with difference 

What the Culture Kent Project did well was to create partnerships between organisations that had not worked together before, with partners often drawn from different sub-sectors. The question of how far tourism and culture/the arts constitute separate sectors is beyond the scope of this piece. However, the complex eco-system of organisations that make up the visitor economy provides a fascinating lens through which we can examine how bringing together organisations from different sectors/fields, and understanding and working with difference, can bring real benefits.  

Our findings highlighted how ‘difference is a strength when seen as a source of complementary skills, knowledge and resources.’ With an effective enabler, in this case Culture Kent, partners can be given the opportunity to encounter ‘other’ ways of working, and that this can open new worlds of opportunities. In the context of building resilient cultural destinations, this type of cross-sector collaboration encouraged new thinking about target audiences/markets, and how organisations communicate with them. 

Collaborations between universities and industry/wider stakeholders 

What the Culture Kent research taught us is that collaboration and the bringing together of partners from different sectors can bring creative and innovative ways of thinking. The creation of a shared voice, or the coming together of different and sometimes unusual partners can help to co-create innovative experiences for the visitor economy. 

Interesting parallels can be drawn here to the benefits that can be achieved by enhanced university-industry partnership working. As CCCU works to deliver on its Vision 2030 mission, critical to creating impact, is the aspiration to ‘forge and sustain strong and meaningful partnerships’ In an increasingly challenging business landscape, what these reflections have sought to highlight is that these partnerships can often be enhanced by bringing together people and organisations who see the world through different lenses, who work in different fields, and who problem-solve in different ways.   

A unique selling point of universities is that they are places where multidisciplinary teams can be brought together to address complex issues. However, this is only meaningful to industry if this work is co-created in close collaboration with industry partners. It can also only be realised, if industry and our wider stakeholders are aware of the range of ways in which CCCU can work with and support industry.

To this end, it is our hope that these Sharing Insights Series blogs will open new doors and build new connections with a new appreciation of the wide-ranging ways in which CCCU connects with industry; from consultancy, community initiatives, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, bespoke training, and student engagement projects, to mention a few. Often larger projects and partnerships evolve from small conversations and the bringing together of people with shared interests and, ideally strengthened by bringing together people from different perspectives.  


Dr Karen Thomas is the Director of the Tourism and Events Hub, and Senior Lecturer in Tourism, Hospitality and Events within the Christ Church Business School. At the heart of the Tourism and Events Hub is collaboration and knowledge exchange. As the B2B arm of the Tourism, Hospitality, and Events team at CCCU, the Hub’s role is to build opportunities to connect with industry and create collaborative knowledge exchange to meet the needs of the visitor economy. The Hub has been successful in securing and delivering research consultancy projects for regional and national organisations, with outputs used to support governmental lobbying and advocacy, regional growth, and competitiveness and cross-sectoral working between tourism and culture/the arts. 

If you would like to discuss any potential collaborations within the areas of tourism, hospitality, or events, please get in touch with Dr Karen Thomas, at

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