Nearly 18 months ago, we launched a dedicated animal welfare program aimed at changing the way wild animals are treated within the tourism industry. The program focused on two key actions – one aimed at raising the travel community’s awareness of animal welfare concerns, and the other aimed at encouraging the suppliers we work with to adopt better practices.
To raise awareness, we introduced a new information portal to help travelers make more informed choices about the places they visit. The portal – which you can find here – hosts guidance from a range of organizations with expertise in the fields of animal welfare, tourism, sustainability and conservation, and is clickable from any animal attraction page listed on TripAdvisor.
On top of that, we also made changes to our policy on selling tickets to animal attractions. We banned from sale hundreds of tours and experiences in which guests were encouraged to come into physical contact with wild or endangered animals. We did this based upon compelling evidence that many of these experiences are harmful to the animals they involve.
Since then we have checked thousands of different tours and experiences sold on TripAdvisor to make sure they meet the standards set by our booking policy. And we’ve spoken to many different experts in the field who share an interest in animal welfare to deepen our understanding of the complexities that surround animal welfare standards worldwide.
In doing so, we realized that we needed to add more detail to our booking policy, to better account for the different types of wild animal interactions that are offered to tourists around the world.
So today, we’ve made a number of additions to the policy, the full details of which you can read here.
One of the key changes we have made is to add more detail on the different types of wild animal interactions that we are prepared to sell.
For example, we have introduced a rule that some animal touching programs – most commonly offered in zoos – can be sold as experiences on TripAdvisor if they meet specific requirements. Crucially, we are only prepared to sell these types of experience if the physical contact that takes place between the guest and the animal is initiated by the animal themselves and that animal has the freedom to disengage from physical contact whenever they wish. Any experiences that doesn’t allow animals this freedom won’t be eligible for sale on TripAdvisor.
The other important change we have made is to clarify our stance on the use of wild animals in shows and performances. Many shows don’t encourage physical contact between the performing animals and the audience, but even so, there are still some behaviors that animals may be forced to display which are potentially harmful to their welfare.
So our policy now makes it clear that TripAdvisor is not prepared to sell tickets for any show or performance where captive wild or endangered animals are forced to perform demeaning tricks or other unnatural behaviors, or where they are featured as part of a live circus or stage entertainment act in a demeaning manner.
Any show in which an animal is forced to imitate human behavior, such as forcing a monkey to ride a bicycle, or where an animal is dressed up in human costume, are banned from sale on TripAdvisor under this rule. Shows where animals are forced to compete against humans in contests of strength, such as alligator wrestling, are also banned. Similarly, any show in which an animal has had to be drugged or forcibly trained to behave in an unnatural way, such as elephants that undergo cruel training in order to comply to instructions on stage, are banned from sale too. All of these types of activity are, in our view, demeaning to the animals involved and not in the interest of their welfare.
To be clear, we do not believe every show or performance that includes an animal is demeaning. Shows where audiences observe an animal’s natural behavior, or where animals are participating in activities that provide them with positive stimulation and exercise, are permissible under our booking policy. In these circumstances, certain training of the animals is allowed, if that training is also necessary to provide veterinary care to that animal – such as training a dolphin to raise its flippers on command. Nevertheless, we will still refuse to sell tickets to any show where animals are forced into physical contact with guests.
Ultimately, we hope these policy changes will make it clearer and easier for attraction and tour providers to adopt better animal welfare practices that meet the requirements set out in our booking policy. We know that most suppliers want to do the right thing, just as most travelers want to do the right thing too. That is why we remain committed to playing our part in bringing about real, lasting change to the tourism industry.