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Opening pandora's box: aesthetic labour and hospitality

Nickson, D.P. and Warhurst, C. (2007) Opening pandora's box: aesthetic labour and hospitality. In: Advances in Tourism Research, Hospitality: A Social Lens. Advances in Tourism Research . Elsevier, pp. 155-171.

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Abstract

From Banff to Bath in the UK, from the Irish Times to the Italian Il Corriere della Sera across Europe, 'aesthetic labour' caught the popular imagination when a short research monograph was released in 1999 (see Warhurst, Nickson,Witz, & Cullen, 2000). Aesthetic labour, in different 'populist' appellations, continues to feature in the press, has become incorporated into academic textbooks and is filtering into policy debates about vocational education and training and careers guidance in the UK and abroad. The Industrial Society (now the Work Foundation) published a report on it (Warhurst, & Nickson, 2001) and the concept continues to feature in the Work Foundation's commentaries on the future of work and employment, and the development of successful cities (Westwood & Nathan, 2003). This interest cannot be disentangled from the increased importance to these cities of service jobs. Service jobs now account for around three quarters of all jobs in the UK, with retail and hospitality alone providing nearly 5 million jobs (Hospitality Training Foundation, 2003; Working Futures, 2004). Organizations in the hospitality industry vary enormously, ranging from luxury hotels providing extravagant, full 24 hours service to the more homely comforts of bed and breakfast establishments; from fast food restaurants to Michelin-starred restaurants. In turn, the jobs provided by these organizations demand a variety of skills and attributes from those employees interacting with customers. Increasingly, though, there is an appreciation that employees in these jobs not only provide desired levels of service in terms of responding to customers in a friendly and sociable manner but can also be part of the branding of service companies by becoming, in the words of Zeithaml and Bitner, (2003, p.318), 'walking billboards'. In this respect, and drawing on the work of Olins (1991), Witz, Warhurst, and Nickson (2003, p.44) point out that, for many companies, employees have become part of this branding exercise.