Few might disagree that pursuing a transition to a more sustainable state is a worthy goal for the tourism industry. Yet, while the corporate responsibility debate outside tourism has yielded examples of best practice and a plethora of research, within tourism there have been far fewer examples of positive action. Simultaneously, despite being labelled the world’s largest industry, and an industry that comprises high polluting airlines and resorts embedded into the context of people’s lives, the tourism industry has also escaped from the kind of media attention and consumer boycotts that have seen organisations such as Nike, Shell and McDonalds pilloried for their corporate actions. This presentation examines what the drivers are for companies to pursue a sustainable transition and considers whether the reason for the tourism industry’s low profile within the realm of corporate social responsibility is that these pressures just do not bite as hard as for other industries.
The first element of this question is to consider the extent to which those employed within the tourism industry feel a moral pressure in making the transition towards a more sustainable future. From the time of Adam Smith through to Milton Friedman’s seminal article on the social responsibility of business, the principled argument is not one that traditionally has held much ground with commercial organisations. Actions beyond the legal minimum have tended to be derided as economically inefficient and therefore irresponsible. Yet, is Friedman’s legacy now fading and does altruism have a role to play as a motive for corporate responsibility? Studies external to tourism discuss the ethical orientation of students and employees entering a range of industries, but is it possible that the tourism industry attracts employees who have a different set of ethics compared to entrants to other industries? The rise of corporate philanthropy and the potential opportunity for social entrepreneurship within tourism might also be useful indicators of the benevolence of those attracted to the tourism industry.
Beyond a moral imperative, the business case dictates that sustainability will be pursued where there is a financial reward for doing so. Hence, the role of the consumer, opportunities for more eco-efficient ways to work using technology, benefits from public relations and the potential to improve the overall market conditions are all reasons for companies to follow a sustainability transition. These are all topics that have received extensive attention outside tourism, but much less within tourism and deserve to be considered to understand why this is. However, an area that has received almost no attention within the tourism literature is the role of the financial industries such as pensions and insurance companies to influence the way their clients do business. Potentially this can have significant impact on the tourism industry through pressure for greater corporate governance and responses to a less stable external natural and social environment.
This presentation concludes that despite all the forces pressing the tourism industry towards taking a more prominently responsible stance, it has been able to continue at a slower pace than other higher profile industries. However, as with other industries that believed they were flying below the radar of world attention, when they do come to attention they face unfair, uneven and unrelenting criticism that can weaken the company for years to come. The tourism industry needs to be aware of this risk and to use the time available to it now to put its house in order.
Dr Graham Miller is a Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of Surrey, England, where he teaches issues relating to business ethics and the tourism industry. Graham has a PhD and Masters degree from the University of Surrey, UK. Graham’s main research interest is in the forces that enable and prevent the drive for a sustainable transition. This has led to studies of indicators of sustainability, the attitudes of tourism companies to corporate responsibility and of consumers to more sustainable tourism products. Related research has examined the level and orientation of tourism students to ethical dilemmas and the use made by the tourism industry of links with charities through cause related campaigns.
School of Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH. G.Miller@surrey.ac.uk