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Importance of Tourism Ethics

The significant growth of tourism activity without a doubt marks tourism as one of the most notable economic and social occurrence of the past century. According to the World Tourism Organization (2005), the number of international arrivals shows a growth from a 25 million international arrivals in 1950 to over 700 million in 2002, matching to an average yearly growth rate of 6.6%. In addition to the statistical growth of tourism, there has been a change of the tourism product from the conventional sun, sea and sand to a product that would be more beneficial for those living in the tourism destination. Tourism’s growth has meant the industry now stands for the foremost source of foreign exchange earnings in most countries (WTO, 2005). However, in addition to the often cited economic pointers displaying the control of the tourism industry, there has been a matching rise and recognition of the possible negative impacts of the growing tourism industry; this has led to calls for the industry to exercise greater responsibility in order to protect various destinations (Archer et al., 2005).

However, in the last few decades, responsible tourism has come into view as a wider consumer market trends towards lifestyle marketing and ethical consumption have spread to tourism (Goodwin, 2003). Tourism organizations are beginning to realise that promoting their ethical position can be good business as it has the ability to increase a company’s profits, management effectiveness, public image and employee relations (Hudson and Miller, 2005). There has been not only a significant change in the products and patterns of tourism across the world over the past decade, but also an increasing concern with how it might contribute towards sustainable living, mainly for the world’s poor and how the huge environmental impacts can be controlled (Godwin 2003).

This essay will look at the issue of ethics in the tourism industry, highlighting the need for responsible tourism; what instigates responsible tourism; related approaches to responsible tourism; companies that promote responsible tourism; set guidelines for tourism and then conclusion.

Ethics and the Tourism Industry

Tourism has come into view as a major force in the worldwide economy, with most countries, having increasing opportunities to participate, as both tourism destinations and tourists (Ashley et al, 2001). However, many local populations are faced with not only a loss of their traditional livelihoods, but also the viewpoint that they may be moved from where they lived to make way for new tourism developments. Many of the problems faced by the tourism industry are ethical in nature, including destruction of the environment, pollution, depletion of natural resources, economic imperialism, and sexual exploitation.

In response to these ethical tensions, there has been recognition of the need to consider the concept of responsible tourism, tourism that creates better places for people to live in, and better places to visit. It extends the idea of eco-tourism or sustainable tourism to include social and ethical as well as environmental considerations. The World Tourism Organisation (2002) described responsible tourism as a concept that relates to all forms of tourism which respect the tourism destination, the natural, built and cultural environment, and the interests of all. Also, the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations (2002) describes Responsible Tourism as tourism that reduces harmful economic, environmental and social impacts; create more economic benefits for local communities; provides interesting experiences for tourists through meaningful interactions with local communities and cultures and improves the well being of tourism destinations. Responsible Tourism is about the legacy and the consequences of tourism for the environment, local people and local economies. Various countries and organisations such as South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, Gambia, India, Sri Lanka, are already practicing responsible tourism.

Drivers of Responsible Tourism

Globally, concerns about global warming, destruction of the environment, wearing away of cultures, and poverty, are increasing. The number of initiatives aimed at improving the living conditions for the world’s vulnerable people, increases daily (WTO, 2000). The awareness of the earth’s predicament is spilling over into the way people behave in their homes, how they spend their money and the way businesses are run. Driven by changing personal ethics, individuals contribute financially or otherwise to environmental and humanitarian initiatives. For instance, in the UK, the market share for ethical products grew by 22% between 1999 and 2004 (The Ethical Consumerism Report, 2005). Business ethics are also changing, with companies adopting business practices that are based on ethical values (Goodwin, 2000).

Responsible Tourism is no longer seen as a passing trend and has now become a recognised and accepted sector within the industry with holidaymakers becoming more aware of their responsibilities as travellers (UNEP, 2000). In 1996, South Africa was the first country to take on responsible tourism as a nationwide policy; the White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa (1996) sees responsible tourism as a positive approach by tourism industry and partners to develop, market, and manage the tourism industry in a responsible manner. The White Paper state that the environment is the responsibility of the tourism industry, through the promotion of balanced and sustainable tourism, and a focus on environmentally based tourism activities; it is the responsibility of government and business to involve the local communities that are in close proximity to tourism infrastructure and attractions, through the development of meaningful economic linkages; tourists, business and government should respect, invest and develop local cultures, and protect them from over commercialization and over-exploitation; local communities should become actively involved in the tourism industry, to practice sustainable development, and to ensure the safety and security of visitors; and tourists should observe the norms and practices of South Africa (DEAT, 1996).

Related Approaches to Responsible Tourism

Pro-poor tourism, community-based tourism, volunteer tourism, are different approaches to tourism, they are all based on the three pillars of sustainable development. However, each approach has a precise goal. Responsible tourism is a unifying term that embraces all these approaches. This section will focus mainly on pro-poor tourism in relation to responsible tourism.

The concept of pro-poor tourism was developed in 1999 with the aim of increasing opportunities for the poor and to control all forms of tourism at different location (DFID, 1999). According to Ashley et al (2001), pro-poor tourism generates net benefits for the poor; these benefits may be economic, social, environmental or cultural. The core activities needed includes: increasing access of the poor to economic benefits by increasing business and employment opportunities for the poor; providing training so they are in a position to take up these opportunities and spreading income beyond individual earners to the wider community; addressing the negative social and environmental impacts often associated with tourism such as lost access to land, coastal areas and other resources and social interference or exploitation; policy restructuring by creating a policy and planning framework that removes some of the barriers to the poor, by promoting participation of the poor in planning and decision-making processes surrounding tourism; and by encouraging partnerships between the private sector and poor people in developing new tourism products (Goodwin, 2000).

Case Examples of Companies promoting Responsible Tourism

UK Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO)

AITO is the first tourism industry association to incorporate into its business deed a commitment to Responsible travel. Companies such as AITO identify the need to respect other people’s domicile and culture. As tour operators, they acknowledge that wherever a tour operator does business, it has a potential environmental, social and economic impact on the destinations involved (Goodwin, 2005). As a result, AITO aims to be responsible in all their dealings on each of these three levels. In order to achieve this goal, a set of guidelines has been planned to help companies, customers and local suppliers recognise their general tasks which includes protection of the environment; respect of local cultures and customs; benefit for local communities; conservation of natural resources and pollution control (AITO Responsible Tourism Guidelines 2000).

According to launched in 2001, responsible travel involves bringing tourists closer to local cultures and values. Since their launch, they have worked with large numbers of tour operators to help establish effective responsible tourism policies; they have led the way in offering outstanding holidays worldwide that benefit local communities and stand as the world’s leading travel agent for responsible holidays. The company through public relations is one of the most active voices in the responsible tourism movement today.

Responsible travel maximises the benefits, and minimises the negative effects of tourism. Their activities have been grouped into four: before booking for holidays; before travel, while on holidays and back home. Before booking for holidays includes encouraging travellers to choose a responsible operator to enquire about eco-friendly accommodations; reducing carbon emissions by taking some holidays closer to home, travel by train and public transport where possible, booking direct flights avoiding transfers; before travel states the need for travellers to read up on local cultures and learn a few words of the local language, remove all excess packaging as waste disposal is difficult in remote places and developing countries, ask tour operators for specific tips for responsible travel in chosen destination; while on holiday emphasizes the need to buy local produce, hire a local guide, respect local cultures, traditions and holy places, use public transport, hire a bike or walk when convenient; and back home state that tourists should give feedback to tour operator or hotel about holiday, and include any suggestions on reducing environmental impacts and increasing benefits to local communities (

Guiding Principles for the Tourism Industry

Numerous codes of ethics have been developed that are aimed first at tourists and second at the tourist industry as a result of a growing concern over alleged irresponsible practices by tourists, the tourist industry, and governments. These codes generally address ethical principles focusing on a sense of responsibility (WTO, 1999). Table 1 and 2 shows a summary of the recommended guidelines for the tourism industry.

Guidelines for the industry

Aid meaningful interactions between tourism destinations and tourists and respond to the special travel needs of diverse population groups.

Strengthen and improve landscape character, sense of place, community identity, and benefits flowing to the community as a result of tourism.

Protect and enhance natural, historic, cultural and aesthetic resources as a legacy for present and future generations.

Encourage tourism research and education which lay emphasis on ethics, heritage preservation, and the tourism destination; and the required information to ensure the economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability of tourism.

Promote greater public awareness of the economic, social, cultural, and environmental significance of tourism.

Table 1: Guidelines for Tourism Industry

(Tourism Industry Association of Canada, 2005).

Guiding Principles for Economic Responsibility

  • Considering the opportunity costs of tourism for local communities; maintaining and encouraging economic diversity.
  • Maximising local economic benefits by increasing linkages and reducing leakages
  • Ensure communities are involved in tourism.
  • Considering co-operative advertising, marketing and the promotion of new and emerging products.
  • Recruit and employ staff in an equitable and transparent manner and maximise the proportion of staff employed from the local community.
  • Guiding Principles for Social Responsibility
  • Involve the local community in planning and decision-making.
  • Identify and monitor potential adverse social impacts of tourism and minimise them.
  • Maintain and encourage social and cultural diversity.
  • Be sensitive to the host culture; respecting and developing local heritage.
  • Guiding Principles for Environmental Responsibility
  • Follow best practise guidelines on the design, planning and construction of buildings and associated infrastructure to minimise environmental impacts.
  • Use local materials appropriately.
  • Avoid damaging the environmental quality of the enterprise’s neighbourhood by noise or light pollution.
  • Use local resources sustainably.
  • Maintain and encourage natural diversity.

Table 2: Responsible Tourism Guidelines for the South African Tourism Industry

(Spenceley, 2001)


Responsible tourism is rising as new ideas which aim to push the mainstream tourism industry. Model projects and successful multi-stakeholder ideas, are also beginning to grow (UNEP 2000). These few examples perhaps prove that tourism has the potential to meet many of the objectives of sustainable development such as renewal of economies, supporting local communities, protecting the environment and even generate cost savings and efficiency gains for tourism companies. Promotion of responsible tourism, through the development of policies, awareness-raising schemes, local participation, guidelines for good practice and actual implementation remain essential goals (WTO, 1999). Responsible tourism should aim to directly support poverty eradication and sustainable production and consumption. Making progress on a larger scale will be an appropriate balancing act and will require a massive turn around in approach from the whole Travel and Tourism industry nevertheless it is an approach that obviously requires support from all stakeholders interested and involved in the industry (UNEP, 2000).

Tearfund (2001) highlights that ethics in tourism is an issue of concern in most countries. As the public have more free time available and more money to spend on leisure, and as a rising number of people travel to developing countries, they will want to make certain that their holiday will benefit, and not deter, the local people, environment, customs and heritage.

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