TripAdvisor to Stop Selling Tickets to Many Animal Attractions

TripAdvisor to Stop Selling Tickets to Many Animal Attractions.

TripAdvisor, one of the world’s largest travel websites, and its booking service, Viator, will no longer sell tickets to hundreds of attractions where travelers come into contact with wild animals or endangered species held in captivity, the company announced. The attractions include elephant rides, swimming-with-dolphin experiences and the petting of endangered species like tigers. The decision, the first of its kind by a leading travel booking site, came after roughly six months of research and consultation with animal groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (A.Z.A.), Global Wildlife Conservation (G.W.C.) and others.

“TripAdvisor is a leader in the industry and we understand and applaud that this is a precedent-setting move,” a corporate liaison for PETA, Stephanie Shaw, said. PETA and other animal welfare groups say dolphins and elephants held in captivity for entertainment purposes can suffer severe physical and psychological damage. TripAdvisor also announced the creation of a wildlife tourism education portal, in partnership with leading animal protection organizations, that will inform the site’s users who review attractions and general visitors about animal welfare issues. “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,” TripAdvisor’s chief executive and co-founder, Stephen Kaufer, said in a statement.

Last October, Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, which will be working with TripAdvisor on its education initiative, released a comprehensive study on wildlife tourism. Among its many findings was that between two million and four million tourists per year pay to visit attractions that are considered harmful to animal welfare, and that a large majority of TripAdvisor reviews for such attractions failed to mention animal welfare concerns. While most of the animal groups involved in this effort echoed PETA’s overall approval of the new policies, not all groups had every concern addressed. PETA opposes all activities where animals are kept in captivity for profit, including those at zoos and aquariums, but these attractions will remain bookable. However, add-on attractions that are not in compliance with the new policy will not, TripAdvisor said.

TripAdvisor’s new policy also includes many exemptions, like feeding programs where visitors are under the supervision of zoo or wildlife officials, such as giraffe feeding at the San Diego Zoo, children’s petting zoos with domestic animals and voluntourism programs like the ones at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, where contact with elephants is likely for visiting volunteers. Animal welfare groups are hoping these changes create a ripple effect throughout the travel booking industry. TripAdvisor is the first travel booking site of its size and influence — the company reaches 350 million unique visitors per month  to limit access to attractions featuring more commonly practiced tourist-animal engagement.

Credit: Justin Sablich for The New York Times Travel 11 October 2016