This is a response to Finja Hansen’s article: Tourism with a conscience – An empircal investigation of the perception of travelers on CSR-certification of tour operators based in Germany
My name is Vincent Platenkamp. Since 2015 I am a visiting professor at NHTV, university of applied sciences in Breda. Before that I was a professor in Cross-cultural Management at the same institute. My field of research is a contextual approach of the international tourism destination from a cross-cultural perspective (Platenkamp, 2007). Contextual aspects have to do with politics, quality, and socio-economic aspects. The approach is transdisciplinary and focusses on the relation between theory and practices from a cultural point of view. Corporate social responsibility has a strong relation with various aspects of the international tourism destination, especially with the organisations that operate in this context. Tour operators based in Germany play an interesting role in this complex, contextual game in tourism. Sustainable tourism and corporate social responsibility are actual and much-debated ideals that have to cope with many practical obstacles in various situations.
This study concentrates on the obstacles that are related to the process of certification (of corporate social responsibility) and how this process can be aligned to the perceptions of travelers themselves. As Hansen states: “it is arguable in how far a certificate is beneficial for a tourism business – taking into consideration the involved efforts, costs and changes that occur in the course of the certification process.”
The main question is how to integrate this certificate in the customer communication process of the organization and how to raise customer awareness in this field. The study shows that the customer awareness on sustainable issues is highly prioritized but certificates, including social corporate responsibility certificates, are met with skepticism. The CSR-certificates are widely unknown, whereas product and price are crucial for customers. The tour operators use certificates for their internal organization and to be known as high quality organizations, but do not bother their customers with it. They limit their marketing activities accordingly. These conclusions are highly relevant in this study area, of course. Especially higher educated travelers with a higher income are critical towards certification, whereas most certified tour operators aim at these travelers.
Hansen ends her study with some recommendations to escape from this dilemma. The question is whether these will be sufficient to overcome the serious obstacles that she analyzed in a sophisticated manner. Her article points to the great need of practical studies that would support a more nuanced perspective on corporate social responsibility and sustainability as ideals that ask for a more pragmatic approach … as is hers.