The continuous changes in the competitive environment in the tourism and hospitality industry oblige the sector to formulate ways that facilitate competitiveness, and increased market share. Contrary to conventional ways of competition like lowering of prices, product promotions, and increased profits, the sector’s levels of competition compels the players to shift to customer oriented strategies, and applying customer services, ethics, and laws of morality in achieving their intended market shares.
Recently, the question on ethical practices in tourism and hospitality in demonstrating customer relationships has led in formulation of business strategies in the sector. Most players believe that ethics and moral principles play a significant role in the sole-objective of business; creation of long term benefits. Some players argue that ethics and profits are related inversely (HARRIS, 2012). Arguably, ethical practices may lead to profit reduction. However, the long term effect of ethical adherence is positive organizational growth.
Ethical practices contribute to productivity by developing customer loyalty, minimizing costs of business, reduced employee turnover, maintaining social relations and capital, and creating trust with stakeholders. Managers face ethical challenges pushed by demographic diversities, values, religion, culture, family morals, and values, among others (SMITH, and COLMAN, 2010). The methods chosen in fixing ethical issues and dilemma, in these institutions, define the levels of ethics applicable, and the overall success of the industry.
Ethics in tourism and hospitality.
Ethics and morals are interchangeably used in the industry; ethics refer to principles of behavior based on moral judgments and duties. Ethical standards promote doing the right things or behaving accordingly (HARRIS, 2012). Morals, on the other hand, refer to good conduct, define what is right, and expected character. Ethics form a subset of morals as the principles and elements of morality apply in ethics. Ethical values may include leadership, fidelity, trustworthiness, integrity, responsibility, respect, honesty, and accountability, among others.
The tourism sector has been among the top rated contributors of social and economic growth. The increased geographical spread of tourism and diversification of products and services has contributed to the growth of the sector. By nature, tourism and hospitality revolve around culture and environmental backgrounds (FENNEL, and MALLOY, 2008). For example, most tourists demand for secluded and scenic accommodation that triggers the players to deforestation.
Additionally, the solid and organic waste produced by the industry contributes to environmental degradation. Further, the interactions with natural systems involve contacts between tourists and local communities. Ideally, most of the tourism activities are ethical in nature as they contribute to economic imperialism, pollution, depletion and degradation of natural resources, sexual abuse, and environmental concerns (HUDSON and MILLER, 2005). As a result, there is a consensus amongst the players that there is a global acknowledgement for responsible or sustainable tourism. This broadens the element of eco-tourism, sustainable environment, and social concerns.
Although tourism and hospitality are inseparable, hospitality skews more towards employees than the customers. Contrary to scenic sites in tourism, hospitality ranges from restaurants to other tourism based operations. By virtue of its operations, the hospitality industry puts employees and customers in situations, such as attracting abuse, stealing, dishonesty, and integrity concerns that require ethical considerations.
Challenges faced in the hospitality industry revolve around customer and employee relations. This places managers at challenging positions as both the customers and employees matter in the business. Increase in diversity, and multicultural backgrounds also escalate the issues making ethical issues tricky to solve. According to WALLACE (2005), the appropriate ethical action to apply in any ethical dilemma does not exist. Hospitality executives must possess a deep understanding of the various ethical issues, and different means and ways of solving such problems.
Factors influencing ethical decision making in the sector.
Ethical issues may not be solved like any other workplace challenges as the dilemmas may result from values and cultural norms defined by workplace diversities (SMITH, and COLMAN, 2010). For example, an employee may be faced by an ethical dilemma regarding how they receive visitors. In some cultures, women should bow for men while others demand that women kneel before their male counterparts. Some customers may find that provoking for failure of understanding such reception. This also poses challenges with how such employees are assimilated, or the change that should be applied so that the employees do not feel like they are obliged to act against their morals.
While solving ethical dilemmas, managers need to focus on such elements as nationality, dilemma type, gender, and prior education or experience (BECK, LAZER, and SCHMIDGALL, 2007). The wrangles that create the difference among ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ results from nationality driven by differences in values. For example, employees whose nationality demand for power and authority pose a dilemma to managers while making decisions of regional employment balance as their demands may not be accommodated in an organization. The hospitality and tourism sector is marked by nationality differences as customers and employees come from different regions with different morals and values (LEE and SANG, 2013) Accommodating these diversities pose a significant challenge to managers while making decisions regarding ethical dilemma.
The dilemma type also affects the decision making process. For example, the transport menace on environmental degradation as a result of using vehicles that emit gases to the environment. As much as managers would like to participate in matters of environmental sustainability, the question of cost feasibility arises (FENNEL, and MALLOY, 2008). Vehicles are more efficient while travelling on land, and using other means as air may not deliver the service as expected. This challenges the managers as striking a balance between corporate social responsibility, cost minimization, and profit maximization becomes difficult.
The levels of skills and competence that manager’ posses also impact on decisions on ethical dilemmas (HUDSON and MILLER, 2005). Managers require skills and knowledge on the different ethical dilemma, how to deal with such dilemmas, and how to maintain relationships with diverse employees and customers. Majority of courses on tourism and hospitality have not yet incorporated the concept of ethics. Students undertaking this course should learn on the expectations of behavior, value, morals, and ethnical backgrounds that affect human behavior.
Gender issues also affect the ethical decision process. Apparently, female employees and customers do not tolerate situations of ethical dilemma as compared to their male counterparts. Females tend to be more critical than males while making decisions. They prefer using utilitarian theories where every opinion counts while male managers make decisions based on their ego.
Applicable theories to face ethical dilemmas in the industry.
Philosophical thinkers advocate for two theories that assist managers in thinking rationally while making decisions on ethics. This includes deontology and teleology.
- Deontology/duty based ethics.
The concept addresses the motives behind an act in deciding whether the act is right or wrong. The decision criteria are based on an individual’s obligations and duties towards other individuals, environment, and living things. The decision is based on morals, values, and principles regarding a course of action (HARRIS, 2012). It is also based on a belief, for example, the Christianity belief on the Ten Commandments.
Deontology is concerned with the perception of universal truths and principles that should withstand irrespective of situations (HUDSON and MILLER, 2005). The theory is duty-based in that while in line of duty one should act according to his/her expectations provided the course of action chosen is morally upright. The argument is that an ethical challenge should trigger an employee to respond in compliance, and with consistent to their moral principles so that their decisions do not leave them in despair, but leaves them happy in view of others.
The deontological approach dates back to contemporary philosophy, and is concerned with the level of universal values that should be considered in decision making. In his ‘categorical imperative’ concept, Immanuel Kant provided that a categorical imperative is a fundamental or obligation that individuals need to do irrespective of how they feel about it. The code of conduct should not be determined by the opinions of others. The decision, however, must be morally upright, and makes the individual happy. Categorical imperative is not considered ‘good’ on the basis of its consequences or effects, but on the response of others.
According to SMITH, and COLMAN (2010), deontological theory argues that the consequences of an act do not matter as long as behavior is appropriate, and meets individual standards. In its simplest form the theory provides that individuals need to understand their moral duties and the rules that exist to guard those duties. When people follow their obligations, then they are behaving morally.
- Teleology and ethics.
This is a utilitarian concept developed by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. The decision criterion is on the consequences that an action may trigger. The theory argues that an ethical decision is that which is moral but maximizes on the consequential ‘good’. in making choices, the understanding of the results should come first, that is, the consequences or results should form a significant part of the decision process.
In the hospitality industry, for example, a decision on increase in prices so as to meet tax requirements, from an invisible hand perspective, should be based on the consequences. Some of the results of such an act may be compliance with government regulations, increasing customers’ expenditures, and a shift in demand as customers will search for competitors with relative cheap services (FENNEL, and MALLOY, 2008). Using the teleological concept the decision should be based on compliance with the government regulations or losing customers.
The theory provides that an action is considered moral if produces moral consequences. Contrary to deontological perspective where the means justify the end, in teleology it’s the end that justifies the means (BECK, LAZER, and SCHMIDGALL, 2007). Deontology adheres to the rule of ‘do unto others what you would expect them to do unto you’ while teleology justifies a course of action if it produces the least amount of pain. It uses past experiences to guide in a course of present action while deontology follows values obliged to each person.
- Virtue ethics.
The theory focuses on character development, and how people can achieve excellent traints such as integrity, generosity, and kindness, among others. It argues that good personal traits enhance individuals to live a ‘happy life’, and allow the society to flourish. It focuses on both means and ends in that a good character trait leads to a positive feedback while irresponsible behavior leads to societal gross misconduct.
The virtue ethics concept of decision making applies in the tourism and hospitality sector as good behavior triggers expected results. For example, treating customers well or proper customer services lead to customer satisfaction, and industrial growth out of increased profits. Additionally, being an honest and trustworthy employee assists managers in assigning duties as every worker is accountable (WALLACE, 2005). This also boosts company objectives and goal achievement.
- Other theoretical concepts of ethics include communitarian’s perspective, justice, and egoism.
Egoism refers to use of inner power and authority in attempts to satisfy personal interests. It defines what may be considered best or most appropriate decision at an individual level. It is based on the idea that individuals should be responsible for their choice of action. The extent to which egoism is applicable in ethics can only be measured from personal goal expectations relative to the expectations of others (HUDSON and MILLER, 2005). The concept may apply when managers in this industry are obliged to make decisions. Sometimes the criteria used may be generated from an individual perspective as long as it is considered moral.
A communitarian perspective places the society more crucial than employees. The role that the sector plays in communities is of significance as environmental sustainability cannot be an exclusive role of the society affected by the sector’s activities (BECK, LAZER, and SCHMIDGALL, 2007). Justice, on the other hand, triggers commitments, and discourages individuals to hide in corporate veils as John Rawls puts it. It follows from set rules and regulations, and the extent of adherence to the rule of law that employees have to adhere.
Establishing an ethical working environment by fostering practices, awareness, and behavior that promotes employee satisfaction improves on visitors’ experience, reduces employee turnover, and boosts organizational growth. Employee ethical values, ethical working environment, and the decision criteria used in ethical dilemma contributes massively to organizational development. Adapting ethical behavior and principles in the sector boosts decision making processes, employee satisfaction, and improves on quality of service. Ethics cut across the entire tourism and hospitality industry as a result of its single system nature of operation. As a result of development in the sector, it is now indispensable that morality and ethical principles have a positive relationship with profit and growth, and, therefore, should be incorporated in organizational systems and structure.
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