Encyclopedia of Sustainable Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Samuel Idowu, René Schmidpeter, Nicholas Capaldi, Liangrong Zu, Mara Del Baldo, Rute Abreu

CSR in Tourism

  • Christopher Mensah
  • Mawufemor Abla Kugbonu
  • Dirk ReiserEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-02006-4_182-1


Corporate social responsibility in tourism refers to the social responsibilities of tourism companies (economic, legal, ethical and discretionary expectations of a society) (Peters 2016).

Today’s global tourism industry is of high economic importance (United Nations World Tourism Organization 2020; World Travel & Tourism Council 2019). On one hand, it has strong economic, environmental, and social impacts while at the same time relying on open healthy natural resources, a constructive social operating climate, and a positive economic environment. The tourism industry therefore needs to design tourism in a way that it shows positive values for societies and businesses at the same time. This can only be successful if companies are prepared to take social responsibility for their actions as well as planning those responsibilities to generate a competitive advantage (Fifka 2017a, b). Accordingly, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a vital component of the tourism industry.

This chapter will start by discussing the challenge of defining CSR. This provides a baseline to explain the importance of CSR within the tourism industry. Of particular significance are thereby the four dimensions of CSR: community relations, employee relations, environmental issues, and product quality.

The last five decades have witnessed phenomenal growth and interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) across different industrial sectors involving multinational corporations as well as small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) in developed and developing countries. It is linked with increasing firm investments in CSR planning and implementation (Palacios-Marqués and Devece-Carañana 2013). However, CSR is a contested concept and hence lacks a universally accepted definition. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (1999) defines CSR as the continuous commitment by business through behaving ethically in their trade and contributing to economic development and at the same time improving the quality of life of the workforce, their families, local community, and society at large. This implies that CSR is not a business event or activity but a main preoccupation of businesses which appears to be much of a strategic decision (Fernandez-Kranz and Santalo 2010) aimed at societal good beyond legal and industry obligations (Torelli et al. 2012). Social responsibility of businesses encompasses the economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary expectations that society has of organizations at a given point in time (Carroll 1979, p. 500). A CSR commitment signifies a firms’ acceptance to pursue and fulfill obligations that benefit societies and stakeholders in their value chain (McLachlan and Binns 2014). Kucukusta et al. (2013) conceptualized CSR as an organization’s willingness to acknowledge and implement sociocultural and environmental obligations aside from their commercial duties. Accordingly, corporate social responsibility in tourism refers to the social responsibilities of tourism companies (economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary expectations of a society) (Peters 2016).

The increasing attention to CSR in business operations coincided with the exponential growth in global tourism in the 1950s, where there were only 25 million international tourist arrivals to the reported 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals at the end of 2019 (United Nations World Tourism Organization 2020). The resultant mass tourism has exerted considerable pressure on diverse environmental and sociocultural resources and communities leading to adverse effects including noise pollution, water pollution, destruction of vegetation, congestion, despoliation of the environment, crime, and violence (Liu and Var 1986; Long et al. 1990; Milne 1990; Gursoy and Rutherford 2004). Recognition of the potentially devastating consequences of mass tourism in the 1960s led to the growth of concerns for visitor management in the 1970s and the birth of the green or alternative concept of tourism in the 1980s with the consequent growth of sustainable tourism in the 1990s (Swarbrooke 1999). Sustainable tourism was adopted to address implications of tourism for visitor need, environment, host community, and other industries (World Tourism Organization; WTO 2015). More recently, empirical evidence has linked tourism to climate change following increasing carbon dioxide emissions attributable to the consistent growth in tourism, in particular international tourism (De Vita et al. 2015; Kalayci and Koksal 2015; Zaman et al. 2016).

The need to adopt CSR in tourism became more pressing following the UN’s Earth Summit of 1992 held in Rio de Janeiro, where actions to protect the environment were given utmost attention (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992). The Summit sought to align global economic development agenda with the conservation of the environment (Agenda21). The emerging treaty enjoined countries to preserve tropical rainforest and endangered animal and plant species and reduce pollution and climate change through a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases as well as the cleaning and conservation of the environment (atmosphere, climate, landforms, hydrosphere, and oceans). It also pressured businesses to adopt a more proactive role in protecting the natural and social environment in its operating countries. For tourism this could even be argued that the above outlined contextual circumstances make CSR implementation imperative. CSR in tourism and hospitality aims to protect the tourism resources found in the social, cultural, and the physical environment (Kasim 2006), both as attraction and for the host community.

The implementation of CSR in tourism is also in line with the regulations of the UNWTO, World Travel and Tourism Council, and the Green Hotels Association (Tsai et al. 2012). The UNWTO (2018) describes CSR as the tourism firms’ extralegal and extra-economical behavior to strengthen the business case of being a good business. Given the heterogeneity of firms involved, CSR activities in tourism are multifaceted. However, CSR strategies in tourism are categorized into four dimensions: community relations, employee relations, environmental issues, and product quality (Holcomb et al. 2007; Levy and Park 2011).

Community relation activities entail firm support is provided to communities through the implementation of charitable giving, educational initiatives, and volunteer programs. Furthermore, community relation CSR strategies also include monetary donations to support community activities and education, campaigns, and ventures that promote the welfare of the community, the assistance provided to communities to resolve the challenges faced, and the support for social issues (Boccalandro 2009; Tamajón and Aulet 2013; Turker 2009). CSR of community relations is contextualized and localized to resolve problems that directly affect a specific cultural group, considering their beliefs and values (Kang et al. 2016; Luo et al. 2019). To maintain community relations, tourism firms could, for example, use CSR to regulate tourists’ influx through visitor sensitization campaigns (Karlsson and Dolnicar 2015; Appiah 2019) to ensure that tourist behavior conforms to that of the community, thereby maintaining a positive relationship.

Community CSR activities are necessary because tourism firms are often perceived as exploitive (Young 2006), linked to social vices, increase immorality and crime (Youn et al. 2018; Luo et al. 2019) and breakdown of ties in families and societies. These perceived immoral impacts on residents and patrons, especially the youths, are felt severely by the host community leading to an occasional antagonistic attitude toward tourism development. CSR in tourism reduces these negative social perceptions and increases the acceptance of tourism business in existing communities, which also opens avenues for investment in other communities. The residents of host communities, on the other hand, are receptive to tourists when tourism firms implement CSR with social benefits to its members.

CSR employee relation strategies are about a company’s level of involvement in employee-related issues, such as ensuring employees’ health and safety, the provision of retirement benefits, favorable union relations, the safeguarding of health and safety in the workplace, employee training, the possibility of employee fringe benefits, and the provision of recreational activities (Paek et al. 2013). Other employee relation activities include showing concern for retired employees by allowing such retirees to transfer their medical insurance without underwriting (Kucukusta et al. 2013). As a labor-intensive industry, employee relation CSR is crucial in tourism, as it has implications for employee performance. According to Supanti et al. (2015), employees are a major stakeholder to CSR in tourism as they produce and deliver services to tourists. Studies have shown that tourism and hospitality employees of firms that implement CSR are more satisfied and committed (Youn et al. 2018; Appiah 2019) and are willing to put in more effort to drive corporate success (Islam et al. 2016). Potential and existing employees’ sought to be associated with firms that implement CSR inwardly in the form of ensuring occupational safety and designing decent tasks (Horng et al. 2018) and outwardly in the form of community and environmental support. In the future, this will gain further importance because of expected labor shortages.

Employees in the hospitality industry especially the housekeeping division are prone to hazards at work, and, as a 24/7 industry, employees work during all hours of the days of the week that can lead to a variety of work-family conflicts. CSR in tourism is therefore extended to include employees and their families (Farrington et al. 2017) to reduce work-family conflicts associated with working in the tourism industry. This has become a human resource issue as job applicants choose hospitality firms to work in based on their CSR (Quinn 2013). Tourism firms through social relations uphold moral values of host communities through supporting the education of members of the community, providing skills training for the youth, and celebrating the local culture through staged events. In tourism, it is necessary for firms to undertake CSR in the areas of hiring members of the local community, paying high wages to local employees to increase income generation, employing women, and having women’s presence in top management (Polonsky et al. 2013; de Grosbois 2015; Kang et al. 2016; Islam et al. 2016).

Tourism entails movement within local environments (environmental issues) to consume sociocultural features with a high risk huge for negative effects (Karlsson and Dolnicar 2015; Chi et al. 2019). Consequently, CSR strategies of tourism firms are dominated by environmental activities because consumers most value corporate efforts that are easily recognized and tangible to their destination experience (Levy and Duverger 2010). Furthermore, environmental activities aimed at mitigating the negative environmental and social impacts of tourism, are sometimes related to a reduction in operational cost thereby making such CSR activities appealing to tourism and hospitality firms (Kucukusta et al. 2013) aimed at mitigating the negative environmental impacts of tourism and supporting and sustaining the environments, society, and cultures consumed by tourists. CSR serves as a balance between the consumptive and preservative characteristics of tourism (Telfer and Sharpley 2008). A set of environmental practices of tourism firms is best described as “recycle, reduce, reuse, and replace.” For instance, hotels often recycle a number of materials such as glass and paper, establish guidelines to reduce the use of resources and energy, reduce the use of packaging for food items, and remind guests and employees to switch off electrical appliances when not in use (Kucukusta et al. 2013). Tourism firms have been noted to exhibit resource-efficient practices such as employing linen and towel reuse programs and installing energy-efficient appliances and low water flow fixtures (Levy and Park 2011). In addition, environmental CSR activities are evident in tourism firms through green/eco-certifications and the introduction and use of labels such as green and eco (Calveras 2015; Karlsson and Dolnicar 2015). Words of green, sustainable, and eco and alternative forms of mass tourism are associated with CSR in tourism and hospitality (Sheldon and Park 2011; McLachlan and Binns 2014; Supanti et al. 2015).

Even so, in particular, hotels and restaurants have been criticized for high consumption of water, energy, and nonreusable materials and generation of waste and environmental pollution (Kang et al. 2015; Youn et al. 2015; Farrington et al. 2017; Ghaderi et al. 2019). In relation to airlines, the proportion of carbon emission from airlines attributed to tourist movement is forecasted to rise (Cohen et al. 2014; Feng and Tseng 2017) relative to increasing international tourism contributing to human-induced climate change, therefore warranting CSR-action.

Other areas of potential for CSR activities are protected zones, where tourists sometimes have destroyed ecological lives through overcrowding and overuse of the physical environment. Accordingly, environmental CSR should be adopted in tourism to reduce climate change (Park and Levy 2014; Feng and Tseng 2017) and pollution and manage both the tourists and the physical environment. Tourism firms engage in this form of CSR by adopting ecologically friendly behavior of appropriate waste management, recycling, and using engines that emit fewer emissions among others.

However, CSR in the environment in terms of activity, frequency, and the amount of resource commitment is influenced by the impacts of tourism in a particular environment (Chi et al. 2019). Thus, tourism firms with perceived positive impacts are less likely to get involved in CSR, while those with high perceived negative environmental impacts would adopt CSR to reduce adverse effects. Closely related to this is the issue of resource dependence where tourism managers that depend on the natural resources or host community’s culture are inclined to socially responsible behaviors with a higher willingness to support and pursue programs to protect the environment (Chi et al. 2019) since these resources are the core of their business without which their existences are threatened. The tourism resources are the environment, and its protection translates into the preservation of resources.

The fourth dimension is product quality, where CSR is directed to improving the quality of goods and services offered to tourists. Tourists are known to have a preference for clean and quality environments with low levels of pollution, and hence tourism businesses are flourishing under such conditions. This includes issues of fulfilling international standards for safe drinking water, quality air, good roads, and safe food to attract tourists (Farrington et al. 2017), because customers are key to every business. Thus, CSR targeted at products (Ghaderi et al. 2019) will translate into increased sales as consumers seek quality products (Lee 2008).

Besides the foregoing CSR strategies, the UNWTO (2015) additionally identified important CSR fields in the areas of supplier relations, customer services, stakeholder involvement, and business operations (UNWTO 2010; International Trade Centre and World Tourism Organization 2015):
  • CSR in supplier relations includes green and responsible purchases, protecting local suppliers and enhancing their prosperity, anti-corruption measurements, and avoidance of money laundering activities as well as supplier involvement in corporate decisions.

  • Customer service CSR aims to ensure customer security and health and nondiscrimination behavior in services delivered to clientele.

  • CSR to enhance stakeholder involvement entails providing customer, staff, and host community with information and relationship management program to ensure appropriate participation.

  • CSR of business operations includes certifications to show commitment and provide evidence for the adherence to norms, standards, and eco-design as well as securing the professional development of staff through training and partnerships for education, a diversity management strategy, security and health services for all employees, the creation of wealth and its complementary benefits, anti-corruption measurements, and the avoidance of money laundering.

The goodwill of organizations through CSR benefits stakeholders, it provides increased profits for investors, higher dividends for shareholders, a quality product for consumers, more satisfied employees, and a better protection of the host community. Moreover, the adoption of sustainable business models (Calveras 2015) reduces material use, waste generated, and the amount of money spent on waste management.

Overall, the inclusion of CSR measurements in the strategic goals of tourism businesses has a number of positive impacts. For example, hotels that practice CSR perform well (Ghaderi et al. 2019) through a cordial relationship with their customers, employees, and the host community. Additionally, CSR programs in tourism operations sustain and restore a positive image and reputation (Graci and Kuehnel 2010; Han and Yoon 2015; Islam et al. 2016) of implementing firms. Other benefits of CSR are better financial performance (Lee and Park 2009; Kang et al. 2010; McLachlan and Binns 2014), the attraction of more customers (Lee and Shin 2010; McLachlan and Binns 2014; Luo et al. 2019), gaining a competitive marketing edge over competitors and substitutes (Farrington et al. 2017) through the enhanced image (McLachlan and Binns 2014), a higher self-respect for the firms’ manager (Chi et al. 2019), and improved work attitudes of employees (Youn et al. 2018).

A strong factor influencing CSR measurements in tourism businesses is the size of the business. Firms with large customer bases and coverage effectively implement CSR (Ghaderi et al. 2019; Youn et al. 2015; Tamajon and Font 2013; Amponsah and Dartey-Baah 2011), while small- to medium-scale tourism firms assume a passive role of reacting to criticism of not implementing CSR through occasional CSR activities (Baniya et al. 2019).

Even more, the implementation of CSR in tourism is faced with a variety of additional challenges. One of which is making all stakeholders, especially consumers, aware of CSR activities as a lack of awareness is synonymous with a perception to not implementing CSR (Shen et al. 2015; Luo 2018), rendering its role as a marketing tool ineffective. Tourism firms therefore have to adopt strategies of making their CSR known to stakeholders.


The global tourism industry creates a number of economic, social and environmental issues, while at the same time relying open healthy natural resources, a constructive social operating climate and a positive economic environment. To be successful, its operations need to be designed in a way that shows its positive values for societies and businesses. However, this can only be effective if companies are prepared to take social responsibility for their actions as well as planning those responsibilities to generate a competitive advantage. Accordingly, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a vital component of the tourism industry. Consequently, CSR measurements should be included in the strategic goals of tourism businesses. As CSR programs in tourism operations sustain and restore a positive image and reputation, they lead to a better financial performance, attract more customers, help to gain a competitive marketing edge, facilitate a higher selfrespect for firm’s manager and helps to improve work attitudes of employees. Yet, despite a variety of challenges, tourism firms have to adopt strategies of making their CSR known to stakeholders to be successful in such a competitive market.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Mensah
    • 1
  • Mawufemor Abla Kugbonu
    • 1
  • Dirk Reiser
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Ho Technical UniversityHoGhana
  2. 2.Faculty of Society and EconomicsRhine-Waal University of Applied SciencesKleveGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Mirja Mikkilä
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Energy SystemsLappeenranta University of TechnologyLappeenrantaFinland