Wednesday 7 December 2016

TripAdvisor stops selling tickets for captive animal attractions

'PAWs' for thought

Published 12/10/2016 | 12:05

A dolphin experience in the tropics. Stock Photo: Getty
A dolphin experience in the tropics. Stock Photo: Getty
A woman embraces a tiger in Thailand. Stock Photo: Deposit
Tourists on an elephant ride tour in Thailand. Stock Photo: Deposit
Swimming with dolphins. Stock Photo: Deposit

TripAdvisor will no longer allow users to book activities involving contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.

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The move, which follows months of consultation with tourism, animal welfare, academic and conservation groups, was announced this week.

Hundreds of animal attractions "where tourists come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species" will no longer be bookable on TripAdvisor or its tour subsidiary Viator, the company said.

Examples include elephant rides, petting endangered species such as tigers and swim-with-dolphin attractions, TripAdvisor added.

Asked whether the policy shift would effect any Irish attractions, a spokesperson told Independent.ie Travel it could not confirm specifics at this time.

The move comes at a time when public sentiment is rapidly evolving on animal attractions. After the documentary Blackfish, for example, Florida's Seaworld committed to ending its orca-breeding programme and theatrical shows.

A woman embraces a tiger in Thailand. Stock Photo: Deposit
A woman embraces a tiger in Thailand. Stock Photo: Deposit

It has been welcomed by groups including the The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Sustainable Travel International, Global Wildlife Conservation, World Animal Protection (WAP) and Oxford University’s WildCRU.

Some attractions will cease booking through TripAdvisor immediately, with the booking policy changes expected to be fully implemented by early 2017.

TripAdvisor users will still be able to review such activities, however.

In a related move, the company will also create "a wildlife tourism education portal" for travellers in partnership with conservation and tourism experts and groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), it said.

A special 'PAW' icon will feature on every animal attraction listed on the site, bringing users to further information presenting "all sides of the animal welfare issue". The initiative is designed to help the creation of "more informed reviews".

The new policy and portal education effort are designed to help "improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” said Stephen Kaufer, president and CEO of TripAdvisor.

Tourists on an elephant ride tour in Thailand. Stock Photo: Deposit
Tourists on an elephant ride tour in Thailand. Stock Photo: Deposit

“At the same time, we want to celebrate destinations and attractions that are leaders in caring for animals and those in the tourism industry who help further the cause of animal welfare, conservation and the preservation of endangered species."

As one of the world's biggest travel sites, TripAdvisor's policy change could have enormous implications for industry standards and ticket sales.

"By refusing to sell tickets to businesses that treat animals as entertainment or playthings, TripAdvisor is making a precedent-setting statement about the use and abuse of animals for entertainment," said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.

"We are delighted that TripAdvisor are seeking to educate consumers about the importance of animal welfare, and that ABTA's animal welfare guides will feature as such an important part of that education process," added Nikki White, Director of Destinations and Sustainability at ABTA - The Travel Association.

Exemptions to the new policy will include domestic animals (e.g. horseback riding, children’s petting zoos), aquarium touch pools used for educational purposes, certain voluntourism programs for endangered species, and feeding programs where tourists are under the supervision of zoo and/or wildlife officials.

There will also be an appeals facility for affected companies that can prove they can operate within the new policy, TripAdvisor said.

The company will continue to prohibit listing and the publishing of reviews for businesses that use captive wild animals or endangered species for blood sport - e.g. bullfights, captive hunts, etc. - the company confirmed.

TripAdvisor sites reach some 350 million unique users monthly.

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