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Making Travel More Ethical
Erica Barnett, 17 Dec 07

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As someone who travels a fair amount (read more Worldchanging contributors on the specifically environmental impacts of air travel here and here), I want to stay in hotels that treat their workers well, pay them a decent wage, and don’t prevent them from organizing. I'm also acutely aware that the vast majority of hospitality workers, and virtually all hotel housekeepers, are women. Here are a few things I didn't know (and that you may not be aware of, either).

• Housekeepers in the hospitality industry report pervasive problems with job-related pain. In surveys compiled by Unite Here's Hotel Workers Rising campaign, which organizes and works on behalf of hospitality workers in the United States, more than 75 percent of workers report work-related pain; more than 80 percent report pressure to complete their work quickly; more than two-thirds report taking pain medication regularly; and nearly three-quarters report chemical irritation from exposure to cleaning supplies.

• In a typical hotel, according to Hotel Workers Rising, housekeepers must clean at least 15 rooms per day. And although the amount of time it takes to clean each room has increased as hotels have introduced new room amenities—such as heavier luxury mattresses, triple-sheeted linens, large, harder-to-clean mirrors, and exercise equipment--the number of rooms each worker is expected to clean has remained the same.

• The majority of hotel housekeepers lack union representation—a vital step toward improved working conditions for these workers. In cities where hotel workers are rarely represented by unions, hotel employees earn as little as $7.00 an hour, and are often unable to take lunch or rest breaks due to heavy cleaning quotas. In cities where union representation is widespread, they earn as much as $19 an hour--a living wage in most of the United States. According to the AFL-CIO, union hotel workers make, on average, about 18 percent more than nonunion workers--a gap that increases to 25 percent for female hotel employees.

Those are some alarming statistics. Fortunately, there are some innovative, accessible resources available to travelers that both provide information to people who stay in hotels and put pressure on hotel companies to improve pay and working conditions for those at the bottom of the travel food chain. Two I particularly like are Hotel Workers Rising's union hotel guide and The Jewish Funds for Justice's Ethical Travel Campaign.

Hotel Workers Rising's guide is simple but incredibly useful: You tell the web site where you're planning to stay, and it produces a list of hotels--sorted by location or hotel company--that employ union members. The site also provides a list of particularly "bad" hotels to avoid on its boycott page, and a ton of resources about labor disputes at various hotel chains, stories from real hotel workers, and a series of fact sheets detailing the conditions facing hotel workers in the United States.

The Ethical Travel Pledge, likewise, is simple but transformative. It states simply (and in part):

As a periodic hotel guest, I appreciate the hard work that hotel workers put into ensuring that I feel at home while away from home. [...]

In order to help ensure the best possible lives for the workers who are facilitating my own travel, I pledge that:

I will not stay in hotels that are in the midst of a labor dispute. [...]

When possible, I will stay in a union hotel. I understand that union workers in the service industry earn, on average, 33% more than non-union workers, and that unions provide the most effective vehicle for workers to secure fair wages and health care, and to register complaints about misconduct. [...]

I will tip the housekeepers who clean my room the suggested rate of $2-5 a day.

I will take measures to save my housekeeper time and shoulder strain, including: Keeping my room as clean as possible, throwing trash in the garbage can, piling towels in an accessible location, and stripping the bedsheets.

If I am pleased with the housekeeping service, I will fill out the provided comment card, knowing that the worker who cleaned my room might receive a bonus or special commendation if guests appreciate her or his work.

I will keep a copy of this pledge in my suitcase or traveling bag in order to remind myself of these promises every time I travel.

Perhaps most effective, the campaign offers a luggage tag reminding travelers that they've signed the pledge--a simple but practical reminder to put your money where your signature is.

Creative Commons photo credit

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Comments

One can make two categories of hospitality services:

- Places in which you are wanted purely for your money. If the staff is friendly, they are friendly because they are paid to be friendly. This is artificial friendliness, artificial helpfulness and artificial hospitality. Nothing within this business is nice if you do not pay them money. Hotels, hostels and similar businesses fill this category.
- Places in which you are welcomed because you are a friendly, beautiful and good person. People help you because they want to help you, and not out of fear of loosing their job and their salary. These places are the homes of local people who are eager to connect with, befriend and help travellers.

For sure I am narrow-minded and overlooking crucial points, but for me it is a simple choice between fear and love. I've stayed at hundreds of hotels during my childhood, but I know now that I will never again go back. There are no reasons to, as the hotels and hostels seem to demand so much more and give so much less.

CouchSurfing (www.couchsurfing.org) is in my opinion the best and most developed tool for making hospitality exchange easier and safer. HospitalityClub (www.hospitalityclub.org) and BeWelcome (www.bewelcome.org) are alternatives; the latter being very interesting in that it is open source.

Good travelling. :)

Jonas-


Posted by: Jonas on 19 Dec 07

Having a close friend who works in organizing hotel workers, I am especially mindful of the invisible exploitation of hospitality workers. However, I rarely afford to stay in hotels and take every opportunity to make travel possible with other accommodations. Perhaps I am a minority.

With that said, I am still wanting more to get me to think critically about "Making Travel More Ethical," which is a much broader issue. This includes the inadvertent subsidizing of corruption and exploitation from tourist consumers (beyond hotels), the ecological impact of fuel over long distances, and the unintentional interference with native culture and resources.

For the carbon consumption, as you may well know offsets are available for air and ground travel (e.g. www.liveneutral.org). As far as travelers not wanting to support corruption and not wanting to change the cultural landscape of the place they are visiting, all I know of is mindfulness, compassion, and good sense.

Perhaps the editor or someone else out there knows of some useful resources or information for the socially conscious tourists beyond hospitality.



Posted by: Jesse Rutschman on 21 Dec 07

Having a close friend who works in organizing hotel workers, I am especially mindful of the invisible exploitation of hospitality workers. However, I rarely afford to stay in hotels and take every opportunity to make travel possible with other accommodations. Perhaps I am a minority.

With that said, I am still wanting more to get me to think critically about "Making Travel More Ethical," which is a much broader issue. This includes the inadvertent subsidizing of corruption and exploitation from tourist consumers (beyond hotels), the ecological impact of fuel over long distances, and the unintentional interference with native culture and resources.

For the carbon consumption, as you may well know offsets are available for air and ground travel (e.g. www.liveneutral.org). As far as travelers not wanting to support corruption and not wanting to change the cultural landscape of the place they are visiting, all I know of is mindfulness, compassion, and good sense.

Perhaps the editor or someone else out there knows of some useful resources or information for the socially conscious tourists beyond hospitality.



Posted by: Jesse Rutschman on 21 Dec 07

Having a close friend who works in organizing hotel workers, I am especially mindful of the invisible exploitation of hospitality workers. However, I rarely afford to stay in hotels and take every opportunity to make travel possible with other accommodations. Perhaps I am a minority.

With that said, I am still wanting more to get me to think critically about "Making Travel More Ethical," which is a much broader issue. This includes the inadvertent subsidizing of corruption and exploitation from tourist consumers (beyond hotels), the ecological impact of fuel over long distances, and the unintentional interference with native culture and resources.

For the carbon consumption, as you may well know offsets are available for air and ground travel (e.g. www.liveneutral.org). As far as travelers not wanting to support corruption and not wanting to change the cultural landscape of the place they are visiting, all I know of is mindfulness, compassion, and good sense.

Perhaps the editor or someone else out there knows of some useful resources or information for the socially conscious tourists beyond hospitality.



Posted by: Jesse Rutschman on 21 Dec 07

Having a close friend who works in organizing hotel workers, I am especially mindful of the invisible exploitation of hospitality workers. However, I rarely afford to stay in hotels and take every opportunity to make travel possible with other accommodations. Perhaps I am a minority.

With that said, I am still wanting more to get me to think critically about "Making Travel More Ethical," which is a much broader issue. This includes the inadvertent subsidizing of corruption and exploitation from tourist consumers (beyond hotels), the ecological impact of fuel over long distances, and the unintentional interference with native culture and resources.

For the carbon consumption, as you may well know offsets are available for air and ground travel (e.g. www.liveneutral.org). As far as travelers not wanting to support corruption and not wanting to change the cultural landscape of the place they are visiting, all I know of is mindfulness, compassion, and good sense.

Perhaps the editor or someone else out there knows of some useful resources or information for the socially conscious tourists beyond hospitality.



Posted by: Jesse Rutschman on 21 Dec 07

Having a close friend who works in organizing hotel workers, I am especially mindful of the invisible exploitation of hospitality workers. However, I rarely afford to stay in hotels and take every opportunity to make travel possible with other accommodations. Perhaps I am a minority.

With that said, I am still wanting more to get me to think critically about "Making Travel More Ethical," which is a much broader issue. This includes the inadvertent subsidizing of corruption and exploitation from tourist consumers (beyond hotels), the ecological impact of fuel over long distances, and the unintentional interference with native culture and resources.

For the carbon consumption, as you may well know offsets are available for air and ground travel (e.g. www.liveneutral.org). As far as travelers not wanting to support corruption and not wanting to change the cultural landscape of the place they are visiting, all I know of is mindfulness, compassion, and good sense.

Perhaps the editor or someone else out there knows of some useful resources or information for the socially conscious tourists beyond hospitality.



Posted by: Jesse Rutschman on 21 Dec 07



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