The Just Host: Addressing the wage structure problem in the tourism industry

Since the early 1990’s, tourism development has been promoted to replace employment lost to downsizing, outsourcing and automation in both urban and rural America. These efforts are actively supported by state and local chambers of commerce. However, despite the enthusiasm for tourism within city halls and business membership organizations, planning theorists have expressed concerns about the wage structure of the industry. Specifically, given the significant public investment in the industry, planners are being asked by some theorists to consider the distribution of economic benefits between labor and capital.

This dissertation explores this issue and concludes with a study focused on the origins and distribution of public economic benefits – areas that have received little attention to date. Using Power to Tax theory as a theoretical framework a strong relationship was established between hotel revenue per capita (a proxy for hotel taxes) and local government wages per capita. The study found no association between natural amenities and local government wages per capita, independent of the path through hotel revenue per capita. These findings suggest local government officials are enriching themselves by commodifying their commons (natural amenities) through the low-wage tourism industry.

Recommendations are made to Fainstein’s Just City planning model to advance a more equitable distribution of public economic benefits derived from natural amenities and the local residents toiling in the tourism industry.

Find the full dissertation here: https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/etd/6609/

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