Definition of a cluster

According to C. Ketels, a cluster is “a group of companies and institutions co-located in a specific geographic region and linked by interdependencies in providing a related group of products and/or services. Because of their proximity (both in terms of geography and activities) the clusters members are driven by various types of externalities specific to their location.  These externalities include, for instance, the access to specialized labor markets and suppliers, the knowledge spill-overs, a pressure to reach higher economic performance to face the increasing competitiveness, and a continuous learning thanks to a close interaction between the customers and the specialized suppliers.”

As a consequence, a cluster is a geographic concentration of interconnected companies, suppliers and associated organizations in a particular field.  Clusters share four critical characteristics:

  • Proximity: the companies need to be sufficiently close in space to allow any positive spillovers and the sharing of common resources to occur.
  • Linkages: they need to share a common goal (for example, final market demand) for them to be able to profit from proximity and interaction.
  • Interactions: being close and working on related issues is not enough. For positive cluster effects to occur, some level of active interaction has to be present.
  • Critical mass: there needs to be sufficient number of participants present for the interactions to have a meaningful impact on companies’ performance.


Tourism related clusters

The tourism cluster is a cluster which ambition is to reinforce, in terms of sustainable development, the destination identity – what makes it different from other destinations – and which stakeholders are all responsible for it.

There are many different types of clusters:

  • The ‘group purchasing’ cluster: will enable the actors on a territory to get together, punctually or recurrently, formally or informally, with or without a leader, in order to make economies of scale: group ordering of equipment, group purchasing of services, sharing specialized workforce… This type of cluster is essentially based on economies of scale, a great cost advantage for the cluster members. A ‘group purchasing’ cluster generates itself spontaneously and is self-financed.
    • For example: group purchasing of water saving systems, group purchasing of consultant services to carry out an environmental analysis.
  • The ‘Value chain’ cluster, also called vertical cluster: in which a chain of contractor(s) – suppliers – subcontractors, led by a leader, will put together their skills and know-how.  It is based on a higher business performance to face the cluster non-members. This type of cluster is set up by the contractor(s) and is entirely financed by the cluster members or co-financed by public entities.
    • For example: coaching of an hotel and its value chain composed of suppliers and subcontractors - Menschel’s Cluster
  • The ‘Label’ cluster: The stakeholders of a same territory decide to implement a same label or a same certification. According to the chosen label, they will come from the same activity sector (in this case, we call it a horizontal cluster) or not. It is based on the sharing of good practices when implementing the label and on a common communication. The cluster will be led by an internal or external body.  Initiated by an external contractor, it will generally be publicly funded.
    • For example : Implementation of a ‘ Pan Park’ certification; ‘European Ecolabel for Tourist Accommodation’ collective action or a cluster around a UNESCO “BIOSPHERE” reserve (Schwäbische Alb)
  • The ‘territorial’ cluster: Besides the sharing of good practices, it involves its stakeholders in the territory management.  It is generally initiated by a public or para-public actor who leads the cluster and substantially finances it (directly or through other public funds).
    • For example: the Lakes of l'Eau d'Heure management Agency involves some of the tourism operators in the area in the improvement of their environmental impacts