Hotels, Hierarchy and History: Portrayal of Hotel Work in New Zealand Newspapers 1890 to 2015
Cameron, Ann M
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The problem this thesis aimed to address is the poor perception of hotel work as a long-term career option and why this is such a problem in New Zealand. Tourism has been a major export earner since at least 1890. Accommodation provision and the supply of skilled hotel workers have presented a challenge throughout this time. Although New Zealand hotel managers are attempting to address staff turnover, these attempts do not appear to be particularly successful. This thesis used occupational hierarchies in conjunction with historical persistence to explore the social context contributing to these challenges. The aim of the research was to trace the evolution of the portrayal of hotel work and analyse the influence of this history on the current positioning of hotel work in New Zealand. As part of meeting this aim, the following objectives were sought: 1. Track the portrayal of hotel work in New Zealand media from 1890 to 2015. 2. Identify the changes in underlying values and attitudes: a. towards hotels work, b. in society itself. 3. Analyse the contingent factors and continuous influences within this dynamic system. 4. Identify the influences of these assumptions and this context on the positioning and behaviour of the modern hotel industry. The research used newspaper reporting to capture the portrayal and positioning of hotel work. The major metropolitan dailies were used because these offer the advantage of having continuous print runs available, even though they gave only a partial picture of the country. A set of key points in New Zealand history was selected and then the beginning, midpoint and end of the selected decades were sampled. The newspapers were searched for references to hotels and hotel workers. These were coded and analysed for emerging themes that particularly examined social structures and power relationships. The historical analysis revealed that settlers came to New Zealand with the dream of becoming their own boss; owning land was the ultimate goal but running their own business was acceptable. As the possibility of moving from hotel worker to owner-manager became more unlikely, hotel work, never particularly prestigious, tumbled further down the emerging occupational and social hierarchies. Hotel work is firmly positioned as entry-level, temporary work performed by students and backpackers. The current strategies to address this do not meet the desire for economic security and social connection. A fairer division of the risks of flexible employment, more varied career paths and better tourism planning are possible solutions. Beyond a social history of hotels and hotel work, the research provides a revealing lens on broader New Zealand history. The findings show that social elements in constructing power and privilege exist even in an environment supposedly driven by pure materialism. The continuing influence of the European founding myths on the meaning of work demonstrates that the application of neo-liberal models can be subverted by strong social context. The findings also confirm the deep persistence of occupational hierarchies, in this case, retaining the value of ownership and hard work in the face of neo-liberalism.