Ethics Challenges: Health, Safety and Accessibility in International Travel and Tourism

By Richter, Linda K.; Richter, William L. | Public Personnel Management, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Ethics Challenges: Health, Safety and Accessibility in International Travel and Tourism


Richter, Linda K., Richter, William L., Public Personnel Management


Enormous increases in international travel by public sector employees and others, along with incidents of terrorism, accidents, and disease, raise a variety of ethical issues not normally covered in the training of public personnel administrators or in the standard administrative ethics course. Issues of accessibility for individuals with disabilities may be familiar to personnel administrators and students of ethics, but take on vast new dimensions when those individuals travel abroad. Travel-related ethics issues involved in health, safety, and accessibility may include identification of individual and institutional responsibilities, informed consent, contingency planning, emergency response mechanisms, fairness, and equal treatment.

This study provides an overview of trends and issues, explores their ethical dimensions, and identifies relevant strategies to prepare public administrators to deal appropriately with these concerns. The study treats both tourist and educational travel abroad, and considers risks to host societies as well as to travelers.

Governmental agencies, professional associations, and other institutions have sought to develop effective responses to health, safety, and accessibility challenges arising from rapidly-expanding international travel. The U.S. State Department, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization are valuable sources of public safety information, but political considerations sometimes undermine accuracy and credibility. Health and safety guidelines, vulnerability assessments, and other ethics strategies will help institutions and administrators to deal with future challenges, but the key task is for administrators at all levels to become more aware of the issues surrounding this, the world's largest industry.

Public personnel both in the U.S. and abroad are faced with an ethical crisis they scarcely recognize: what to do about international tourism. In 1998 more than 600 million people traveled internationally, a figure that is expected to soar to 1.6 billion by 2020.[1] That kind of growth will put intense pressures on governmental personnel to cope with a wide range of health, security, and accessibility issues. This article explores the ethical dimensions of challenges facing the public sector at all levels, not the least of which is the very reluctance of public officials to acknowledge negative problems from tourism.

Most nations consider domestic and international tourism to be an important part of their economies with pro-growth efforts expected to be supported by both the public and private sector. Even the United States, which makes a virtue out of the private sector and often a scapegoat out of the public sector, by 1985 had 43 federal agencies dealing in some way with tourism.[2] Every state and all major cities along with hundreds of smaller communities are making elaborate efforts to boost economic growth through tourism. Indeed, tourism is one of the few public sector areas that has not been downsized.[3]

Public sector employees not only boost, manage, budget, monitor, and administer tourist attractions, but they also administer the licensing, taxing, and zoning through which tourism is developed and maintained. Those same employees are also tourists themselves--dependent at home and abroad on the policies that support their health and safety. Terrorism, accidents, disease, and accessibility problems may be increasing with tourism growth, but not all these threats are borne by the tourists. Balancing visitor and community needs grows more and more difficult. Host populations, local health, transport, and criminal justice facilities may also be taxed by the health-related issues exacerbated by tourism.

What is needed? A new level of coordination and commitment by public bodies ranging from the local level to the World Health Organization are essential for meeting the challenge. Yet, there is little evidence of the necessary political will to confront the problems associated with the rapid expansion of tourism. …

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