Understanding corporate social responsibility engagement in small and medium tourism businesses

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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept founded on the belief that businesses should voluntarily consider and support their stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers and the community. This may be through, for example, providing a flexible work atmosphere, supporting education or making donations. CSR has become increasingly important in business communities over the last 60 years, as awareness of the benefits that CSR can provide for stakeholders and businesses is increasing. Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are businesses with less than 199 employees, and they are believed to struggle with CSR engagement more so than larger businesses. This thesis seeks to understand the CSR engagement of small and medium tourism enterprises (SMTEs). CSR is important in the tourism industry, as tourism has the potential to have negative impacts on societies, and CSR may be able to counteract these negative influences. In addition to this, the tourism industry is abundant in SMEs. It is important that the difficulties that SMTEs face in engaging in CSR are overcome in order for CSR in the tourism industry to be increased. To explore CSR engagement in SMTEs, four research objectives are addressed in this thesis: 1) understand the characteristics of SMTEs; 2) identify current CSR practices engaged in by SMTEs; 3) investigate the factors that affect CSR engagement in SMTEs; and 4) identify the implications for increasing CSR engagement in SMTEs. An explanatory mixed methods approach, known as the ‘follow-up explanations model’ was used in this study, consisting of an online survey, focus groups and interviews. Owners and managers of SMTEs in the Greater Blue Mountains Area of Australia were the targeted research participants. One-hundred survey responses were collected and two focus groups and three interviews were conducted. The purpose of the survey was to gather data on the characteristics of SMTEs, their attitudes to CSR and the CSR practices they engage in. The focus groups and interviews were used to further understand the survey findings and to identify implications for increasing CSR engagement. The results suggest that whether an SMTE is owner-managed or not has the largest influence on its CSR engagement including: attitudes to CSR; motivations and benefits from engaging in CSR; types of CSR practices; and methods for increasing CSR engagement in the future. There were several significant findings from this research. First, owner-managed SMTEs engage in CSR for personal reasons and they gain personal benefits from doing so, whereas non owner-managed SMTEs engage in CSR to realise potential business benefits. Second, owner-managed SMTEs are not as constrained as non owner-managed SMTEs by a lack of resources in regards to engaging in CSR. This is because owner-managed SMTEs are spending their own money on CSR and they do not see it as an additional cost because they engage in CSR as a result of their personal values, so it is simply how they do things. In comparison, non owner-managed SMTEs have to justify spending the business’s money on CSR, by proving that the benefits of engaging in CSR outweigh the costs. Third, there is a difference in perceptions as to the value of guidelines and tools for increasing a business’s CSR engagement. Owner-managed SMTEs do not see value in guidelines and tools for increasing engagement in CSR, rather they believe that increased awareness about CSR is the best way to increase CSR engagement. In contrast, non owner-managed SMTEs believe that guidelines, tools and evidence of the benefits of CSR may help to increase CSR engagement. Finally, a model that explains SMTE engagement in CSR is presented.
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