Making Ethical Tourism Good Business
During the past semester I have been teaching a subject called “current challenges in tourism” for the final year undergraduate tourism students at UTS. A core focus of this subject is the integration of ethics into many streams of tourism. We looked at the ethical dimension of tourism security, tourism marketing and advertising, dark tourism, accessible tourism, pro-poor tourism, indigenous tourism, tourism and human rights, volunteer tourism and wildlife tourism- just to name a few segments of the tourism industry.
When I started as a tourism professional over 35 years ago, the very idea that the business of tourism had an ethical dimension would have been considered laughable. After all the collective wisdom of the industry then was that tourism was about giving the punters what they wanted and making sure that the bottom line was printed in black ink. Similar attitudes also used to apply to sustainability but today, virtually all tourism businesses in all sectors promote their sustainability credentials as a selling and marketing benefit.
Over the past two decades the global tourism industry has made great progress in embracing ethical principles in tourism. Many tourism businesses and tourism associations have made advances in supporting poverty elimination. Professor Geoffrey Lipman’s initiative, supported by the UNWTO to establish STEP, Sustainable Tourism for the Elimination of Poverty is a case in point. Organistions such as the International Institute for Peace Tourism founded by Louis D’Amore and the UK based Tourism Concern advocacy group have contributed to the industry placing far more concern on ethical issues than in the past. Transnational tourism association such as the UNWTO, The World Travel and Tourism Council and the Pacific Asia Travel Association have embraced ethical approaches to the management and delivery of tourism services.
Many tourism businesses are increasingly focused on tourism making a positive difference to destination societies and especially for disadvantaged groups within those societies. Essentially, ethics is about doing the right thing by one’s fellow human beings, the environment and advancing social equity. While considerable progress has been made in ethical tourism, the research conducted by my own students and students at other tertiary institutions who are engaged in similar courses around the world reveal that we have a long way to go. Have a good look at your own business and answer the following questions. If you answer yes to all or most of them you are already on the ethical tourism bandwagon if not, then perhaps its time to make your business more ethical.
The selfish reason for embracing ethics is that in an increasingly discerning tourism market, ethical businesses can expect to earn more money than those who are not. The less selfish reason is that by being ethical you contribute to making the world a better place to travel in. 1. Does your marketing and advertising accurately describe the products and services you are selling ? 2. Do the employees involved in your ground operators at destinations receive fair and reasonable pay and working conditions ? 3. Do the volunteer tourism programs you sell and market actually enhance the quality of life for the destination communities or are they just an expensive ego trip for the volunteers? 4. Do the tourism products and services you sell in developing countries actually contribute to the economic advancement of destination communities ? 5. Do you try to brief your clients about appropriate and culturally sensitive conduct in destinations they are visiting ? 6. Does your business contribute to a charitable cause ? I could pose a lot more questions but see how you go with these for starters.
Ethical approaches to tourism are everybody’s business and they could be very good for your business.