Truth or Dare in Travel and Tourism: Ethics and Lies 1

Truth or Dare in Travel and Tourism: Ethics and Lies

Lies are like candies in a candy store, they come in various colors and sizes and offer different experiences. Today, in the chaotic world of travel and tourism, ethics and lies are meeting on the pandemic battleground. Some lies are motivated by money and greed, other lies are inspired by ego needs. Some people will lie to avoid punishment, others lie for the thrill of getting away with the falsehood, while others lie to cover up a previous lie.

Individuals might lie a little or a lot, based on their prediction of the outcome. In some industries lies are unfortunate (i.e., a doctor prescribes a drug in which he has a financial interest and the patient develops a serious allergic response). In other situations, lies are a distraction (i.e., corporate executives focus on firing executives to divert attention from diminishing sales). A frequent business lie is known as the One Stop Shop syndrome where a business claims to cover all your needs but offers less than stellar performance for most of them.

Ethics Resource Center

Research by the Ethics Resource Center found that industries most likely to bend the truth were hospitality and food (34 percent of employees observed falsehoods); arts, entertainment and recreation (34 percent) and wholesalers (32 percent). In the hotel, travel and tourism industry, lies are used to shade the reality of the situation. Cruise ships lie about the safety and sanitation of their vessels and passengers get sick and die from a variety of viruses. The hotel industry lies to cover up a poor location, poor ventilation from an inadequate HVAC system, or citations from the health department because of a roach-infested kitchen. The airline industry lies about the air quality onboard to cover up the reality of airborne distribution of viruses through the ventilation system and sickness caused by the pressurized cabins.

Truth or Dare explores the tourism industry with a search for the truth and offers a recommendation that, as we move into 2021, truth becomes the foundation for all business operations and an essential part of all marketing and public relations efforts.

COVID-19: The Disease. The Lies.

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Unless you have been living under a rock, it is common knowledge that the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is infectious and caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS CoV 2). Current evidence suggests that it is primarily transmitted between and among people through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and others have direct or indirect contact with these secretions. Fever, cough, loss of or change to the sense of smell or taste, chest tightness, muscle aches, fatigue and shortness of breath are the main reported symptoms.

While most people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate illness and recover without requiring special treatment, there are groups of older people (with underlying health problems) that are likely to develop and experience a more severe form of the disease. In addition, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups are likely to have more serious cases of this illness.


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Since March 2020 it has become obvious that COVID-19 is not the flu or a cold, although there are world leaders in both the public and private sectors that have tried to convince us otherwise. Lies travel quickly; how quickly? Cordell Hull, US Secretary of State and “father of the United Nations,” thought that, “A lie will gallop halfway around the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on (1948).” His observation took place in the middle of the 20th century, before Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. In 2020, a lie becomes a fact in nanoseconds.

Since COVID-19 became acknowledged as a pandemic it has infected over 49.6 million people and killed more than 1.2 million (, November 7, 2020) and the lies associated with the virus have been propagated through social media. The misinformation has been supported by world leaders with no background or experience in science and pushed by medical and political professionals with questionable education, experience and motivations.

The spreading of misinformation (or alternate facts) is a complex process that intersects many disciplines from digital research to psychology, psychiatry, and the behavioral sciences with links to public relations, advertising and marketing. The opportunities to lie have been nurtured over the past decades by the increase in advertising and public relations where the truth may be hidden or obscured by the need to sell a product, motivate consumers to overlook the shortcomings of a product or service and/or switch the wants/needs of consumers to a product/service that is available at a higher price.

The hotel, travel and tourism industry has been complicit in perpetrating misinformation to would-be travelers. Travel and leisure magazines airbrush photographs of hotels, restaurants and celebrities, hiding the cracks in the cement, the fungus growing in the swimming pool, the absence of sand on a beach, and the fact that the celebrity enjoying a holiday is being paid handsomely for permission for them to be seen at the resort (at which they are being hosted).

The hotel concierge recommendation for the best restaurant, night club, or dentist may not be unbiased. The property may have a relationship with a local restaurant (or owned by the hotel manager), or told there is nothing nearby as good as the hotel dining room, or the concierge is paid a finder’s fee for steering guests to a particular shop or attraction.

Car rental companies try to cheat their clients with a sales pitch that encourages the purchase of excessive insurance that is unnecessary; charged for damages they did not create; over-charged for fuel; misled about pricing and seduced with “complimentary” upgrades that may include hidden fees.

Restaurants lie. Under most circumstances the “wild mushrooms” on the menu are farm raised. The balsamic vinegar (made from reduced grape must that is aged for years or decades, in wooden casks) is unlikely to be actually served at the burger joint. The menu may call it Balsamic, but is more likely red wine vinegar with caramel color and sugar. Most dishes with “truffle” in the name do not contain truffles; frequently the customer is being served olive oil infused with synthetic flavorings designed to mimic true truffles’ scent.

Destinations lie. Caribbean islands claim the baskets in the straw market were made by local crafts people; look at the flip side of the item and it is clear it was made in China. The Dominican Republic’s public relations and advertising campaigns feature beautiful beaches and fabulous hotels. What is not shared is the fact that it carries a US Department of State Level 2 Travel Advisory for armed robbery, homicide, and sexual assault.

Travel Influencers lie, claiming that the destination is picture-perfect.  A moment for a reality -check…even the most charming “instagrammable” places have real world problems like homelessness, stray animals, water pollution and crime.

Cruise lines are notorious spreaders of misinformation which can, unfortunately lead to illness and death. The latest dose of misinformation focuses on the supposedly safe environment for passengers, encouraging guests not to worry about COVID-19 (or other communicable diseases like the Norovirus). They also claim the voyage will be safe. Fact check: 2018, cruise lines reported 120 alleged crimes (i.e., assault, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily harm, firing or tampering with vessel and theft of over $10,000) (Department of Transportation – DOT); 2020, Center for Disease Control determined that from March 1-July 10, 2020, 2,973 cases of COVID-19 or Covid-like illnesses occurred on cruise ships with 34 deaths. During this same period, there were 99 outbreaks on 123 cruise ships representing 80 percent of US jurisdiction ships.

Cruise lines may claim to be environment friendly; however, many dump waste into the ocean. In 2016 Princess Cruise Line paid $40 million in fines for dumping “oily waste” into the ocean. Research finds that cruise ships contribute 24 percent to the total solid waste generated by maritime traffic around the world; luxury vessels can produce seven tons of garbage and solid waste in a single day. Studies also determined that the air on the aft areas of cruise ships, (particulate matter pollution), is as polluted as the air in major polluted cities in the world, such as Beijing, PRC (

Consumers are encouraged to “fly the friendly skies,” while they are shoveled into spaces the size of a child’s shoe; fed high-calorie, low nutrition snacks, and forced to pee in unsanitary spaces that would not meet a base line standard in a third – world country.  Currently airline executives want travelers to buy into their newest story-line that finds that flying is safe and COVID-19 would not have the temerity to enter their cabins. What they fail to point out is that the Harvard study was paid for by the airlines.

Read Part 1 of this 3-part series here.

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.


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