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Surprising results from hotel marketing managers in ethical dilemmas

Publish Date: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hotel directors of sales and marketing face ethical challenges every day, but many don’t consider some aspects of daily operations matters of ethics.

Researchers created unethical scenarios and asked directors of sales and marketing and other sales people at hotels how they would respond to them.  Twenty percent of responses said that the scenarios were ethical and another forty percent said they weren’t a matter of ethics.

“We found that many of the vignettes fell into a grey area for the respondents,” said Jeffery Beck, professor in The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University. “We created some vignettes that described what we defined as unethical, based on previous research, or had an unethical element to them, but most of the respondents rated them as ethical or that they were not a question of ethics.”

Beck, Ray Schmidgall, Hilton Hotels Professor of Hospitality Financial Management, and Bill Lazer, Emeriti Professor of Marketing, created short stories and asked participants whether they thought the situations were ethical and what they would do if they were in that situation. One of the vignettes about personal integrity from the study:

“You are planning advertising that features rooms at a bargain rate of $179* in large bold letters. The asterisk refers to the very small print at the bottom of the advertisement indicating the conditions including booking 4 weeks in advance with a minimum 5 day stay including a weekend, subject to availability, and travel on specified airlines. What is the likelihood that you will follow through with advertising in this format?” 

Of the 220 business people who responded, 53 percent said it wasn’t a question of ethics and 67 percent of the respondents said they would do it or they might do it.

When asked if they would ask their staff to install unsafe levels of electrical power that could potentially injure a staff member, 56 percent said it wasn’t a question of ethics. Even with the risk of bodily harm, 12 percent said they might, or would ask their staff to install the extra electrical supply.

“We found that the some of it had to do with companies not having a clear code of ethics or a clear code of conduct,” Beck said. “We attributed it to the fact that people are looking at situations more day-to-day and they are not looking at the consequences of their actions and not thinking there is an ethical element to them.”

Beck also found a connection between how the respondents answered and if their company had a code of ethics or code of behavior in place. That is one thing that a company can do to impact how their employees behave.

They also found that employee’s ethics are strongly influenced by their families and their supervisors. “Ethics also tends to be top down driven,” Beck said. “The old adage, ‘do as I say not as I do’ also tends to play out here.”

 The article by Beck, Schmidgall and Lazer titled, “Hotel Marketing Managers’ Responses to Ethical Dilemmas,” was published in the International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration in 2007.

Written by Gordon Shetler, Graduate Assistant at Global Initiatives.