Loading content
Professor Tim Coles

Professor Tim Coles

Associate Dean (Research), Professor of Management


+44 (0) 1392 724441

Streatham Court, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4PU, UK

Tim Coles is Professor of Management in the University of Exeter Business School where he is also Director of Impact. Tim moved to the Department of Management in 2005 after a two-year secondment as a University Business Research Fellow tasked with developing research with external partners. Tim joined as Senior Lecturer and then Associate Professor with responsibility as Programme Director for the MSc Tourism Development and Policy and MRes in Tourism Studies.

His recent work has examined how travel and tourism operators have adapted their management practices to address the major challenge of global environmental change. His previous work examined how the processes of globalisation have shaped new types of tourism and mobility.

He is a leading authority on business and management research in tourism. He edits two book series for Routledge and he is on the editorial board of four international, peer reviewed journals. His work also has strong practical and applied dimensions. Since 2000, he has completed over 35 projects for and with businesses and organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors, such as the World Travel and Tourism Council, Tate, the National Trust, Flybe, the Ministry of Defence, UK Trade and Investment, BT, and Land Securities.

In 2008, he was appointed the Director of Centre for Sport, Leisure and Tourism Research. This university research centre, spanning five schools and led by the Business School, is a national centre of excellence. Funded by a five-year, £1.5 million grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through its Capacity Building Cluster scheme, it establishes Exeter as the leading UK university for postgraduate and postdoctoral training and knowledge transfer in tourism and leisure.

Prior to his joining the Business School, Tim‘s academic background and training had been in the geographies of consumer services. During his undergraduate studies in Geography with European Studies, he spent a year at Göttingen University. His PhD examined the restructuring of the retail sector in Germany from 1848-1914 and it was conducted part-time while he completed a four-year Leverhulme Trust-funded project on business sources. From 1996-2000, he was a Lecturer at Bath Spa University where he established the Tourism Management programmes. He returned to Exeter in 2000 to the School of Geography where he joined the programme team that successfully developed the first ESRC-accredited tourism training at Masters and doctoral levels in business and management studies.

Administrative responsibilities

  • Director of Impact, University of Exeter Business School


BSc, PhD (Exeter)

Research clusters

Research interests

  • Tourism, international business, mobilities and transnationalism
  • Governance, regulation and organisational behaviour in tourism
  • Leadership, innovation and knowledge transfer in tourism
  • Sustainable tourism management

Environment in its various guises is at the heart of travel and tourism. In many cases, it is what triggers the desire to travel and it forms the basis for the tourist experience. However, changing global conditions have altered the way in which tourism is both produced and consumed. New modes of communication, technological innovations, and faster travel have created space for new temporary forms of tourism, migration and mobility which blur the distinctions between vacations, vocations and work. Professor Coles' research argues that travel and tourism are even more important forms of activity than they are routinely given credit for in orthodox interpretations. While critical research should recognise and understand these new types of behaviour, businesses and organisations serve to mediate, negotiate and ultimately shape the nature of experiences both now and moving forward. The principles of sustainable development offer one means to manage the future of travel and tourism. Professor Coles' current interests are in the extent to which ideas of sustainable business practices offer an effective means to respond to the challenges of global environmental change.

Research projects

Sustainable business practices are at the heart of Professor Coles' recent work funded by the Economic and Social Research Council's Business Engagement Scheme. In conjunction with Flybe, he has recently completed research on 'Social Responsibility among Low-fares Airlines: Current Practices and Future Trends'. Amid public debate about their credentials to contribute to sustainable development, this project examined the extent to which low-fares airlines practise the principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their operations. It concluded that there was considerable CSR-related activity already ongoing and, although this was not overtly broadcast externally, it provided a basis to develop CSR activities further throughout the value-chain in these businesses.

With partners at Southwest Tourism, Professor Coles is also conducting work on 'Climate Change Mitigation and Business Innovation: Potentials and Prospects for the Tourism Sector'. While climate change adaptation is across the media as a result of Copenhagen and Kyoto, this project examines the less fashionable but equally important dimension of mitigation. This project starts from the assumption that gains from reducing carbon-intensive behaviour require businesses to innovate in some way or another. It examines the hypothesis that businesses innovate at different rates and so 'one size fits all' solutions are seldom the most effective way of achieving change. The principal research question is, therefore, what type of behaviours can we identify and hence what types of assistances are required to help businesses progress.

These specific strands of research are part of a wider range of work on tourism and its impacts being conducted by Exeter research students. Exeter has one of the largest and most prominent groups of tourism doctoral students globally. Among the projects on which Professor Coles serves as co-supervisor, PhD students are examining the leadership characteristics of business people in the area of sustainable tourism; the ecological footprint of tourism in Koh Samui (sponsored by the Royal Thai Ministry of Energy); and corporate social responsibility among travel and tourism operators. Students from the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Korea, Thailand, United States, as well as the UK contribute to the cosmopolitan cohort and fruitful exchange of knowledge.

The coming months will be exciting as more students are recruited and this group will grow further because of the activities of the Centre for Sport, Leisure and Tourism Research. As part of its funding portfolio, it has 15 CASE awards. These are effectively projects co-supervised between the university and an external partner. Professor Coles is looking forward to starting projects with new research students on:

  • the impact of tourism on water supplies, with South West Water
  • determining the impact of adventurous off-road cycling, with 1SW and the Forestry Commission, and
  • exploring the socio-cultural impacts of investment in the museums sector, with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.

Awards and Honours

  • 2002-04: Business Research Fellowship (SWRDA)
  • 1993: Alfred Steers Dissertation Prize (Royal Geographical Society)

Conferences and invited presentations

  • 'Sport tourism takes pole position', World Travel Market, Excel Arena, London, November 2009.
  • 'Tourism and climate change: CSR doesn't have to be taxing', Institute for Travel and Tourism business engagement roundtable, London, October 2009.
  • 'Tourism, marketing and service (r)evolution', Keynote address at 3rd international Advances in Tourism Marketing Conference, Bournemouth, September 2009.
  • 'Where have all the resorts gone?', Keynote address, Launch of the Coastal Regeneration Research Centre, SEEDA / University College Hastings / University of Brighton, April 2009.

External positions

Professor Coles' main teaching interest is in the interface between principles and practices in travel and tourism management, based on years of external engagement with businesses and organisations. As he himself says, "let's face it, labels like 'economic development' or 'policy and strategy' are a tough sell. They are not especially attractive but these subjects are vital if students are going to fully understand how the tourism sector functions." Using a series of practical examples and case studies from practice, Professor Coles' teaching aims to make core concepts and ideas accessible to students so that they better understand the complexities of the world beyond the classroom, and are equipped to deal with them.