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Why ethics is important in hospitality and tourism industry?


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March 02, 2012 4:31AM


Lecturer PhD Constanţa ENEA

Constantin Brancuşi University Tg-Jiu


The tourism industry is one of the largest industries in the world, and despite

recent events that have made its operating environment more complex, the

industry continues to grow [Theobald, 2005, Global Tourism, 3rd



Butterworth-Heinemann/Elsevier]. Commensurate to the size of the industry

is a growth in the number of students pursuing degree courses in tourism

around the world. Despite an increasingly sophisticated literature, the relative

recency of the industry and its study has meant little attention has been paid

in the ethics literature to the dilemmas facing tourism managers and its

students. Based on interviews with senior members of the tourism industry

six scenarios are developed with pertinence to the challenges faced by

industry practitioners today.

Keywords: ethics in tourism, ethical decision-making

Ethics and tourism

The substantial growth of tourism

activity clearly marks tourism as one of

the most remarkable economic and

social phenomena of the past century.

The number of international arrivals

shows an evolution from a mere 25

million international arrivals in 1950 to

over 700 million in 2002, corresponding

to an average annual growth rate of

6.6% [World Tourism Organization,

2005]. In addition to the numerical

growth of tourism, there has been an

increasing geographic spread of tourism

to encompass almost all the reaches of

the globe.

Simultaneously, there has been a

diversification of thetourism product

from the traditional sun, sea andsand

offering to a product that can be

potentially more intrusive, or more

beneficial for those living in the tourism

destination. Tourism's expansion has

meant the industry now represents the

leading source of foreign exchange in at

least 38% of countries, and ranks in the

top five industries for exports in 83% of

countries [WTO, 2005].

However, in addition to the oftcited economic indicators displaying the

dominance of the tourism industry, there

has been a commensurate and almost

equally well-publicised rise and

recognition of the potentially negative

impacts of the burgeoning tourism

industry [Archer et al., 2005].

Researchers have been critical of the

pernicious social and environmental

impacts the industry can have from

reinforcing western domination over

developing countries through the

'host/guest' relationship [Smith and

Brent, 2001] to the visual scars on the

landscape caused by ski resorts or golf

courses [Hudson, 2000]. This has led to

calls for the industry to exercise greater

responsibility and ''professionalism''

[Sheldon, 1989] in order to protect the

''golden goose'' [Manning and

Dougherty, 1995] and mirrors the

arguments for greater corporate and

social responsibility in other industries

[Huberman- Arnold and Arnold, 2001;

Miller, 2001; Rondinelli and Berry, 2000;

Webley, 1999].

Corporate Social Responsibility

[CSR] is a specific application of the

notion of environmental and social

auditing to business practice. The

technique is strongly promoted by Fair

Trade in Tourism [2002] which suggests

that the technique of CSR emerged in 167

the late 1990s out of NGO efforts to

create a more equitable international

trade system. According to Mowforth

and Munt [2003] the tourism industry is

well behind other industries in terms of

CSR, and the absence of ethical

leadership in the tourism industry has

been 'astounding' [p. 168].

However, in the last few decades,

responsible tourism has emerged as a

significant trend in the western world, as

wider consumer market trends towards

lifestyle marketing and ethical

consumption have spread to tourism

[Goodwin and Francis, 2003].

Tourism organizations are

beginning to realise that promoting their

ethical stance can be good business as

it potentially enhances a company's

profits, management effectiveness,

public image and employee relations

[Fleckenstein and Huebsch, 1999;

Hudson and Miller, 2005]. Yet, although

more attention is now being paid to

ethics in tourism [Holden, 2003; Kalisch,

2002] there is a very weak foundation of

research into tourism ethics studies to

date [Fennell, 1999].

The consequence is that the

arguments presented for and against

CSR in tourism are often simplistic and

largely without any practical evidence.

Ethical decision-making

The two approaches to ethical

decision-making which have received

most attention in the literature are those

reliant on the theories of deontology and

teleology [McDonald and Beck-Dudley,

1994]. A deontological approach enjoys

a rich historical legacy, dating back to

philosophers such as Socrates, 384

Simon Hudson and Graham Miller and

more recently to the work of Kant.

Deontology is concerned with the idea

of universal truths and principles, which

should be adhered to regardless of the

circumstances. Kant's categorical

imperative states that a person faced

with a problem should be able to

respond consistently and in conformity

with their moral principles and also feel

comfortable with the decision being

made in full view of others. A

teleological view can be understood as

''consequentialism'' [Kaynama et al.,

1996] following from the philosophical

work of Jeremy Bentham and John

Stuart Mill on utilitarianism.

Thus, ethical decisions are made

in view of expected outcomes, which

eliminate the universality of decisions

and subordinates principles to context.

A common expression for the two

approaches would be that deontology

places the means as more important

than the end, while for teleology it is the

end that justifies the means.

Understanding these theories helps to

successfully employ the various ''tools''

that exist to control the tourism industry,

ranging from market-based instruments

such as taxes through to more

command and control instruments such

as legislation.

For a deontologist, breaking the

law would contravene their view of

ethics and so the legislation would be

abided by almost regardless of the

value of the legislation. Yet, a teleologist

would consider the consequences of not

abiding by the law and would weigh this

against the benefits of breaking the law.

If tourism students seem to adopt a

teleological approach to ethical

dilemmas, then legislation

can only expect to be effective if

accompanied by stringent penalties that

make the outlawed behaviour not

worthwhile, and hence the need to

understand how decisions are made.

Malloy and Fennell [1998], Cleek and

Leonard [1998] and Stevens [2001] all

point to the increasing prevalence of

codes of ethics employed by the tourism

industry as a tool to provide guidance to

employees when making decisions. An

important contribution in this area has

been made by the World Tourism

Organization, who in 1999 approved the

Global Code of Ethics for Tourism that

consolidated and reinforced previous

recommendations and declarations on

sustainable tourism. 168

The Code aims to preserve the

world's natural resources and cultural

heritage from disruptive tourist activities

and to ensure a fair and equitable

sharing of benefits that arise out of

tourism with the residents of tourism

destinations. Yet the code is not

supported by an understanding of how

industry practitioners make their

decisions. Indeed, the lack of

awareness within the industry of the

code would indicate the code is not a

particularly effective tool.

Influences on ethical

decision making

Previous theory suggests that

there are a number of influences on

ethical decision making of students,

including nationality, the type of ethical

dilemma, prior ethical education, and

gender. Prior research in cross-cultural

or cross-national ethical values of

students has been quite contradictory.

For example, Lysonski and Gaidis

[1991] found that business students'

ethical orientations were similar in the

USA, Denmark and New Zealand.

However, Okleshen and Hoyt [1996]

found that US students were less

tolerant than New Zealand students of

situations involving

the ethical constructs of fraud, coercion

and self-interest. Whipple and Swords

[1992] suggest that the field of business

ethics has not attracted the degree of

academic interest in the UK as it has in

the US, and that more business ethics

courses are needed in Britain to counter

the difference in ethical judgements


Ethical decision making is also

likely to be influenced by the type of

ethical dilemma faced. Jones [1991]

showed ethical issues can be classified

according to their intensity, with

respondents more likely to respond

according to ethical principles if the

issue is deemed as important. Applied

ethics has evolved for functions and

aspects such as business ethics,

marketing ethics, and accounting ethics,

but discussion of sustainable tourism

ethics and the moral appropriateness of

sustainable tourism in various contexts

is somewhat muted by comparison

[Fennell, 1999]. In western societies

over the last few decades, an increased

recognition that the world's resources

are limited, has led to the strengthening

of an environmental ethic, whereby the

natural environment is recognised to

have an intrinsic value which outweighs

its value as a leisure asset [Holden,

2003]. Yet, despite understanding the

concept of the ''triple bottom line'',

attention to the negative economic and

socio-cultural impacts of tourism is less

evident [Jamal, 2004]. Indeed, a recent

review of tourism journals shows a

heavy bias in favour of Ethical

Orientation and Awareness of Tourism

Students 385 papers that focus on the

environmental issues arising from the

industry [Hughes, 2005], reflecting the

acknowledged predisposition NGOs

have previously held towards the

environment [Scheyvens, 2002].

Through exposure to these

debates students are potentially more

likely to be sensitive to environmental

issues. The level of ethical education is

likely to have an influence on ethical

decision making [Whitney, 1989]. The

last decade has seen an increase in the

demands for ethical training amongst

tourism students [Jamal, 2004; Tribe,

2002]. However, there is little evidence

that tourism students are receiving

ethical education [Cohen et al. 2001;

Whitney, 1989], and no research has

looked at the relationship between this

training and ethical decision making.

Singh's [1989] survey of Canadian

management schools shows that nearly

half of all those Universities surveyed

did not offer a formal course in business

ethics to their students. Enghagen

[1990] found a higher proportion of

courses were offered in the US for

hospitality education, although the

majority of ethics courses offered were

electives. Studies which have attempted

to measure the impact of teaching 169

ethics to students have shown

improved, but shortlived improvements

in the ethical values and reasoning skills

of students [Fulmer and Cargile, 1987;

Weber, 1990]. Harris [1991] found that

business majors profess a teleogical

[Egoist and Utilitarian] approach,

whereas non-business majors prefer a

deontological [Golden Rule and Kant's

Imperative] approach. Okleshen and

Hoyt [1996] concluded from their study

that educational experience in an ethics

course produces homogeneity and is

beneficial towards obtaining cross

cultural understanding and congruence

in ethical values.

Finally, studies of ethics and

gender have found females to be less

tolerant than males of situations

involving ethical dilemmas [Beltrami et

al., 1984; Cohen et al., 2001; Ferrell

and Skinner, 1988; Peterson et al.,

1991; Ruegger and King, 1992]. For

example, Whipple and Wolf [1991]

found that female students are more

critical than their male classmates of

questionable business practices. Others

[Freedman and Bartholomew, 1990;

Gilligan, 1982] have found student

females to have higher moral values

than males. Galbraith and Stephenson

[1993] demonstrated that female

business students prefer a utilitarian

decision rule while male business

students prefer an Egoist approach to

evaluating ethical dilemmas.

As one of the world's truly global

industries, working with a diversity of

cultures, moral and ethical values,

future business practitioners face the

challenge of global ethics [Okleshen

and Hoyt, 1996]. In order to contribute

to the development of understanding of

global ethics, this study is responding to

calls for the need to document existing

ethical perspectives of individuals from

around the world and to identify the

determinants of ethical orientations

[Kirande et al., 2002].


The tourism literature makes a

continual call for more decisions to be

made that acknowledge the full impacts

of the industry and yet little research

has been conducted that attempts to

establish the ethical framework the

managers of the future will employ to

approach these decisions. This

research has drawn on the work of

other subject disciplines and applied an

established research methodology to

tourism students in three different

countries. Such research has enabled

more informed discussions about what

is required from ethical instruction in the

future. It should be noted that the

intention of this research was not to

determine what is ethical or unethical.

Rather, it was to assess how the

characteristics of issues influence

ethical beliefs, how individuals think and

devise what is ethical and unethical and

how different variables influence ethical

perceptions [Trevino, 1986]. Once

greater knowledge exists about how

students and businesses are making

decisions, then discussions of which

tools are appropriate to enable or

constrain those decisions become more



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