Human resource management in tourism: a small island perspective

Baum, Thomas (2012) Human resource management in tourism: a small island perspective. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 6 (2). pp. 124-132. ISSN 1750-6182 (

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PurposeThe purpose of this conceptual paper is to consider the nexus that is created when the challenging characteristics of the workplace environment within the tourism sector intersect with the contextual influences of small islands in terms of their economic, social and labour market attributes.BackgroundDiscussion of issues relating to human resource management and development in the small island tourism context in the literature is limited. Indeed the majority of contributions to what is a growing body of knowledge in the field of small island tourism make little more than passing reference to the employment and skills environment within such destinations. There are some exceptions. Baum and Conlin (1994) and Conlin and Baum (2003) explore some of the practical issues faced by tourism organisations in small island locations in terms of the impact of seasonality, limited skills within the local labour market and issues of access to formal education and training for the tourism sector. These general points about human resource challenges within tourism are demonstrated specifically in the context of one small island environment, that of the Aland Islands in the Baltic, by Baum (1996). Baum and Lundtorp (2000) address the impact of seasonality on the sustainability of employment in tourism and the challenges which attendant problems present for service and product quality in more remote and highly seasonal destinations of which islands provide some of the best examples. The impact of seasonality on employment in small islands in the North Atlantic is explored by Baum and Hagen (1999). Finally, Baum (2006) elaborates on these themes in the context of extreme, cold water island destinations. Issues addressedThe purpose of this paper is to address the gaps in the literature with respect to a considered reflection of human resource issues within the tourism economies of small island destinations. As Zimmermann (2006) rightly points out, sustainable tourism requires the involvement of local communities and in order for tourism development to be sustainable, human resources must be included in the overall development policies of an island destination. This paper provides an analytical updating of earlier work that has addressed the specific human resource challenges of small island economies in the context of the tourism sector. This paper will endeavour to demonstrate that the challenges faced by organisations operating in island tourism environments with respect to their labour market features; sourcing and recruitment of staff to work in the sector; employee retention; training and development; and career progression have dimensions that set them apart in both kind and extent from the issues faced by destinations located in more 'normal' tourism environments. Areas not addressed in earlier discussions are also included here, particularly in terms of the effect of employee mobility (inward and outward) in a globalised economy on the dynamics of these issues.ConclusionsThe paper reaches the conclusion that small island environments do act to exacerbate human resource issues of both structural and cultural origins within the tourism sector. Responses are required which are both local and global in their focus and which acknowledge the particular of small islands but also recognise those elements that draw on more generic tourism sector influences. Many of the challenges facing small island destinations with respect to their human resources in the tourism sector may appear to mirror those faced by larger, frequently metropolitan locations. However, 'small islandness' does impose particular nuances upon the management of human resources which are directly related to location and scale and these clearly require responses that are different from the general solutions proposed within the wider tourism literature.