ETLC Document on: “Sustainability in the Tourism Sector”, Luxembourg 21 October 2002 (Inglese)

ETLC Document on: “Sustainability in the Tourism Sector”

Luxembourg, 21 October 2002


Tourism, which came about as an elite activity, has become a mass phenomenon. In recent years, in Europe and worldwide, it has been one of the economic sectors with the highest rates of development.

The WTO (World Tourism Organisation) calculates that there are 693 million arrivals annually, and, despite the tragic events following 11 September 2001, prudently estimates that there will be 1 billion arrivals by the year 2020.

Tourism is a complex economic and social sector; besides the aspects associated with the organisation of the trip, the welcome, the catering and the facilities for tourists – such as those at seaside and ski resorts – a direct part is played by transport and commerce, but also museums, parks, cultural events, music, etc and, indirectly, all those activities that produce goods and services destined for tourism.

In the Third World tourism is the second largest resource after oil, but with one difference: oil is unevenly distributed, whereas tourism could be present more or less anywhere.

In the Third World in particular, the tourism sector extends to all manner of small-scale activities, creating a great deal of autochthonous employment for young people and women. Tourism is an immediately "exportable" resource, and is often free from the barriers imposed by those that dominate international trade. In most of the countries of the Third World that have become tourist destinations, a sizeable amount of the revenue from tourism goes directly to the local population.

The countries of the European Union as a whole represent the world’s number one (incoming) tourist destination and are also a major source of outgoing tourism. In support of the WTO’s programme “Tourism to alleviate poverty”, the trade union considers that sustainability in the development of tourism, both European and worldwide, depends not only on spreading tourist presence over the longest possible period of time during the year, lowering the seasonal peaks that congest destinations, services and infrastructures, but also on a different and more balanced distribution of tourist arrivals, with particular reference to the forecast rates of increase. This is consistent with the European formulation ratified in 1977 in Stockholm and confirmed in Rio in 1992 and by the 190 countries that met in Johannesburg in 2002, that sustainable development must be identified in the continuing search for a correct balance between the social dimension, economic dimension and environmental dimension of development. These are values that take on an even greater importance in tourism, dependent as it is on tranquillity and security, on the loading capacity of destinations, on the quality of the environment, on cultural difference and customs, on the quality of work and therefore the quality of the service that is offered.

The sustainable dimension of tourist development must therefore be appraised on the basis of how much of the revenue produced by tourism remains in the place of destination, and on how this is shared out within the local community.

The Social Dimension of Sustainable Development in the Tourism Sector

The sustainable development of the European and world tourism sector can only be guaranteed when – together with the economic aspects and those of protection of the environment and cultural differences – the creation of sustainable work in the sector is made a priority.

Quality of service, which in the tourism sector depends to a large extent on the levels of training of employees and on their motivation, is at risk today because working conditions in the sector seem increasingly less attractive.

In the transport sector, the liberalisation under way, the administrative mistakes of the major airline companies and the companies that manage the major airports, the limited planning, the failure to co-ordinate resources and activities, which has led to an enormous increase in costs … rather than being faced in a structural manner, have been shifted onto the reduction of maintenance, reduced safety, increase in risks to the health of workers and travellers, reduction in manpower costs and the professionalism of staff, further compression of the conditions imposed on the chain of local suppliers, especially those of the countries of the South, the multiplication of “low cost” companies, etc. with a consequent further worsening of safety conditions and quality of work for employees.
These are aspects that are not only more evident in the airline sector, but increasingly present also in land transport, both urban and extra-urban, and in transport by sea.

In tourism, for example:
-salaries are on average 20% lower compared with other sectors;
-the presence of illegal work and underpaid work is shocking, especially in the hotel industry.

In the tourist sector:
-there is a high percentage of temporary work (seasonal or simply fixed-term), perhaps combined with unreasonable hours of work – people often work at night and during weekends and holidays – removing the possibility of a normal social life;
-career possibilities are limited;
-particularly in the hotel sector, it is increasingly difficult to find qualified personnel and it is even more difficult to succeed in keeping such personnel in the sector.

The main objectives for a tourism in Europe that is socially sustainable are:
-quality work;
-fair pay, reflecting the quality of the service provided;
-acceptable working conditions, not inferior to those of other sectors;
-equal opportunities;
-the possibility of professional and career training;
-freedom of association, recognition of trade union organisations and collective bargaining
In this context:
-the Tourism sector should be increasingly understood in terms of its role in the production sector (bringing the various producers closer to the final user) and of the local tourism system, which provides goods and services in an integrated manner;
-a major role must be claimed by the public authorities, beginning with the European Union and the national and regional authorities, starting with the swift and generalised application of Agenda 21;
-social dialogue must be promoted in every sphere of the sector, broader negotiating relationships must be developed, the effects of which, involving the whole sector, go beyond the confines of the European Union, also having positive consequences on tourist destinations, especially those of the third world. The objective of this, as well compliance with the Conventions and Recommendations of the ILO, is the recognition of fundamental human rights, such as the absence of discrimination, the social clause, freedom of association and collective bargaining;
-proper accounting practices and social responsibility on the part of businesses must be promoted, beginning with the multinationals; international supervision networks must be created, of which trade unions – together with NGOs involved in safeguarding human rights, aware and responsible tourism and consumer rights – perform a co-ordinating function;
-incentives must be given to encourage quality certification, favouring the collective participation of workers in the definition and management of control systems, giving precedence to forms of certification that provide not only for indicators that are useful for the control of products and processes but also for indices for environmental and social protection.

Concentrations in the European Tourism Market

The sustainable development of European tourism is also threatened by the rapid advancement of the process of concentration by a few multinational companies, organised and integrated both horizontally and vertically. These companies manage the whole process, from the scheduling, to the sale of the holiday, to the transport, to the hotel arrangements… exploiting their dominant position to push down prices, to shift and “invent” destinations, with predictable consequences on suppliers and on the local communities that receive tourist flows. The immediate consequence of this policy is translated into a drop in prices.

In tourism, which is a labour-intensive sector, this pushing down of prices has had a dramatic impact on working conditions, often threatening the autonomy of collective bargaining.

Sustainable tourism that is not only economically feasible but also environmentally compatible and socially responsible cannot have loopholes associated simply with lower costs. It is against these principles that the attitudes of companies must be measured, especially the multinationals, beginning with the Tour Operators, who are asked to improve their procedures to ensure “proper accounting practices” and “social responsibility”, also increasing the opportunities for negotiation with the workers’ trade unions.

The Social Responsibility of Companies

Businesses can contribute to sustainable development only when the systems of correct environmental management and correct social practices are an integral part of their management objectives and there is a full and proper involvement of workers and their representatives.

It is in this framework that certifications, proper accounting practices and commitments to social responsibility must be made, including EMAS, ISO (the International Standards Organisation), GRI (Global Reporting Initiatives) and the consequent Tour Operators Initiative Project, The OECD Guidelines on Multinationals, etc.

The Responsibilities of the European Union in ensuring Socially Sustainable Tourism

Europe has a global responsibility in the area of the sustainable development of tourism, both because it is the number one world tourist market and because it is here that the head offices of many of the multinationals in the sector are located; yet it must be stressed that the European Union continues to deny tourism the status of a sector for which funding must be set aside.

Public subsidies for the projects of companies in the tourist sector must only be granted to initiatives that make explicit reference to respecting the social clause, that undertake to develop forms of qualified employment, to apply collective bargaining and to operate giving precedence to the participation of workers and their free trade union representation.

In particular, initiatives by the Commission tending to distort the tourist market and create competition between the different Regions within a situation of worsening employment conditions must be avoided. On the other hand, precedence must be given to those initiatives that move the competition into the area of quality of service. As the tourism sector is “labour intensive”, this would also translate into the improvement of the professional quality of the work of those employed in the sector.

Before any possible provision for the liberalisation of the market involving the tourism sector that the Commission intends to support (for example, in the context of the GATS negotiations), an in-depth analysis must be made of the effects that any liberalisation would have on the whole tourism sector, particularly on working conditions.

What Trade Union Initiatives are needed?

Sustainable development cannot be realised without the involvement of workers and trade union organisations, both in the sphere of social dialogue in the sector, and at the level of the individual business, as well as in the field of negotiation of collective agreements, both national and territorial.
In particular, negotiations must be developed on sustainable development with the multinational companies of the tourist sector, starting with the European ones, and with a view to such negotiations yielding positive results beyond the confines of the European Union, particularly in relation to the populations of the destination countries of outgoing tourist flows, increasingly often found in the countries of the South.

Networks to monitor the accounting practices and social responsibility of companies must be developed and managed within the transnational trade union organisations, and between the trade union organisations of the various countries, with the involvement of the Non- Governmental Organisations involved in the safeguarding of human rights, of aware and responsible tourism and of consumer associations.

Sustainable development must be the object of information and comparison within European Works Councils.

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