Tourism Context and Scope

The tourism and hospitality industry is experiencing major change and flux. The industrial model of production and consumption, borrowed from manufacturing after the last world war, was fueled by low energy costs, cheap credit, an expanding population and rising disposable incomes. It has grown internationally from a few million to nearly 1.2 billion trips in 2014 (UNWTO, 2015). Over the next 6 years it is forecast to grow by another 50%. The arrival of low cost airlines, Internet connectivity, comparison search engines and rising competition has worked in the customer’s favor. Long-distance travel now costs significantly less in real terms than 50 years ago. But concurrently with cheap travel being viewed as a right, the invisible externalities associated with congestion, low margins, resource use, seasonality, environmental degradation, low wages and poor working conditions have become harder to ignore.

The positive effects of an economic sector that has grown from the relatively exclusive activity enjoyed by the elite to a mass phenomenon contributing 10 % to GDP and providing employment to 250 million people are indisputable. While the positive benefits of mass tourism have been emphasized by its participants and promoters, less attention has been paid to measuring the full costs of production and distribution and to tracing the distribution of visitor spending. Until recently, most capital invested in tourism supply, and visitor spending has been derived from the same or similar sources of visitors and has been re-cycled back to that source. This is due in part to overseas investment and market expertise combined with a lengthy, complex value chain connecting visitors to hosts. Furthermore while promoted on the basis of its job creation potential, the industry suffers from a poor human resource relations record and, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO, 2014), is partially characterized by low wages, irregular hours, and poor working conditions.

The pressure on tourism and hospitality companies to be more responsible— both environmentally and socially—is growing rapidly. Members of both the boomer and millennial generations—the two primary sources of consumer spending power—are increasingly aware of the impact of their travels on host populations. The number of individual enterprises successfully creating both social and environmental value while profitably attracting and catering to guests is increasing. They operate under a multiplicity of labels—eco, responsible, sustainable, geo, green, good, and fair tourism and comprise an encouraging plethora of grassroots initiatives recognized at annual industry events such as those hosted by United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) ‘Ulysses Awards’ or World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) ‘Tourism for Tomorrow Awards’. There is, as yet, no unifying conceptual framework and approach that distinguishes them from traditional “industrial” practices. In many cases, sustainable, philanthropic and even social enterprises, aimed at increasing positive social impact, can constitute a modified form of “business as usual”. Few within the tourism sector are yet asserting the need to “put the system question on the map” or actively integrate tourism within the national debates on new forms of economy and wholesale systems change. In this sense, the tourism sector’s resistance to “deep thinking” is in alignment with the broader economy as indicated in this statement from The Next System Project: New Political-Economic Possibilities For the 21st Century:

The need for a major intervention in the national debate is increasingly obvious. Yet even in a time of economic crisis, there has been little willingness among progressive organizations to discuss system-changing strategies. Efforts to cobble together “solutions” to today’s challenges commonly draw upon the very same institutional arrangements and practices that gave rise to the problems in the first place (Alperovitz, Speth, & Guinan, 2015, p. 7).

Pollock (2015) has drawn attention to the need to acknowledge systemic and structural flaws in the current system and for forward-thinking industry participants to conceive and co-create alternative approaches. These approaches must be based on a worldview acknowledging tourism as a human system embedded in a larger socio-economic-biophysical system, and not as a separate “industrial machine” disconnected from a larger whole.

Thus it follows that the tourism social enterprise is embedded in a global set of inter-linked, interdependent societies and economies adapting to major challenges from four quarters: environmental, technological, social and economic. To be effective, therefore, entrepreneurs (social or otherwise) must learn to operate in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and make sense of the key change forces that will impact their best efforts. The skills and knowledge to cope with the complexities and pace of change are light years apart from those required by an industrial societal machine intent on resource extraction for the purpose of making and selling material goods. This requires a move away from what most university courses and text books teach about tourism. It seems that organizational structures and beliefs underpinning most strategy and policy still draw on principles and assumptions developed in a previous century.

The opening words of the Earth Charter, a document that grew out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, frame the work at hand:

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. Read-the-Charter.html

Perhaps as a society we have now reached an “awareness tipping point” where an increasing number of people, and many in the tourism industry, are aware that societal change is needed (Drayton in Schwartz, 2012). The chapter authors in this book are exploring the possibility that social entrepreneurship could be a major contributor to that change in tourism and hospitality. The need for this and the opportunities that await the industry are discussed below.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >