If you feel as if your travel to an exotic destination just will not be the same without a chance to pet lions and tigers, swim with dolphins, or ride an elephant, you will soon have to purchase a ticket from a company other than TripAdvisor.
Last week the $1.5 billion Massachusetts-based travel company, which was one of the first adopters of user-generated content, announced it will pull tickets for hundreds of animal attractions from its site.
In a lengthy press release, the popular travel review portal explained that it will stop listing bookings for any attraction at which tourists could come into close contact with wild animals by early next year. Reviews of venues will still be posted; but any featured and reviewed animal attractions will reveal a paw-shaped icon, which links to a portal aimed to educate people about animal rights issues.
Viator, which partners with TripAdvisor to sell tickets and tours, has a longstanding policy that bans any excursion bookings involving the killing or injury of animals. Now, however, any business that scores revenues from activities such as riding, petting and swimming with wild animals will be excluded from booking on TripAdvisor — which claims 350 million Web visits monthly. The policy will soon affect venues such as this nature reserve in South Africa, which makes it clear that the petting of wild animals is allowed.
TripAdvisor and Viator said they consulted with animal welfare NGOs including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and World Animal Protection in developing this new policy. Conservation groups such as Global Wildlife Conservation and Think Elephants International also served as advisors.
TripAdvisor’s new policy does include several exemptions, including activities involving domesticated animals. Children’s petting zoos, horseback riding excursions, supervised aquarium touch pools, and animal feeding programs staffed by zoo or wildlife conservation professionals will still be able to offer tickets through the site.
Many animal welfare groups, along with publications including National Geographic, have long criticized TripAdvisor’s policy of permitting the sale of tickets to animal attractions. National Geographic, for example, pointed out that elephants trained to give tourists rides suffer through a process called a “training crush,” during which these young animals are trained to lift their feet on command. Those orders often involve jabbing at these elephants’ legs and feet with sticks affixed with a nail at the end. Beating elephants as a punishment for making a mistake is also common in countries such as Cambodia and Thailand.
TripAdvisor is following the trend of educating consumers and tourists that wildlife is to be treated as wildlife, not as entertainment. Florida-based SeaWorld, for example, confronted years of protests over the treatment of sea mammals that performed in events such as its popular “Shamu” whale shows. And for decades, outrage over how wild animals are treated by circus companies such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey boiled to a point at which a proposal to ban such shows from New York City is on the table. TripAdvisor’s new policy is a step in reducing animal cruelty while educating people that behavior we may see as benign is in reality a form of torture that needs to stop.
Image credit: Leon Kaye