Corporate social responsibility in the Danish tour operating industry

Anna Povlsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Tourism is one of the world´s largest and fastest growing industries, and today, it represents the main income source for many developing countries. Tourism has both positive and negative impacts on society, and its enormous growth and global spread have transformed it into a key driver for social, economic and environmental change. However, although tourism provides economic benefits, it also incurs significant socio-cultural costs. In recent decades, a change in preferences has taken place, and tourists now are more demanding with regard to the types of vacations they seek. For example, instead of two-week holidays in Spain, they may prefer more remote and exotic destinations. This trend is observable in Denmark as well, given that seemingly exotic and distant destinations have become increasingly popular among Danish tourists (Husted, 2009; Morgan, 2006). Despite the growing importance of developing countries in the tourism industry, there is a lack of attention from the industry toward poor people in developing countries. In particular, tour operators often do not acknowledge a direct responsibility to assist poorer populations, as they view themselves as mediators without significant influence. For that reason, “CSR has until recently largely been neglected by tour operators” (Goodwin et al., 2004: Info Sheet no. 10). Furthermore, CSR has been primarily related to the environmental aspect of tourism, and few tour operators have addressed the fact that tourism has enormous impacts on peoples’ lives and, consequently, the potential to reduce poverty (Kalisch, 2002). In addition, critics of CSR have highlighted several limitations to CSR as a development strategy and pointed out that CSR is often ill-suited to tackle the issue of poverty in developing countries due to fragmentation in CSR initiatives, the lack of contextualisation, lack of knowledge about the impacts of CSR, and the exclusion of the poor in decision making regarding CSR. This thesis examines how Danish tour operators engage in CSR and poverty reduction in developing countries through 12 qualitative interviews with Danish tour operators. I apply the definition of CSR put forth by Blowfield & Frynas (2005) as a basis for all parts of the analysis. My understanding of poverty is multidimensional, as described by Sen (1999) and UN ((as cited in Spenceley, 2008, p. 9). This indicates that poverty is not only a question of lack of income, but also a deprivation of, for example, human and socio-cultural capabilities. The thesis focuses on the different limitations of CSR in relation to long-term development, such as poverty reduction. I categorise the limitations into four dimensions: the role of tourism in poverty reduction, the context of developing countries, impact assessment, and power and participation. The four dimensions constitute the analytical framework of the thesis. Based on the qualitative interviews, first, I examine the tour operators’ perceptions of CSR and engagement in CSR and poverty reduction. Second, the discussion moves to how tour operators take the context of developing countries into consideration, and third, I investigate their knowledge of the impacts of CSR. Fourth, I examine the stakeholder and participation relationship between tour operators and the poor. Finally, I discuss the study’s findings in relation to the analytical framework. The findings show that all of the interviewed tour operators engage in CSR in one way of another, ranging from philanthropic contributions to maintaining eco-lodges in Vietnam and Kenya. The tour operators prefer to provide instant support, and the majority of CSR activities are run by local people with knowledge about the destinations and their socio-cultural conditions. Yet the tour operators’ manner of working with CSR is rather fragmented, and none of them conduct structured evaluations of their CSR activities. The poor participate in the CSR activities, but according to Pretty’s Typology of Participation (1995), this is not deemed to be a high degree of participation. While the findings correspond to the criticism, for example, regarding the fragmentation of CSR activities and lack of knowledge about the impacts of CSR, the tour operators do not live up to the criticism in relation to how they take the context into consideration. By turning to primarily local people to run the CSR activities, the tour operators to a large extent ensure that the context of the destination is considered. Ultimately, the tour operators do not necessarily deserve the full brunt of the criticism put forward in the framework, and their engagement in CSR may potentially help to reduce poverty in developing countries.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages110