33: Social networks as the basis to strengthen agri+touristic value creation in Alpine regions

Ospelt, Tanja

  1. Fachhochschule Graubünden, Zentrum für Wirtschaftspolitische Forschung, Chur, Schweiz

In large areas of the Alps, agriculture and tourism have great economic and social importance. Due to their comparatively low value added both sectors face major challenges, which have to be met with new offers and organizational-structural innovation. This requires both improved framework conditions and economic support as well as a more comprehensive understanding of “agritourism” that includes on-farm activities. It also means developing synergy and cooperation potentials between all involved sectors in the regional system of value chains. We refer to this as “agri+tourism” (Hediger et al., 2019), which is essentially built upon social networks. Those can have different characteristics and structures in different regions and constitute an essential basis for the development and functioning of business relationships within industries and regions.

Social network analysis is a method that is particularly suited to capturing and analyzing connections between individual actors in a network and their interactions from an overall perspective. It enables to measure the strength of a network and to derive recommendations for further development. They constitute an essential basis for the development and functioning of business relationships within industries and regions. Based on different forms of relationships, such as kinship, friendship, membership in associations and other organizations, they connect individual actors with each other and create a foundation of trust that is the most important factor in building new relationships. The analysis of the networks (Jansen, 2003; de Nooy, 2010) is primarily used to identify individual actors and their roles in the agri+touristic value chains, and to determine the connections between these actors in regional organizations.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the importance of stakeholder networks for the development of regional systems of value chains at the interface of agriculture and tourism (“agri+tourism”) and the possibilities offered by the method of social network analysis in this context. For this purpose, the actors of agricultural business (collared in green), food processors (orange) and hotel/gastronomy businesses (blue) were examined to see how they cooperate with each other. For illustrative purposes, we analyze three study regions in the canton of Grisons, Switzerland (Hediger et al., 2019; Ospelt et al. 2020): a nature park region (Parc Ela), a rural-tourism region (Lenzerheide) and a region with a successfully launched agri+touristic initiative (Valposchiavo).


The agri+touristic network of the Valposchiavo region consists of three main clusters, as illustrated in Fig. 1. On the outside, there two clusters of farms from each of the municipalities of Poschiavo (left) and Brusio (right), respectively. In the middle is a cluster mainly consisting of food processors and hotel and restaurant businesses. Their central position in the network is explained by the relatively large number of connections to other actors. From this and the graphical representation with the thicker connection lines and point sizes (number of connections mentioned), it can be concluded that the food processors, together with the hotel and gastronomy businesses, drive the network in Valposchiavo. The farmers play a less central role.

Figure 2. Network Parc Ela

The agri+touristic network of the Parc Ela Fig. 2. region shows a collection of farmers that are very centrally positioned. One reason for this is probably the distinct agricultural structure of the region. The food processors and the hotel and restaurant businesses have a lower centrality and are therefore arranged with a certain distance around the central cluster. However, some food processors act as brokers and connect hotel and restaurant businesses to the central agricultural cluster through business relationships. In addition, some small separate networks ("satellites") can be identified, which have no or hardly any contacts with the main network.

Figure 3. Network Lenzerheide

The agri+touristic network of the Lenzerheide Fig. 3. region has a very different structure than those of the previously considered regions. The key players in this network are mainly food processors and hotel/restaurant businesses, with one strong food processor standing out as having ties to all three industries. This is the "Puracenter," which takes on a central gatekeeper role and serves as a strategic contact for other actors in the network. Farmers, on the other hand, tend to be positioned on the periphery of the network. This might be a consequence of the strong touristic character of the region.

Analyzing social networks

Social network analysis has proved to be a useful tool in the context of this project, which aimed to illustrate the purpose of stakeholder networks for the development of regional of value chains. The graphical presentation of the regional networks enables the development and presentation of a differentiated analysis. This can also be communicated to a wider audience with interested actors in a simple and comprehensible manner. The visualization helps to identify the structural characteristics of the networks. This is an essential prerequisite for recognizing regional development potentials and strengthening agri+tourism in the individual regions.


De Nooy, W. (2010). Social Network Analysis, in: Ch. Crothers, Ed.), Historical Developments and Theoretical Approaches in Sociology, Vol I, Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, Singapore: EOLSS Publishers/UNESCO.

Hediger, W., Ospelt, T., and Mosedale, J. (2019). Agro+Tourismus Graubünden: Für eine verbesserte Zusammenarbeit zwischen Landwirtschaft und Tourismus. Schlussbericht, Zentrum für wirtschaftspolitische Forschung, Fachhochschule Graubünden, Chur, Schweiz.

Ospelt, T., Scala, E., and Hediger, W. (2020). Agro+Tourismus Graubünden: Netzwerkanalysen. Technischer Bericht, Zentrum für wirtschaftspolitische Forschung, Fachhochschule Graubünden, Chur, Schweiz.

Jansen, D. (2003). Einführung in die Netzwerkanalyse. 3. Auflage. Opladen, Germany: Leske & Budrich.