TripAdvisor, the popular travel review website, and its ticket sales company, Viator, said Tuesday they no longer will sell tickets to hundreds of tourist attractions that are widely accepted as cruel to wild animals, reversing a policy under which the companies had resisted considering the welfare of animals when promoting trips.
The move to stop selling tickets to elephant rides, swim-with-dolphin experiences, and attractions that allow visitors to pet tigers and other exotic animals comes after a one-and-a-half-year protest campaign by the London-based animal welfare group World Animal Protection and reporting by National Geographic’s Wildlife Watch, which drew attention to TripAdvisor’s continued promotion of such attractions at a time when dozens of other tour and travel companies were moving away from them.
Such attractions have been shown to cause animals psychological and physical trauma that can shorten their lives. They also result in more animals being taken from the wild for tourism.
When being trained to carry visitors, elephants go through a “crush,” which often involves being beaten with nail-tipped sticks and immobilized in small cages. Tigers and lions often are drugged to make them sedate and safer for tourists to pet and take photos with. Dolphins kept captive for tourists to swim with are unable to hunt, roam, and play as they would in the wild, which raises their level of stress and can result in behavioral abnormalities. (Learn more about humane and inhumane wildlife attractions here.)
When National Geographic asked TripAdvisor about its policies earlier this year, a company spokeswoman said it wasn’t TripAdvisor’s place to steer users in any particular direction with regard to animal attractions.
But now the company, which has one of the world’s busiest travel websites, is not only ending sales to many animal attractions, it’s also developing a portal to educate tourists on animal welfare practices and the conservation implications of various wildlife tourist attractions. World Animal Protection, Oxford University’s WildCRU, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other animal welfare, conservation, and sustainable tourism groups will be involved in its development, the company said.
“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
The company will immediately stop selling tickets to certain attractions, and the ticket sales of others will end by early 2017, when the education portal will be launched.
All animal attractions, even those that are no longer bookable, will still be available to be reviewed on TripAdvisor and will be linked to the education portal.
“We believe the end result of our efforts will be enabling travelers to make more thoughtful choices about whether to visit an animal attraction and to write more meaningful reviews about those attractions,” Kaufer said.
A study released last year by World Animal Protection and WildCRU found that tourists aren’t very good at determining whether a wildlife attraction is humane or not. Researchers found that even attractions that experts judged as clearly inhumane often got good reviews on TripAdvisor. For example, reviewers overwhelmingly rated tiger attractions, which the study’s authors ranked as among the most inhumane, as “excellent” or “very good.”
That’s why it’s so important for TripAdvisor to step up and educate its users, said Steve McIvor, CEO of World Animal Protection.
“This animal abuse is a hidden by-product of the tourism industry. Millions of people look at TripAdvisor every day to guide what they see and do,” McIvor said in an email. “This is a significant step towards ending the sale of hundreds of cruel wildlife activities and sends a message to the travel industry and millions of users that wildlife entertainment such as taking tiger selfies or riding elephants is not something you should do.”
This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.