• Sabi Sabi

    Photo credit by Sabi Sabi Game Reseve, Kruger National Park, South Africa

  • Tswalu

    Photo credit by Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa

  • IMG_3851

    Photo credit by !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre, Western Cape, South Africa

  • Amakhala

    Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Responsible Employment in Tourism

point-of-view_1 International tourist arrivals worldwide will reach 1.8 billion by 2030 according to UNWTO long term forecast Tourism Towards 2030. Several countries worldwide are likely to face a skills shortage in the hospitality and tourism sector; employment in a responsible and sustainable manner will become even more critical for stakeholders in the industry. We would like to bring back a feature from the second issue of SOST that emphasises the positive relationship between responsible employment practices and business performance, and makes a strong case for employee welfare and responsible engagement. – Managing Editor, SOST
Our contributing writer for the Point of View column is Andreas Walmsley PhD, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) at Plymouth University, York, United Kingdom. Andreas’ interests revolve around the relationship between employment and responsibility. He has focused in particular on the management of human resources in tourism and the service industries more generally.

Historically, firms have been suspicious of corporate social responsibility seeing it as antithetical to business. Today however there is wide acknowledgement that CSR and business performance are not necessarily at odds, but rather that they can complement each other. Indeed, according to Hollender and Breen’s recent book ‘The Responsibility Revolution: How the next generation of businesses will win’1, the future of business lies in meeting the demand in the marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible firms. In other words, engaging in CSR will no longer be an option for the successful firm. This is confirmed in a recent study on Corporate Responsibility Reporting published by KPMG in 2011.2 According to this report 95 percent of the 250 largest global companies now report on the corporate responsibility activities which in turn drives innovation and promotes learning, ultimately leading to an increase in the organization’s value.

When we read of sustainable tourism we are often confronted with considerable efforts on the part of businesses to reduce their negative impacts on the natural environment. Sometimes we also see attempts to protect the host destination’s culture.
While these are necessary and laudable goals, what is often neglected is a focus on tourism employment.

Tourism employment assumes a key junction between the tourism industry and host communities. In fact, tourism is regularly promoted on the basis of its ability to bring in foreign currency and to provide employment, particularly to economically marginalised regions.

Very rarely do we ask about the nature of tourism work. We cannot however sit back and ignore employment malpractices in the industry if we are serious about sustainability.

The good news is that the relationship between responsible employment practices and business performance is positive. It is very clear that in a customer facing industry, ignoring the needs of employees is a sure fire road to failure. Arguably, short term gains may be made through exploiting the workforce, but long-term business success, and this is what sustainability is all about after all, will only be upheld where management and employees work together, not against each other.

point-of-view_2 Which business would not want committed employees? As Stefan Stern writes in the Financial Times: ‘Of all the no-brainers in all the executive suites in the entire world, winning the engagement of your employees must come near the top of the list.’3 Clearly, one of the goals of human resources management which ties in with a responsible approach to employment has been to find ways to improve employee commitment.


There is no shortage of research that illustrates the link between levels of commitment and various measures of business performance such as customer satisfaction, reduced staff turnover and, ultimately, profit. What is then surprising is that managers, Stefan Stern adds, are ‘failing spectacularly to achieve that aim.’ The question then arises as to how to achieve commitment? How do we get the employee to see his or her work as more than ‘just a job’, and assume responsibility for getting things done?

There is of course no one, sure-fire way of engaging an employee. People have different needs and wants and it would be disingenuous to propose there is a magic bullet that would, once and for all, solve this issue. However, it would be just as wrong to claim that little can be done to increase commitment and motivation, that employees are by their very nature lazy and that the only way to ensure they get the job done is by means of adopting a carrot and stick approach.

Rather, the following tips and mini case studies will assist in engaging and motivating employees in line with a responsible tourism approach to doing business:

First impressions count. Therefore ensure any new hires are provided with an induction as a minimum. The Landmark Hotel in London offers a Welcome Day as part of its induction for new employees. This includes (amongst other things) breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, a showround of all departments, a welcome by the General Manager and last but certainly not least an introduction to the hotel’s vision. Furthermore, as part of the welcome process two training courses are offered: ‘Communication to Engage’ and ‘Landmark Spirit’ which is a workshop created by employees.

The Landmark Hotel has understood that commitment arises where an employee feels part of the business, and shares its values and goals. Don’t spend a fortune hiring staff to then see them leave soon after their tenure has begun simply because they had difficulty fitting in.

The Jumeirah Carlton Tower has recognised the need to improve staff retention rates and has developed a number of initiatives for staff. For example, the HRS Excellence Awards report that Jumeirah’s open door culture resulted in colleagues feeling that they were able to raise concerns or issues with management. This initiative was taken further with the establishment of an Employee Assistance Helpline for colleagues and their families to call at any time.


point of view_3aIn a similar vein, Sandele Eco-Retreat in The Gambia reaches out to employees and the local community. It invites the local community to participate in activities that are hosted at the centre and gives employees the opportunity to actively participate in decision-making. By forging close links with the community, from whence the majority of employees come, a sense of belonging is fostered. Trust is built up and commitment developed.

Many of the problems surrounding commitment arise through mediation. That is, the employee is removed from the end-product or service. It is little wonder that commitment is low when the employee does not understand how his or her work makes a contribution to overall business success.

Employees need to feel that they are jointly responsible for the success of the organisation. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants’ EarthCare Programme is a case in point. Here the initial idea and its implementation were employee led. Employees engaged because it was something they cared about. Every Kimpton hotel and restaurant has EarthCare champions. Anyone can be a champion, from front desk to the general manager. The champions meet twice a month to ensure compliance with current standards, develop tolls to train new employees, and keep EarthCare fresh in the minds of all employees.

The message then is clear. Employees are key stakeholders of the firm and tourism that ignores their welfare and
working conditions cannot be sustainable.

Furthermore, firms that are seeking to minimise their negative impacts and enhance their contribution to society require everyone in the firm, from the managers down to the most junior members of staff to be committed to the firm’s values. Responsible tourism is everyone’s responsibility.

Note: these examples are drawn from the publication ‘Responsible Tourism: The Role of Human Resources Management’ which can be downloaded from www.workingvisionsglobal.com

[1] Hollender, J. & Breen, B. (2011) The responsibility revolution. How the next generation of businesses will win, (San Francisco, Jossey Bass).
[2] KPMG (2011) KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2011. Available at: http://www.kpmg.com/PT/pt/IssuesAndInsights/Documents/corporate-responsibility2011.pdf
[3] Stern, S. (2008) How to get staff to care about their work. Financial Times, 31 January

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