Ethical tourism – Is its future in niche tourism?
The global tourism industry has long been characterized by rapid growth and this is set to continue, even subsequent to the aftermath of 9/11. However, this success and rapid growth has given cause for concern, because tourism has become, for some developing countries, the principal focus of their economic well-being. This seeming over-reliance upon tourism has led some authors to question the ethics of development in general (Goulet, 1985) and the ethics of tourism development in particular (Lea, 1993). The structure of the sector’s operations has also attracted criticism; the global
tourism industry is ﬁercely competitive and dominated by transnational corporations, mainly located in the North. These organizations leverage power over the suppliers of the tourism product, hence potentially creating unequal exchange and power relationships (Peet, 1991; Barrett-Brown, 1993). Within the UK, the market is dominated by a small number of very large, transnational organizations and competition is mostly characterized by an emphasis on cost pressures driving business forward (Page, 2003). Consequently, operators are forced to compete through international mergers and acquisitions, and survive on small margins by claiming beneﬁts from the substantial economies of scale. This ‘hypercompetition’ (Page, 2003), thus encapsulates the contemporary
European business environment, and results in continuous new product development and aggressive marketing through lower prices (D’Aveni, 1998). The ensuing instability of the sector makes it diﬃcult therefore for companies to plan for a more sustainable future, and Miller (2001: 590) argues that, ‘against such a background taking steps to behave more responsibly has traditionally received a predictably low priority’. For any independent specialist operator working within the UK holiday market
there is a need to diﬀerentiate their product in order to compete eﬀectively, and the provision of ethical tourism is seen as one such niche opportunity. For a tour operator, the adoption of ethical values can add quality and appeal to the product oﬀering and enables them to compete on more than just price. For some tour operators, however, ethical policies may be considered a luxury (Krippendorf, 1991) and a cost rather than a long-term investment. Nevertheless, all businesses make decisions and choices directly related to moral issues, and tour operators are no exception (Ground, 1995). Indeed, against this background ‘the concern for ethical conduct not only among the operators and members of tour organizations, but also among the tourists themselves has become a fundamental concern’ (Malloy and Fennell, 1998: 453).