How the travel industry is working to improve the welfare of elephants in tourism

The welfare of animals in tourism is a very important issue for ABTA and its Members and we have been working together to drive up standards as new issues and evidence comes to light. It is a priority for our work to encourage more positive and responsible ways of involving animals, including elephants, so they are treated well, and that tourists can enjoy their experience and local communities can also benefit.

ABTA believes strongly that elephants should not be subject to punishment and cruelty in order to make them submissive to humans. There is now a strong weight of evidence to suggest that harmful training methods of elephants are widespread. For that reason, ABTA has revised its guidelines, working with experts and Members to update these, categorising activities such as riding or bathing as unacceptable. The vast majority of Members, including the UK’s largest travel companies, have already stopped selling elephant rides and similar activities and we would encourage consumers to avoid these activities.

MPs are exploring potential legislation to end the advertising and offering for sale of low welfare experiences abroad. We are supportive of Government action on the sale of tickets in the UK to attractions which involve activities like riding or bathing with elephants – ABTA’s own guidelines say these activities are unacceptable.

We are acutely aware that UK travel companies stopping to sell an attraction doesn’t mean that the problem of poor treatment of elephants goes away – the attraction can still exist and be visited by tourists from other parts of the world, or booked independently by UK travellers. This is why ABTA Members are also working with local suppliers in destinations to help them develop responsible environments for tourists to admire elephants.

Understanding the complexities around elephants in tourism, such as the dependence on these animals for communities’ livelihoods and cultural attitudes towards animals, is an important part of this work. Working with local suppliers to change practices takes time. This is not something that will happen overnight.

Despite these challenges, progress is being made as travel companies work together with local communities to develop more positive and responsible ways of involving elephants in the tourist experience. A responsible activity would include viewing elephants from a respectful distance while providing them with as much access to their natural habitat as possible and ensuring they are not subject to any punishment or cruelty. 

ABTA’s guidelines on elephants in tourism

As an industry, we continue to learn and respond as new issues and evidence come to light. ABTA’s guidelines for travel businesses and suppliers on elephants in tourism are very clear that contact or feeding of elephants without a barrier is unacceptable, including riding and bathing elephants. Elephant shows such as headstands, football or painting are also unacceptable. They also say that the revised basic welfare requirements, which build on the extended Five Domains Model of animal welfare, should be met. 

ABTA develops and provides guidance to our Members and their suppliers on animal welfare, we do not have the powers to make legally enforceable regulation, in the UK or overseas. 

Find out more about the guidelines and the work ABTA Members are doing on animal welfare here.