What’s dignity got to do with it? Why now is the time for humanistic management in tourism

As Covid-19 ripples through the globe with disastrous speed and scale, the tourism sector just like much of the global economy experiences a seismic shock. Tourism has been grounded until further notice, with a predicted number of 75.2 million tourism workers globally losing their livelihood due to the virus – a devastating outlook indeed.

After SARS, terror attacks and natural disasters, this virus yet again exposes the vulnerability of tourism and its multiple adjoining sectors. We usually recover quickly, swiftly returning to business as usual. Apart from this time the impact will be felt across the globe, for longer and more severe. While there are some encouraging stories about resilience and innovation emerging, there are too many examples exposing the ugly face of the visitor economy:

The thousands of airport and airline contract workers being laid off without having any support network despite soaring airline profits over the years, the Scottish hotel workers that were made redundant as well as homeless overnight, with the hotel later blaming an administrative error after political and media backlash, the cruise ship company whose managers pressured staff to lie about Coronavirus to potential customers, risking lives in the name of profit.

These companies violate the dignity and wellbeing of their staff, their customers and society at large, and they are rightly called out on it.  We don’t know when and how tourism will start again. What we do know is that tourism can be, and should be a force for good; a space where companies and Governments prioritise dignity and the common good over competition and profits. Now more than ever is an urgent need and indeed an opportunity for reimagining and rethinking tourism from a humanistic management perspective, to be ready for when tourism starts again (which no doubt it will):

  • a tourism industry that ensures safe working conditions, fair contracts and remuneration, workplaces where staff experience dignity and respect, where people can thrive while finding meaning in their profession;
  • a tourism industry that shows compassion and care, considers and nurtures its connection to nature and wider society, where managers consider the morality of their actions and take responsibility; and
  • a tourism industry where tour operators care about the health and wellbeing of their customers, where clients can trust the advice given is in theirs, not only in the company’s best interest.

Amongst all this angst what the future might hold for tourism and the many individuals affected, there is no doubt people will travel again to see their loved ones, and people will long for going on holiday after months of staying at home. When that time comes, we need to have a blueprint ready for a tourism industry that prioritises humanity over profits if we want (the industry) to survive indeed.

Anke Winchenbach

Teaching Fellow & PhD Candidate, ESRC Scholar

University of Surrey – School of Hospitality and Tourism Management


Related article on the topic: Winchenbach, A., Hanna, P., & Miller, G. (2019). Rethinking decent work: the value of dignity in tourism employment. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 27(7), 1026-1043.