Beginning in 2017, TripAdvisor, the biggest travel site in the world, will no longer allow users to book activities such as swimming with dolphins, riding an elephant or petting a tiger. The company says it consulted with many conservation, animal welfare, trade, tourism, and academic groups before making this decision. The decision comes as public sentiment and companies’ actions, including SeaWorld and Ringling Bros. evolve on the subject of animals and entertainment.
TripAdvisor Says No to Swimming with Dolphins
Sherry and I are so excited about TripAdvisor and its tour subsidiary, Viator, making this move. We have personally, through volunteerism/philanthropic and professional activities, been involved in these efforts for many years. I was the COO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and have first-hand experience with the careful balance of animal welfare, tourism, and education. For years, I had to balance the welfare of animals with making money to keep our important work going.
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Personally, we both take a hard stance and often disagree about the balance of captive and endangered animals and how to best balance tourism dollars and education. The big question has always been: Do hands-on experiences with animals bring people closer and foster respect for these animals? Or do theyr do more harm? In addition, a big issue has been the lack of uniform standards in terms of the capture and treatment of these animals.
How Did TripAdvisor Reach This Decision?
The company said it did a lot of soul searching over months to reach this decision. Officials say they hope to improve both the health and safety standards of animals. Through their education efforts, they hope consumers will learn why certain experiences might not be healthy for the animal. That will lead tourists to make more informed decisions about where they spend their money.
Before coming to their conclusion, TripAdvisor officials say they consulted many groups. That includes animal conservation and animal welfare groups including:
- The Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- Global Wildlife Conservation
- Asian Elephant Support and Think Elephants International
- Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU)
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA);
- World Animal Protection.
On the travel and tourism side, they worked with ABTA – The Travel Association; Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), and Sustainable Travel International.
An Evolving Challenge
SeaWorld recently ended its Orca breeding program and Ringling Bros. stopping its use of elephants in the circus. In the end, we are pleased that TripAdvisor has taken a stand to protect both captive and endangered animals.
What is Means for Tourists
So, what does this mean to tourists using TripAdvisor? The main way you will be affected is that the world’s largest travel site will no longer allow bookings on their site or provide links to sell tickets for swimming with dolphins, petting a tiger, taking elephant rides, and more. Instead of links to book the activities, TripAdvisor will link to research and education from a variety of groups that have partnered with the company. These attractions will be designated with a special paw icon.
If you have booked a trip that fits into this category, some bookings have already stopped through TripAdvisor. The company says it will have both the new booking policy and educational portal fully-launched by early 2017.
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There are some exceptions to the policy. You will still be able to book domestic interactions with animals, such as horseback riding and children’s petting zoos. Also, supervised aquarium touch pools for education purposes will still be accessible, as well as feeding programs under proper supervision. Finally, volunteer programs at appropriate facilities where there might be some level of animal interactions is considered acceptable.
Our Hope For The Effect Of TripAdvisor Decision
Our personal hope is that TripAdvisor’s brave move in the name of animal welfare will be the first of many. We would like to see other brands and organizations put animal welfare and tourist education first. There are so many responsible ways to view, learn about, and appreciate animals in their natural settings as well as at zoos and aquariums that hold their care to the highest standards. As TripAdvisor noted, they want to grow into a business they can be proud of and do the right thing.
We hope that tourists will become more educated and more responsible travelers and understand the importance of standards of care for wild, captive, and endangered species. We also hope people will better understand interactions with tourists and their impact on wildlife conservation.