Metamorphosis in hospitality: from prostitution to harassment

Poulston, J
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Department of Tourism, University of Otago, New Zealand

Sexual harassment is significantly more common in hospitality than in other industries, and has a negative impact on both individuals and workplaces where it occurs. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission ’s 2001 report on sexual harassment found that 60% of those harassed subsequently leave their place of work, indicating a significant cause of staff turnover, and a considerable expense to employers. The objectives of this study were therefore to identify the incidence and causes of sexual harassment in hospitality, so recommendations for prevention could be made to industry practitioners. As part of a wider doctoral study, quantitative and qualitative data from 534 Auckland hospitality workers were analysed, and results relating to sexual harassment identified. Of valid responses to questions on the incidence of sexual harassment, 24% reported they had been harassed, a proportion consistent with that found in Hoel ’s 2002 British doctoral study. Customer contact was identified as a strong predictor of harassment, especially for young European women and those working in food and beverages service. Harassment was notably less prevalent where respondents had their own codes of ethics, and where training was perceived as satisfactory. High tolerance of harassment evident in written comments was associated with enjoyment and the nature of the industry, implying a sense of duty and behavioural norm extending well beyond limits accepted outside hospitality. Recommendations include the discouragement of behaviours and appearances associated with harassment by guests, such as the use of sexuality in employee – customer relationships. Training employees to reject sexual advances skilfully and professionally is also recommended, as is promoting harassment-free workplaces to both guests and staff using codes of ethics, pamphlets, or posters. However, as the root causes of sexual harassment are may be outside the reach of such prevention strategies, the discussion also addresses the implications of working in commercial hospitality. The tradition of sexual behaviour in hospitality is therefore addressed, and its relationship to the sexual favours provided in pre-Christian taverns, where barmaids were also prostitutes. The study concludes that sexual harassment is pervasive in hospitality, in part, because it is perceived as integral to the industry by both staff and customers.

The New Zealand Tourism and Hospitality Research Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2006-12-05 - 2006-12-07, p. 114
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© 2006 Department of Tourism, University of Otago, New Zealand.