Tour operating

Workers' rights

Challenges related to seasonality and heavy price pressure in tourism are often shifted on to staff, who face low wages, long working hours, and insecure working contracts. Tour operators should ensure adequate working conditions for their staff.

It is especially likely that on-line and front-line staff with travel agents or tour operators will receive low salaries, leading to low levels of job loyalty and high turnover. Heavy workloads, long working hours, short-notice bookings or changes, and constant reachability via cell phone in the peak season may lead to high stress levels in tourism staff. A lack of well-functioning grievance mechanisms may decrease staff motivation and lead to poor performance, customer service, or low productivity.

The seasonality of the tourism industry leads to a high rate of casual working contracts and seasonal employees or subcontractors. Social protection and health insurances are sometimes not included in these contracts. Staff recruited through agencies or subcontractors bear an even higher risk of unfair working contracts.

Besides caring about their own staff, tour operators should also ensure adequate working conditions and general human rights due diligence in their supply chain (see related risk cards).

Diversity and Inclusion

Tourism businesses needs to take responsibility for diversity and inclusion throughout the sector. - within their company, in their products and communication, and along their value chain. This contains topics like racism, inclusive corporate strategies and disabled people. This refers also to customers' rights. 

Labour issues: India
Black market: Iceland
Underpayment: Australia
Mental Health of Tourism Employees: Mexico
Tourism and Racism
BAME community in senior roles
Labour issues: India

In its human rights impact assessment in India, Kuoni identified various labour issues in its own operations, including its destination management office in India. It found a lack of a well-functioning grievance mechanisms, high stress levels during peak season, and some dissatisfaction with wage levels.

Black market: Iceland

As tourist numbers have been rising in Iceland for the past number of years, thousands of new jobs are being created. Many of them are filled by foreign employees, especially from Eastern Europe but also by young volunteers from Western Europe. The new employees often do not know their rights in the Icelandic labour market. Working in the black market without necessary documentation and personal identification number, employees risk receiving wages below the minimum wages fixed in the Icelandic collective agreement. Foreign workers often do not know where to report unfair treatment at work. Moreover, the black market leads to unfair competition.

Underpayment: Australia

Melbourne travel agency lands in court for alleged cashback schemes, underpayment and false records

A Melbourne travel agency and one of its directors faced court for allegedly requiring an overseas worker to pay back more than $20,000 of her wages and for proposing to enter into a similar cashback scheme with a second worker. The company told the workers who are of foreign nationality that the arrangements were a condition for their visa support. Furthermore, the company underpaid their workers and provided misleading information to the investigating ombudsperson.

Mental Health of Tourism Employees: Mexico

First destination for tourism in Mexico, the state of Quintana Roo shows itself to face acute issues in mental health. Although Quintana Roo enjoys an international reputation for its fine sandy beaches and seaside resorts popular with tourists, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) this south-east Mexican state also stands out for having one of the highest suicide rates in the country. 

Tourism and Racism
World Travel Market 2020 Panel Discussion on Tourism and Racism
BAME community in senior roles

BAME community ‘still underrepresented’ in travel industry

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff are still underrepresented at a senior level and the lack of BAME role models in travel urges the travel industry to do more to promote the sector as a career choice to people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Called Engaging New Travel Audiences: Understanding the UK BAME Travellers’ Decision-making Process, a collaborative report by the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey and the social enterprise Women in Travel (WiT) CIC provides an insight into the travel characteristics, decision-making processes and motivations of the BAME travellers' segment. It found not only evidence of a lack of equality, diversity and inclusion in the travel industry, but also a tendency to treat all BAME travellers as a homogeneous segment with little understanding of diversity within the different communities. The report revealed instances of racial harassment, microaggresions and/or discrimination while travelling and called for issue-specific training for staff as well as a diversity, equality and inclusion accreditation for travel businesses. 

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Ensure that working contracts are fair and meet international labour rights standards.
  • Conduct regular employee surveys and establish feedback mechanisms.

Grievance mechanism

  • Establish a well-functioning grievance mechanism for employees to report concerns and problems.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.