Tourism Ethics

Tourism Ethics

by David A. Fennell

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This book remains the most in-depth large-scale introductory text on ethics as applied to tourism, examining the deep theoretical aspects of how human nature applies to tourism. It explores theory from a number of different disciplines, provides an overview of work on moral reasoning and development, and weaves together theory with real-world tourism ethics problems and issues. The new edition of this landmark volume has been reworked and updated to take into account important works published since the first edition, including more than 100 new references on ethics and tourism ethics, and to engage more with 20th century theorists in philosophy. It continues to be an important text for students and researchers in tourism, recreation and leisure studies, geography, environmental studies and business.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845416379
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 12/01/2017
Series: Aspects of Tourism
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

David A. Fennell is a Professor in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, Brock University, Canada. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Ecotourism. His research interests include tourism ethics, ecotourism, nature-based tourism and ecotourism policy and planning.

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Tourism cannot be explained unless we understand man, the human being

Przeclawski, 1996: 239


This chapter discusses the background behind the tendency of tourism researchers to examine impacts as the traditional root of ethical issues in tourism. The chapter also analyses alternative tourism and sustainable tourism paradigms as the field's most frequently used means by which to alleviate the negative impacts of the industry. A brief summary of work on tourism and ethics provides a generalised snapshot of the range of studies undertaken to date in addressing ethical issues in tourism. The chapter further discusses the negative backlash that has come about regarding the so-called 'new tourism', and sets the stage for the discussion in later chapters on human nature and ethics, and how these relate more specifically to tourism.

Tourism Impacts

One of the longest-standing traditions in tourism research, which is almost universal in our books and academic papers, is the necessity of discussing at the outset the idea that tourism is the world's foremost economic engine. This is natural from at least two perspectives. The first is that it seems to legitimise the importance of tourism through an approximation of its overall magnitude regarding foreign receipts, employment and other such indicators. Second, it demonstrates that, apart from its position as the formidable economic giant, there are associated costs, which have been discussed almost universally as sociocultural, economic and ecological impacts.

The concern over tourism impacts originates from the 1950s, when the International Union of Official Travel Organizations' (the precursor to the WTO) Commission for Travel Development first initiated discussions on how to minimise destinational impacts (Shackleford, 1985). During the 1960s, publications such as National Geographic and Geography picked up on the negative impacts from tourism in places that were at the leading edge of the mass tourism phenomenon, including Acapulco (Cerruti, 1964) and the Balearic Islands, Spain (Naylon, 1967). The pace of international tourism intensified during the 1970s, and impacts were discovered in many more of the sea, sun, sand and sex destinations, such as Gozo (Jones, 1972), as well as in city environments, including London, where Harrington (1971) observed how unregulated hotel development led to a lower quality of life. Tourism research on impacts hit its stride during the 1970s on the strength of work from scholars such as Budowski (1976), whose classic paper on the interactions between tourism and environmental conservation were explained as: (1) conflict; (2) coexistence; or (3) symbiosis. In the majority of cases he felt that the relationship was one of coexistence, moving towards conflict. Such were the conclusions of other esteemed authors, who felt that poorly planned tourism development had many serious effects on the integrity of the natural world (Cohen, 1978; Krippendorf, 1977).

The conflict so often identified by these and many other successive papers is no more clearly articulated than in the following case study on tourism impacts in Goa, India (see Box 1.1). The maturity of the tourism product in Goa has created a level of competition and fractioning within society that is extreme – conflict in the words of Budowski (see the work of Lea, 1993, who discusses both the impacts of tourism on Goa as well as the beginnings of responsible tourism). This fact has been supported by literally dozens of academic reports, which identify the polarisation of socioeconomic conditions, usually between the lesser developed countries and the most developed countries, leading to a number of interaction problems between tourists and resentful hosts (see, for example, Ahmed et al., 1994). The intersection of many competing interests from a number of different stakeholder groups frames the basis for the impacts that we experience in tourism. The main groups involved in these interactions include tourists, inhabitants of the destination and tourism brokers, as illustrated in Figure 1.1 (Fennell & Przeclawski, 2003). The combinations of these interactions are extensive, and include: (1) the tourist's own personal or existential experiences, and interactions with other tourists, residents of the destination, tourism brokers and the ecology of the region; (2) residents' interactions with tourists, brokers, the community in general and ecology; and (3) brokers' interactions with tourists, residents, other brokers and the natural world. These interactions range along a continuum from negative (hostile) to positive (symbiotic), as noted above, and are moderated by time, space, situational factors, resource allocation and a whole host of other elements.

Alternative tourism (AT) and sustainable tourism (ST)

It is not the purpose of this section to fully elaborate on the development and impact of AT and ST, which can be found in many recent tourism publications, but rather to briefly provide an historical context that emphasises certain paradigmatic changes in tourism that were borne out of efforts to both understand and mitigate tourism impacts, and thus to implicitly strive to become ethical.

The intensity of moral concern in tourism intensified during the late 1970s and early 1980s through the AT paradigm, which emerged through its potency in providing an alternative to mass tourism. The tenets of the ecodevelopment paradigm of the 1970s, including enlarging the capacity of individuals, self-sufficiency of communities, and social and environmental justice, were articulated through AT, which was meant to be both a softer and gentler form of tourism (Riddell, 1981; Weaver, 1998). This meant that 'small scale' was thus better than 'large scale'; locally oriented was better than externally oriented; low impact better still than high impact. These polarised options where recognised early in the work of Dernoi, who observed that AT would: (1) provide economic benefits for individuals and families (e.g. through accommodation provision); (2) allow the local community as a whole to benefit; (3) allow the host country to benefit through the avoidance of leakages and the reduction of social tensions; (4) provide an option for cost-conscious travellers coming from the 'north'; and (5) realise cultural and international benefits across countries and continents (Dernoi, 1981).

There is little question that AT provided a needed backdrop from which to gain perspective on the often disingenuous side of mass tourism. However, the dichotomous positions that are inherent in the mass-alternative perspectives are rarely encountered in their purest forms because of the sheer complexity of different attractions, accommodations, transportation and facilities that the traveller encounters on a day-to-day basis (thus minimising the true alternative nature of the trip) (Weaver, 1998). This was identified early by Butler, who quite effectively observed that, while mass tourism has a callous side, it may be just as destructive to promote AT without being confident of what it can achieve for the community, socially, environmentally and economically (Butler, 1990). This sentiment has led theorists to conclude that it is perhaps best to view AT not as a replacement for mass tourism (this will surely never take place), but rather as a model in helping to amend some of the problems that are inherent in mass tourism (Butler, 1990; Cohen, 1987). So where AT is perhaps most beneficial is in defining the range of the continuum regarding tourism development. And as development economists might suggest, it is perhaps better to have a balanced approach to development within a region, including a number of active sectors in the economy for the purpose of achieving balanced growth, including mass tourism and AT.

Alternative tourism articulated many of the tenets supported by the sustainable development (SD) platform, which emerged late in the 1980s. SD subsumed ecodevelopment, but also intensified at a broader scale in its application to poverty, limits on technology and unfettered growth, cross-cultural applications, its ability to be integrative, and its use at broader scales (Redclift, 1987). For tourism this meant that if the industry was to become sustainable, it would do so by adhering to a number of basic principles, including: (1) reduction of tension between stakeholders; (2) long-term viability and quality of resources; (3) limits to growth; (4) the value of tourism as a form of development; and (5) visitor satisfaction (Bramwell & Lane, 1993), and through the realisation that ST is a process and an ethic (Fennell, 2002). The need to articulate such criteria in ST is underscored by González Bernáldez, who notes that benefits and costs must be weighed equally in a better understanding of the impacts of tourism, as follows (González Bernáldez, 1994):


• Increases and complements financial income.

• Improves facilities and infrastructures.

• Allows greater investment for the preservation of natural and cultural enclaves.

• Avoids or stabilises emigration of the local population.

• Makes tourists and local populations aware of the need to protect the environment and cultural and social values.

• Raises the sociocultural level of the local population.

• Facilitates the commercialisation of local products and quality.

• Allows for the exchange of ideas, customs and ways of life.


• Increases the consumption of resources and can, in the case of mass tourism, exhaust them.

• Takes up space and destroys the countryside by creating new infrastructure and buildings.

• Increases waste and litter production.

• Upsets natural ecosystems, and introduces exotic species of animals and plants.

• Leads to population movement towards areas of tourist concentration.

• Encourages purchase of souvenirs that are sometimes rare natural elements.

• Leads to a loss of traditional values and a uniformity of cultures.

• Increases prices and the local population loses ownership of land, houses, trade and services.

But how is it that we determine what is a tourism benefit and what is a cost? To whom, and at what scale? McKercher (1999) has noted that the most unfortunate reality confronting tourism is that its plans and models have been mostly ineffective at controlling the adverse effects of the tourism industry. If traditional models explained tourism fully, he suggests, then they would also be able to offer insights into how best to control such impacts. Traditional models in tourism are ineffective because they imply strongly that: (1) tourism can be controlled; (2) its players are formally coordinated; (3) it is organised easily in a top-down fashion; (4) service providers achieve common, mutually agreed-upon goals; (5) it is the sum of its parts; and (6) an understanding of each of these parts will allow us to understand the whole. Therefore, by nature, tourism is far too complex to be explained by linear, deterministic models. This presumably includes sustainable tourism too. So, if ST is more about development than conservation, it is because the former reflects more of who we are and what we represent. We can demand from science all we want regarding a more ecocentric lifestyle. It does not mean that change will be easily attained or socially desired, despite the new morality that has emerged regarding more ethical attitudes about a number of different social and ecological issues (Fox & DeMarco, 1986).

What has come about, along with AT and ST, to ameliorate the various dysfunctions that characterise the industry, are a series of codes of ethics as well as a range of policies and regulations. For example, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) has published a global code of ethics for tourism (see Chapter 9 for more of a discussion on this document, as well as the Appendix), outlining a vast array of directives that need to be followed in generating good behaviour and positive experiences (WTO, 2001). In the minds of many, however, such a cookbook of guidelines is an example of the leading edge of tourism ethics. But we must be careful that (1) identifying these impacts and prescribing guidelines for their control; and (2) rectifying them, are two very different mindsets and actions. In the latter, we have largely been unsuccessful.

Our propensity to investigate impacts has drawn us into a circuitous loop of reactance, preventing us from focusing on the underlying nature of these disturbances. So, with all due respect to the WTO and others who have attempted to wrestle with these difficult long-standing social and ecological issues, we have not yet committed ourselves to an examination of the broader underlying questions that create these impacts. That is, we have not made the leap from recognising impacts and attempting to ameliorate them beyond that which has been deemed acceptable to the industry. This is very much akin to setting standards for the industry on the basis of what is deemed 'right' or 'good', without fully understanding the meaning of right or good. We can do this intuitively and anecdotally, but what we have not yet effectively determined is right and good from an ethical standpoint.

Tourism and Ethics

In asking if the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry can 'put aside its dirty tricks and become ethical', Boyd (1999) strikes to the heart of an important issue: although tourism is often touted as being a saviour in many regions, experts, including the UN, suggest that it has failed because of the 'displacement of local and indigenous people, unfair labor practices, corruption of or disrespect for culture and a myriad of other human rights abuses, along with environmental contamination' (Boyd, 1999: 1).

In India, for example, women must walk miles to get water because hotels siphon it off from the groundwater for their own excessive uses; while, in Burma, thousands of Burmese are forced from their homes to make way for huge new tourism developments (Wheat, 1999). Both are cases where economic priorities in the name of tourism have given way to significant, and unthinkable, human rights abuses (see Lovelock, 2008). These are not isolated cases. Increasingly communities are losing their cultural integrity because of tourism – as a force of globalisation – which will only intensify, based on the forecasts for huge increases in international tourism over the next three decades.

It is not just those peripheral, marginalised places that are hit by the ugly side of tourism, but places that are part of the mainstream. In one case of rickshaw rip-offs, a Detroit policeman on vacation in Toronto was charged CAD$240 for two rickshaws that took him and his wife and daughter five blocks (McGran, 2003). After a debate in which the police were summoned, the drivers and customer agreed on CAD$30 for the driver, still above the 'regular' rate. The same trip for the family by bus would have been CAD$6.75, CAD$5.50 by taxi or CAD$11.86 by car, including parking. This is also not an isolated case. Rickshaw drivers have been disrupting life in Toronto for some time by misquoting fares, leaving customers out in the middle of intersections, crowding sidewalks, blocking streetcars and not providing exchange on US dollars. The hotel sector and the Toronto Tourism Board have both been alerted to the problem and have in turn informed city council. Although divided on the issue, many in council feel that rickshaws should be banned from the city altogether. While this does not appear to be a legal option, councillors have been asked to look into stronger bylaws, stricter enforcement or stricter licensing. And, while some companies appear to be playing by the 'rules', others have not been so forthcoming – which has placed all who are involved in a precarious position. These examples illustrate that ethics for tourism is not restricted to the frequent structural inequalities between the North and South, but rather pervades all aspects of the industry in time, space and circumstance. Unfortunately, however, we have been slow to recognise the depth of the disparity.

Tourism research on ethics

The genesis of ethics in tourism appears to have developed in hospitality management owing to the emphasis of hospitality's relationship to service and business (Wheeller, 1994). This research provided the foundation for the move to establish the International Institute for Quality and Ethics in Service and Tourism (IIQUEST), which was designed to bridge the gap between ethics and issues related to community relations, sexual harassment, the rights of guests and so on (Hall, 1993). For example, in one of the earlier papers on hospitality and ethics, Whitney found that the value of a company's code of ethics, and whether profit should be the sole factor in influencing business decision, was based on traditional values rather than those that violate traditions. These latter situations create ethical dissonance (ethical conflict) between stronger ideological aspects (those that they believe in) versus operational ones (those that they practice) (Whitney, 1990).


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Copyright © 2018 David A. Fennell.
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Table of Contents

Boxes, Figures and Tables, ix,
Preface, xi,
Acknowledgements, xvii,
1 Introduction, 1,
2 Human Nature, 16,
3 The Basis of Ethical Discourse, 51,
4 Applications of Ethics, 86,
5 The Nature of Politics and Economics, 115,
6 The Business Side of Ethics, 133,
7 Ethics and the Natural World, 166,
8 Broad-based Concepts and Issues in Tourism, 200,
9 Codes of Ethics, 224,
10 Models and Methods of Moral Reasoning, 251,
11 Case Study Analyses, 283,
12 A Moral Tourism Industry?, 319,
Appendix: WTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, 353,
References, 360,
Index, 393,

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