The elephant ride in Bali listed today on Viator could be gone tomorrow. Same for swimming with dolphins in Mexico. Cuddling tiger cubs in Thailand might also disappear from the booking site’s worldwide listings.
This week, TripAdvisor, parent company of Viator, announced that it will no longer sell tickets to or generate booking revenue from attractions that do not meet its animal-welfare standards. After consulting with animal rights groups and industry experts earlier this year, the company decided to eliminate activities that involve travelers “coming into physical contact with” captive wild animals or endangered species. The company would not name any specific attractions or businesses but it did describe the types of experiences included in the sales ban — riding, swimming and petting. The decision builds on the company’s current policy, which prohibits bookings that involve killing or injuring animals, such as bullfights and captive hunts.
“We will use our strength for good and bring awareness” to the issue, said Barbara Messing, TripAdvisor’s chief marketing officer.
TripAdvisor features nearly 700,000 attractions, of which only a few thousand involve animal encounters. The company expects to discontinue sales on hundreds of activities that do not comply with its criteria.
“It’s not a huge revenue loss,” she said, “and it’s a big win for animal-welfare standards.”
Messing conceded that there is “no universal standard” for this tourism sector, so the company will rely on the advice and expertise of reputable conservation groups, animal rights organizations and scientists. It will start removing the offending tours from Viator immediately and will continue to weed them out through early next year. Tours cut from the site can appeal the decision and may be reinstated, depending on the evidence.
The policy shift has several exceptions. Experiences with educational, scientific or conservation value — such as zoos, aquariums and safari parks — will remain. Other exemptions include attractions that feature domestic animals, such as children’s petting zoos; aquarium touch tanks used for teaching purposes; supervised feeding programs; and “voluntourism” excursions at zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries. However, if a facility qualified for inclusion offers an add-on tour that fails the test, Viator will remove the tour but keep the main attraction. As for the millions of consumer reviews on TripAdvisor, the company said that it will not take down any write-ups, including ones covering the noncompliant attractions, and will even update the entries with new postings. Messing hopes the personal accounts will help raise awareness and assist other travelers contemplating a specific wildlife excursion.
For additional information on the issue, the company will affix to each relevant listing a paw icon that will link to an educational portal. Nearly a dozen organizations in the field will contribute to the educational tool, including activist and conservation groups (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, World Animal Protection, Think Elephants International), sustainable tourism organizations (Sustainable Travel International, Pacific Asia Travel Association) and academics (Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit).
“The portal will provide links and information on animal welfare practices, helping travelers to write more informed reviews about their experience, and to be aware of opinions that exist on the conservation implications and benefits of some tourism attractions,” the company stated in a news release. “In turn, TripAdvisor believes that better reviews will enable travelers to make more informed booking decisions and improve the standards of animal care in tourism worldwide.”
Look for the paw prints early next year.
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