Riding an elephant features on many people’s bucket list when visiting Asia and, more recently, Africa. While some may consider riding on top of the largest land mammal to hold an air of romance, few recognise that this practice actually compromises the welfare of these magnificent animals and potentially places people at risk.
Washing captive elephants, swimming with a dolphin, walking with lions, riding an ostrich or cuddling a tiger cub for a photo – are just some of the many tourism excursions and activities involving animals. All can impact on the welfare of animals, and due to the unpredictability of wild animals, threaten public safety. This is why the wildlife protection charity, Born Free provides guidance and advice to travel businesses to help them make informed animal-friendly choices and manage their impacts on animals.
A 2016 study by University of Oxford’s ‘Wildlife Conservation Research Unit’ has revealed that 110 million tourists a year and 550,000 animals are involved in tourism activities around the world. It is therefore not a surprise that Born Free receives so many tourist reports highlighting animal abuses, or that the agenda of ABTA’s Destinations & Sustainability team is dominated by animal issues. This led the travel association to create the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism to inform travel businesses of the issues and guide them towards best practice.
Failure to manage these risks and address detrimental tourism activities involving animals can damage a company’s reputation and turn away custom. This has been corroborated by a ComRes survey (2017), where 49% of respondents confirmed that their enjoyment of a holiday would be reduced if they observed animal abuse during their stay, whilst 71% said that they would more likely buy holidays from travel companies that care for animals.
Whilst numerous travel businesses have already made decisive decisions to remove certain detrimental animal activities from their travel itineraries, the majority of tour operators and travel agents have yet to consider the impacts of their tourism activities on animals and associated risk. Importantly, there is significant guidance and advice available, from both Born Free and ABTA, which includes a review of existing excursions and identification of those activities known to cause animals and people harm and an understanding of alternative activities that may exist. Now is the time for all travel businesses to consider and address this ‘elephant in the room’.
Associate Director for Tourism at the Born Free Foundation & Co-author of ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism
Find out more at ABTA's Sustainable Travel Seminar - Managing Risk in your Supply Chain in London on 6 July.