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Sexual Harassment by Hotel Customers: Impacts on Workers, and Reactions from Management: A Thailand Study

Sexual harassment (SH) in the hospitality industry is prevalent. This study investigates the phenomenon of sexual harassment of hotel staff by customers in Thailand. There are two main research objectives. The first is to explore the relationship between factors such as age, gender, marital status, and race and how these factors are influenced by the characteristics of the hotel industry as a service provider. The second is to investigate the perception of hotel staff concerning their sexual harassment experiences, in the following six areas: whether hotel staff consider such experience as sexual harassment; whether male and female staff perceive such experience similarly; the staff's perceived severity of sexual harassment; type of sexual harassment by customer (verbal, physical, visual, or written); how staff react to sexual harassment; how sexual harassment impacts on staff. The research employs a mixed methodology. Ten in-depth interviews were conducted with hotel executives and Human Resource managers in Bangkok, Thailand. Another sixty in-depth interviews were conducted with general hotel staff at a number of different locations throughout Thailand. The in-depth interview data were explored using thematic analysis – as suggested by Creswell’s generic process of qualitative data analysis (2003) and Braun and Clarke (2006)’s Phases of Thematic Analysis. The last part of the research involved five hundred surveys distributed to hotel staff in eight locations in Thailand and was based upon the thematic analysis of the in-depth interview with hotel executives, Human Resource managers and staff, with reference to the literature. The data from the survey were analysed using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). Statistics analysis included descriptive statistics (means and frequencies of answers to each item) and nonparametric tests which were used to examine the relationships between dependent and independent variables. Integration of qualitative and quantitative data was carried out in the discussion chapter. The research reveals that the personal characteristics of hotel staff, as well as the specific hotel job and characteristics of the hospitality environment were contributory causes for sexual harassment. The study results also indicate that sexual harassment is prevalent and severe in the Thai hotel industry. Female staff were more vulnerable to severe physical sexual harassment than their male counterparts. However, both male and female staff were vulnerable to sexual harassment. The research also indicates that although they were a small part of the data set, homosexual staff were the most vulnerable to sexual harassment. Evidence indicates that staff experienced all forms of harassment (verbal, visual, physical, and written). The physical form was considered the most severe and might trigger a complaint from staff. Written forms of harassment were considered to be the least severe and rarely occurred. Verbal and visual forms were normal and accepted by most staff. Men were more tolerant of sexual harassment than women. Sexual harassment had a range of impacts on staff but most accepted it as part of the job and simply ignored it. Staff employed multiple methods to cope, ranging from ignoring it to informing legal authorities. However, the research indicates that most staff did not complain except in the most severe cases (such as rape). Sexual harassment also impacted on a hotel's image and reputation. It is of note that the research indicates that hotels were not equipped in regards to sexual harassment policies and complaint handling procedures. The study also indicates that some Thai cultural and social issues had played a significant role in the prevalence of sexual harassment. These include the cultural differences (between the Thai workers and the foreign customers), the significant presence of prostitutes, patriarchy and the legal system. This study demonstrates that hotels should consider the need for management commitment, effective sexual harassment policy, good communication, recruitment and training. The research also recommends culture change within the management of the hotel, improvement of physical hotel security and infrastructure as well as government and tourism regulators’ cooperation. Apart from the cultural aspect, sexual harassment theory should incorporate the environment settings into its definition and application. Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry and other service industries has some common elements such as the harasser, the forms of conduct, and the victim. However, each industry may have its own characteristics and settings that facilitate the misconduct. This makes one service industry more susceptible than the others to sexual harassment. Future research should focus on both these common and different elements. The study of sexual harassment in other service industries such as nursing, airlines, health care and so forth is recommended. The study concluded that there were a multiple causes that trigger sexual harassment in hotels and proposes an Integrated Model/Dimension of Customer Sexual Harassment (IMCSH) as a theoretical framework for sexual harassment study in hotels as it is of considerable interest to both academics and practitioners. It gives a new multi-dimension to the interrelationship between sexual harassment and the characteristics of hotel staff, hotel premises, sociocultural characteristics of the country as well as the characteristics of the hospitality itself. This lends itself to further research which will help gain a greater understanding of this interrelationship.
Type of thesis
Aksonnit, P. (2014). Sexual Harassment by Hotel Customers: Impacts on Workers, and Reactions from Management: A Thailand Study (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8851
University of Waikato
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