Ethics are fundamental to what we do, argues Fiona Jeffery OBE, member of the World Committee for Tourism Ethics
The Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the huge media attention it has generated, raises serious questions about ethics in the workplace and the abuse of power by the powerful.
It also reinforces the importance of establishing the right moral compass for how people, businesses and industry sectors should conduct themselves.
Many sectors have ethical boards to which individuals and organisations are accountable, but what of the travel and tourism industry?
The sector may not have powerful moguls/demi-gods such as the Harvey Weinsteins of this world – although I have no doubt that bullying and sexual harassment occur in the workplace – but in travel and tourism we carry an additional responsibility.
More than any other sector we step into other people’s worlds all, whether negotiating deals to take travellers or introducing the travelling public to new environments.
We can walk with a delicate footprint and make a positive contribution or we can trespass and abuse the hospitality available. We can be seen as friend or foe.
In many developing destinations, local partners can feel vulnerable. The opportunity to be attractive to more powerful industry partners and the promise of jobs and other economic benefits means local partners can be pushed into inappropriate and compromising positions.
The Global Code of Ethics, the UN World Tourism Organisation’s most-significant policy document, has an important role to play.
It is the industry blueprint for global governance, providing nine ethical principles for tourism. These cover:
1) Mutual understanding and respect between peoples and societies involving practises of tolerance and respect.
2) Promotion of human rights and protection of the most vulnerable groups, including (but not exclusively) children, the elderly, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous people.
3) Safeguarding of the natural environment, ensuring sustainable economic growth and protecting the environment for existing and future generations.
4) Implementation of tourism policies and activities aimed at respecting and protecting cultural heritage for future generations.
5) Tourism’s role to provide local economic benefit and poverty alleviation, to be sympathetically integrated into local economic and social fabrics.
6) The role and responsibility of all stakeholders in tourism development to ensure a framework of best practises across government, private sector, and media in protecting and looking after the traveller.
7) Recognition of the benefits of tourism to civil society and making it more accessible for all.
8) The movement of tourists and their ability to cross borders and to enjoy the same respect and treatment as citizens of the country visited.
9) The rights of employees and professionals and how they should be treated.
At the recent UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, China, one of our mandates as the World Committee for Tourism Ethics was to convert the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism into an international convention in order to reinforce its effectiveness.
To achieve this we had to get agreement across 129 voting member nations from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe – an impossible task one would imagine. Much to my surprise we did not get one dissenting nation.
This spoke volumes. It proved unequivocally that ethics is fundamental and shapes appropriate governance wherever we are.
It builds trust, promotes shared values, demonstrates respect and is critical to how our industry is viewed globally.
Effective implementation is key, for which we all as professional operators have a responsibility.
The Global Code of Ethics (soon to become a Convention), and the UN Sustainable Development Goals give everyone the global governance and operating framework to achieve this.
The media and society are judging Hollywood in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Let us not be judged by the global community for leaving a damaging footprint when our ethics and operational frameworks tell us otherwise.
Think of the good achieved if we acknowledge our responsibilities and do things the right way.
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