Can the Travel and Tourism Industry ever be entirely ethical?


Introduction to Tourism Ethics

Ethics, a term that describes a system of moral policies (BBC, no date) is now becoming increasingly incorporated into business practices. The concept of ethics focuses on what is good practice for humans and for businesses. According to Bowie (2011, P10) ethics is the moral standard by which people judge the behaviours and actions of others and themselves.

Tourism that benefits the environment and local people in different destinations can be argued to be ethical (Tourism Concern, no date). Lovelock (2013, P.22) argues that ethical tourism aims to encourage the industry and consumers to avoid participation in activities that contribute or support negative issues. For example, the boom in all- inclusive tourism can have detrimental effects on local communities in terms of economic leakage and tourism dependency. Enclave Tourism is offering little benefits (McVeigh, 2014).


Community structures, value systems and the quality of life for many host communities are affected, as tourism involves social and cultural interactions. More tourists are now aware of their impact of travelling and are concerned with a broader range of issues, opposed to just sustainable tourism. More people are encouraged to spend locally, respect local cultures, learn languages and travel with responsible tour operators.

However, there is no doubt that there are social, environmental and economic impacts of tourism, with the management of these impacts being a strong focus in current time (Lovelock, 2013). A lack of ethics within travel and tourism can stem from the diversity and scope of the industry (Dimanche, 2016, P.999). The following looks at key areas where by travel and tourism organisations are facing various ethical dilemmas.

Employment Ethics

Tourism is one of the world’s largest service industries, which employs more than 3.1million people in the UK alone (Tourism Alliance, 2015). Incorporating employment ethics can be a pressing challenge for tourism organisations, as the conduct of employees contributes to the overall image of a company (Plvac, 2011, P.135). For example, 39% of hoteliers believe that profits would be higher, if there were increased ethical standards (Dimanche, 2016, P.998) a further 80% believed that hotel management should be required to be more ethical.In relation to this, hotel chain, Marriott International produced their Business Ethics Conduct Guide . This provides employees with the tools to identify potential ethical compliance issues (Leadley, 2011).

A tourism organisation should incorporate a high standard of moral values into their business policies and mission statements as a way to set expectations. Thomas Cook for example, have an Employee Code of Conduct which states that all employees must follow legal, professional and legal practices in all business areas. The code includes: –

  • Employees must disclose any potential conflict of interest     RIGHT-tourismLogo
  • Employees must not accept supplier hospitality
  • Unreasonable and improper business practice must be rejected
  • Employment status must not be used for personal gain

Source: (Thomas Cook Group Policies, no date)

Codes of conducts must be reasonable without exploiting employee performance standards (Fennell, 2006, P.238).

Employment ethics formulate rules to differentiate between good and bad behaviour in the workplace in an attempt to rationale policies (Dimanche, 2016, P.998). It can be argued that the perception of the tourism sector being a low paid industry with an unskilled workforce, offering little or no benefits is not the way forward in terms of improving business ethic.

However, a World Tourism Organisation report did conclude that woman tend to be the lowest paid in lower status jobs within tourism (UNWTO, no date). Due to such issues, businesses such as tour operators are now facing increased pressure to work with ethical suppliers that pay local workers a fair wage and avoid the exploitation of migrant workers (Wheat, no date). For example, Kuoni requires their suppliers to adhere to human and labour working rights (Kuoni Supplier Code of Conduct, no date).

Green Tourism

Green Tourism can be defined as tourism which does not focus itself on economic prospects, more so on being environmentally friendly (Tourism Concern, no date). It is ‘moving beyond the confines of regular travel, it is about the how as much as the what of travel’ (EcoTourism, 2015). Consumers are expressing environmental concern in terms of development exploitation and land destruction. The natural environment of a destination requires notable attention as it is often the main factor in visitor motivation (Dimanche, 2016, P.999). Consumers are now doing more to minimise their environmental impact to ensure a destination is maintained in the long term. Green travel also promotes eco-friendly choices and mindful choices (Go Green Travel, no date).

A 2015 study by holiday provider found that 52% of their customers are likely to choose a destination, based on the environmental impact (Sustaining Tourism, 2016). An Expedia study of the same year also concluded that 29% of consumers are likely to decide between travel companies, based on their previous environmental impact records. Furthermore, a 2014 EcoTourism report found that 43% of participants consider the ethical or environmental footprint of their main holiday (EcoTourism, 2015). The report also found that ‘One in five consumers (21%) say they are prepared to pay more for a holiday with a company that has a beer environment’ (EcoTourism, 2015).

As there is more demand for sustainable tourism, consumers are expecting private travel companies to be sustainable. For example, Independent tour company Dragoman ensure they incorporate local culture into their tours by employing local guides and educating their staff. The company are also a member of Tourism Concerns Ethical Tour Operators Group (Dragoman, no date). Water consumption, infrastructure developments and land use all have environmental impacts, as well affecting local residents. For example, Tourism Concern noted that in India, water is used in vast amounts for hotels, leaving residents to walk miles to access sparse amounts (Wheat, no date). Good Travel Company ensure that all their holiday packages and tours are environmentally audited through environmental impact studies before being offered to their customers (Jovanovski, 2011).

Mainstream businesses are also working towards a ‘Go Green’ Approach. Virgin Atlantic consistently assess their environmental impact, with their corporate change is in the air sustainability program (Vision and Values Statement, 2014). The program includes objectives to reduce the airlines Co2 emissions by 30% by 2020, provide customers with an option to offset carbon emissions and to reduce noise output per aircraft by 75% (CIITA Sustainability Report, 2015).


Change is in the Air (

TUI are also recognising the benefits of monitoring environmental impacts. The tour operator claim that ‘Green Business is good Business’ (TUI Travel Plc, 2014). Between 2012 and 2013 the tour operator saved £28m through environmental efficiencies (TUI, 2013). TUI also aim to offer 10 million more ‘fairer and greener’ holidays by 2020 by working with ethical excursions and accommodation suppliers as well as engaging colleagues and customers in sustainable tourism.

TUI are additionally working towards promoting Thomson Airways to be the most carbon-efficient European airline, by reducing carbon emissions by 10% by 2020 (Oterson, 2015). This is part of the brands five-year strategy of developing a more sustainable tourism industry. The strategy ‘Better Holidays, Better World’ aims to enhance positive tourism impacts by implementing sustainable policies and practices (Taylor, 2015).

Business Responsibility

Business misconduct can have detrimental impact on brand image and customer perception Consumers are now more conscientious, seeking out companies who share their moral values (Bowie, 2011). Ethics are not an option, an absolute necessity in business success, recognised by industries and consumers alike (Dimanche, 2016, P.996)   There are now a number of growing organisations within the industry which solely focus on Travel and Tourism Ethics. These include: –

STA Travel took the decision to end all tours and activities which compromised animal welfare (Meikle, 2014). A statement published in the Guardian confirmed that STA Travel are ‘committed to selling safe and ethical trips’ (Meikle, 2014). Elephant ride tours, the Tiger Temple in Thailand and trips to SeaWorld were are cancelled by STA to meet ethical standards questioned by their customers. STA announced they took the decision to say no to profit making attraction SeaWorld to work in line with ABTA’s Excellent Animal welfare Guidelines (Meredith, 2014).


SeaWorld: Another Partner Leaves 

Given the nature of the travel industry, businesses must also take into consideration the impact of their decisions on all stakeholders. For example, Thomas cook have moral obligation to ensure they provide strong returns for their shareholders. However, another prime objective is ensuring they work with sustainable suppliers and work on reducing carbon footprint of Thomas Cook Airlines. To achieve this, the airline participates in on-board recycling, they have eco labels on board aircrafts as well as operating an Environmental Policy (TCG, 2016).

Corporate Social Responsibility: Responsible Travel

As tourism is one of the largest sectors worldwide, there is an increasing amount of pressure for the tourism industry to adopt an ethical approach in business decisions (Lovelock, 2013). Responsible Travel are an independent organisation, formed in 2001, now with over 375 small and specialist tour company members. All members are required to uphold transparent mission statements which must meet the organisations criteria to become a member. The organisation are focused on offering authentic experiences to consumers whilst promoting the long term benefits of tourism for local people.

By working in line with regulatory bodies such as ATOL and ABTA in terms of accreditation, the company screen all members regularly against responsible tourism (environmental, social and economic). In relation to Green Tourism (link to section) the business aims of Responsible Travel are mainly based on marketing holidays that have positive impacts on local communities. In each destination in which they operate, the business work to create local jobs, aiding to minimise negative impacts on local cultures. The organisation was also one of the first Travel companies to remove carbon offsets in 2002. Members are continuously encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint and implement energy saving initiatives. Responsible Travel also aim to conserve natural and cultural heritage. Members are advised to understand their impact on local infrastructure and facilities. Companies must also work towards poverty reduction in terms of charitable donations and supporting local community development programs.

Also linking in with Business Responsibility, Responsible Travel work with animal welfare charities such as Elephant Family. In addition to donating £250 to the charity, Responsible Travel have created a Conservation Guide on Elephants and Tourism, created by their in -house writer after extensive research. In 2014, members participated in consultation periods to debate the topic of the ethics of Elephant Trekking. Member, Intrepid Travel have stated that Elephant Issues are an area of concern for the tour operator, who offer adventure treks worldwide (Intrepid, no date). In line with the new 2014 guide, the company began to phase out elephant rides from all of their trips.

In regard to their employee responsibility, the company offer their employees paid time each month to leave the office and volunteer within their local community (Staff Volunteering, no date). Furthermore, the entire team spend a full day volunteering together, for a charitable cause such as preservation and conservation. The office is closed a couple of times per year and past projects have included working on local nature reserves and working with the National Trust (CSR, no date).

All employees are also trained on the impacts of their activities on the environment and key environmental issues within the industry (Our Impact on the Environment). Whenever travelling for business purposes, staff use public transport wherever possible. Employees can also purchase a bicycle tax free through the Bike2Work Scheme.

Responsible Tourism Team

The company are also passionate about working with local suppliers in the UK to generate as much income as possible for local areas. Supplier sectors include local stationery suppliers, IT equipment supplier and a locally based web developer. Green Mop and Ecotricity are both used as energy and cleaning suppliers for their environmental principles.

The entire team adopt a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ approach within the office. Business cards are printed material are kept to a minimum as the office aim to be paperless. The office has only one small printer and no photocopier. The minimum amount of printed materials are printed onto recycled paper. The office also has a compost bin for fruit peelings which are recycled as well as plastics, cans and printer cartridges. Furniture is also purchased from local charity shops and is often sourced from sustainable forest wood. Old furniture is then donated back to local charities.

Dimanche, F. (2016) ‘Towards a code of conduct for the tourism industry: An ethics model’, Available at: (Accessed: 8 March 2016).
EcoTourism (2015) Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2016).
Fennell, D.A. (2006) Tourism ethics. Channel View Publications.
Jovanovski (2011) Top 10…environmentally friendly travel companies. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2016).
Jovičić, A., Pivac, T., Dragin, A. and Turizam (2011) Vol 1504 1. Available at: (Accessed: 8 March 2016).
Leadlay, F. (2015) Integrating ethics into tourism: Beyond codes of conduct. Available at: (Accessed: 8 March 2016).
Lovelock (2013) The ethics of tourism. Available at: (Accessed: 8 March 2016).
Meikle (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 9 March 2016).
Meredith, C. (2014) Could this be the beginning of the end for ‘unethical’ animal attractions? Available at: (Accessed: 9 March 2016).
Otersen, C. and Writtle, M. (2015) SuStainability strategy 2015-2020. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2016).
TCG (2016) Why choose Thomas Cook. Available at: (Accessed: 9 March 2016).
TUI Group (2014) TUI travel PLC proves green business is good business. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2016).
Taylor and ’ (2015) Tui launches five-year sustainability strategy. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2016).
Thomas Cook Group Policies (2010) Ethics code. Available at: (Accessed: 8 March 2016).
UNWTO (no date) Gender and tourism. Available at: (Accessed: 8 March 2016).