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Dying for a tan? Researchers ask if industry does enough to protect tourists

Cardiff University : 20 July, 2005  (Technical Article)
As thousands of families jet off to sunnier climes this week, researchers at Cardiff University have been asking if the tourism industry is doing enough to protect its customers from one of the biggest killers of our generation, skin cancer.
In an article published in this month’s issue of Tourism Management, researchers at Cardiff University have warned the tourism industry about the risk of ignoring its responsibility to provide proper health and sun safety advice to travellers.

The study was carried out by husband and wife team, Professor Ken Peattie and Dr Sue Peattie of the Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society in association with a leading Australian dermatologist, seeking to explore the attitudes, beliefs and practices of adults and children in relation to sun safety.

Last year, UK residents made 24 million trips abroad. The majority of travellers would not have contacted their GP regarding holiday health matters, instead relying on their travel company to advise them, a factor the tourism industry claims is not its responsibility.

Skin cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the UK and is also the fastest growing, the main reason being attributed to a huge increase in foreign travel. 'There seems to be little incentive for travel agents to alert their customers to the potential health and other hazards present at their destination,' said Professor Ken Peattie. 'When tourism and risk are discussed, terrorism and crime seem to be at the forefront of people’s minds. Yet in reality, a tourist is far more likely to fall victim to health problems.'

The authors of the study believe that the time lag between sunburn and the first signs of skin cancer (sometimes up to 30 years) is part of the problem. The lack of an immediate consequence of sun exposure has allowed the tourism industry to drag its heels, a situation they may soon be forced to face up to, say the researchers.

'A quick browse through most of the travel industry’s promotional material shows countless images of sun-worshippers wearing unprotective clothing and sporting golden tans,' said Professor Peattie. 'A deeply tanned appearance is still considered by many in the UK to be a sign of health and wealth, yet the Australians increasingly view a deep tan as a mark of stupidity.'

If the situation carries on to the extent it has done, the next 20 years could see the tourism industry in a similar situation to the tobacco industry, where legal cases have been brought against cigarette manufacturers by previous smokers as well as passive smokers. British holiday makers could start pushing claims against their tour operators on the basis of failure to protect and warn them against harmful sun over-exposure.

'It is important to stress that the point of this research is not to consign the sunshine holiday to the past or that the industry is wrong to meet customer demand', says Dr Sue Peattie, Cardiff Business School. 'But to call on the tourism industry to start acting responsibly by warning customers about the long term risks associated with sunburn, and to provide products and services which aim to encourage safe enjoyment of sunshine holidays'.
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