London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

ESRC: Internationalisation and Innovation In The Service Sector: The Role Of International Migrants and UK (London) Hotels

Project Co-ordinators

Professor Gareth Shaw (School of Business and Economics, University of Exeter)

Professor Allan Williams (ISET and WLRI, London Metropolitan University)


ESRC AIM Targeted Innovation Programme


International migration is an important but under-researched channel of tacit knowledge transactions and innovation. This project examines the role of innovation in a ‘low-tech’ sector, hotels, where international migration is particularly prominent: accounting for 60-80% of all the labour force in London hotels.

The project builds on earlier work on international migration and knowledge transfer, tourism SMEs, and the history of innovation in British supermarkets (Need to be able to link here to the poster)


  • Theorising the links between international migration and innovation
  • Examine the contribution of migrants to innovation in hotels
  • Explore the role of innovation in ‘break-out’ and growth amongst migrant and ethnic owned SMEs

Research design

Stage 1
Mapping innovations in the hotel industry: Archival research, and Key informant interviews

Stage 2
Innovation in large-scale hotel chains: Interviews with domestic v foreign owned chains

Stage 3
Migrant v non-migrant managed small and medium sized London hotels: Questionnaires and interviews

Stage 4
Comparative international evaluation by panel of international experts

Project Update, September 2008

The first stage of this project, undertaken jointly with the School of Business, University of Exeter, examined innovations in large hotel chains within the UK. In the second phase, the focus shifts to smaller hotels in London, where they are comparing the innovation performance of British and international managers. They are focussing particularly on the transfer of knowledge and capital by international managers, as well as on how the availability of migrant workers influences innovation and firm performance.

The research is part of a larger programme, under the auspices of the Advanced Institute of Management, which aims to deepen understanding of the internationalization of innovation in the UK, particularly in the service sector. Hotels have been relatively under-researched in relation to innovation and knowledge transfer, yet constitute an important segment of the London economy, and its dynamic tourism industry. Professor Williams commented that 'It will be particularly important to understand the process of innovation in hotels as London gears up for the Olympics in 2012. The key question is whether an industry which is 60-80% reliant on migrant workers is making the best use of their knowledge and creativity'.


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