Travel associations are ignoring animal cruelty at wildlife attractions


A shockingly high number of the world’s travel trade associations are lagging in providing animal welfare guidelines to travel companies, our new research reveals. The majority are doing nothing to prevent wildlife cruelty in tourism

Travel associations must step up, take action and commit to protecting wildlife.

Over 550,000 wild animals are suffering endlessly just to entertain tourists. Our research shows that travel associations must do more to protect them.  

We recently commissioned research from the UK’s University of Surrey, and the study shows: 

  • Just 21 of the 62 travel trade associations researched had a page on their websites on sustainable tourism
  • Of these 21 travel associations, only six are communicating anything at all about animal welfare
  • Out of the six only two travel trade associations and one tourism standard-setting body had what the researchers define as ‘appropriate animal welfare programmes’. These three were ABTA (UK’s largest travel association), Dutch Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (ANVR) and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (CSTC)
  • Only one of the travel trade associations, ANVR, is doing any monitoring of its members to check if they implement guidelines or not
  • Alarmingly, 16 associations in both their literature and on their websites featured promotional pictures of wild animals, in many cases being cruelly used to interact with tourists

An elephant entertaining tourists at attraction in Thailand

Must do better 

ABTA, ANVR and GSTC have set animal welfare guidelines or criteria. Our research shows that particularly for ABTA, there is considerable room for improvement. 

ABTA’s guidelines are seen as ‘de facto’ industry standards, but at the same time are considered vague and inconsistent. 

Unacceptable cruelty

In India, World Animal Protection had approached travel associations like Travel Operators For Tigers, Indian Association of Travel Operators and Rajasthan Association of Tour Operators. Captive wild animals worldwide endure appalling cruelty for tourist entertainment, including elephants, sloths, tigers and dolphins. 

For most wild animals, the cruelty involves being: 

  • snatched from the wild
  • ‘trained’ by inflicting pain
  • living in severely inadequate conditions
  • chained and isolated

A surrounded by tourists at an attraction in Bali

These wild animals are forced to have unnatural contact with people, which can cause them psychological trauma. 

Risks to tourists

There are also major health and safety risks to tourists participating in wild animal attractions. In Thailand alone, 17 fatalities and 21 serious injuries were reported in venues with captive elephants in Thailand between 2010 and 2016. 

Gajender Sharma, India Country Director said: "This is a systematic problem that needs to be addressed to ensure wild animals are not used for cruel tourist entertainment. Travel associations must step up, take action and commit to protecting wildlife. Following these research findings, we hope that travel associations will review their animal welfare guidelines. These associations must listen to their members and use this as an opportunity to lead the travel industry to fully commit to protecting wildlife."

We’re calling on travel associations to:  

  • Set strong animal welfare guidelines for their members and to monitor these to promote animal friendly tourism
  • Categorise elephant-riding and all other direct interaction between wild animals and tourists, and any forced performance with wild animals, as unacceptable

Join the movement 

There is a growing movement demanding wild animals are no longer used in entertainment. 

Over 1.6 million people and more than 200 tour companies have signed our animal friendly travel pledge. This signals there is a demand to phase out cruel wildlife activities like elephant riding, dolphinariums and tiger selfies.  

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