As we start the chapter that is 2022, we cross with caution. We have witnessed the highs and lows of a world on pause. As described by Stephanie Fiero in Be Nice to Animals, the absence of human tracks made an impact in the wildlife community. It made us stop and wonder if we can be nicer to animals.
For many, tourism is an escape, providing an experience like no other. Tourists feel a rush of excitement as they walk next to a lion, snap a selfie with a tiger cub, or feed a grizzly bear. But do these experiences affect the wellbeing of the creatures we admire and should you concern yourself with their wellbeing as a tourism company? The obvious short answer is – yes. The wellbeing of animals, or animal welfare in tourism is evolving. Understanding animal welfare helps clarify its role in the tourism industry, which enhances the experience for the tourist, tourism company and the animals we admire.
What is animal welfare?
Animal welfare focuses on the wellbeing or state of animals. It reflects animal care and husbandry in both the captive and wildlife settings. In 1994, Professor David Mellor and Dr. Cam Reid established what are known as the ‘Five Domains’ of animal welfare: nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and mental state. With these guidelines, establishments can properly assess what an animal is experiencing by evaluating both compromises and enhancements in each domain. The focus is not just adequate care for animals but adequate enrichment and quality of life. The Five Domains are frequently referenced in animal welfare policies, including those in the tourism industry.
The focus on animal welfare and tourism has continued to evolve. In 2016, ANVR (the Dutch Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators) was the first travel trade association to categorize all elephant shows, elephant riding and other forms of direct tourist contact with elephants as unacceptable. 2018 allowed for Neil Carr and Donald Broom to cowrite Tourism and Animal Welfare. This collaboration includes case studies and opinion pieces that encourage readers to evaluate their stance on animal welfare in the industry. Shortly after, in 2019, Booking.com began working with Wild Welfare to establish an animal welfare policy, ensuring clients of their stance on animal care. 2020 brought the publication of Wildlife Tourism Futures: Encounters with Wild, Captive and Artificial Animals in which Giovanna Bertella explores the future of wildlife tourism. Recently, in December of 2021, Dusit International, a prominent hotel and property management company in Thailand, joined with World Animal Protection to initiate company policies that will promote “responsible wildlife tourism.” As 2022 begins and the world prepares to travel again, can we continue to improve animal welfare in the tourist industry? First we need to better understand their correlation.
Why is animal welfare important to the travel industry?
As stated in Evolve’s latest travel forecasts, 58% of people will be more interested in exploring the outdoors in 2022, including activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking. With the increase in outdoor activities comes an increase in client-animal interactions. It is our responsibility to ensure that the animals encountered on touristic trips are treated humanely.
As the pandemic caused wildlife interactions to cease, so did conservation efforts, and some poachers were able to thrive. For example, rhino poaching increased as COVID-19 caused a decline in African tourism. Our presence is needed to both bring wildlife awareness and assistance.
As previously mentioned, companies like Booking.com and Dusit promise to improve animal welfare by both implementing and supporting companies that employ safer practices. These public statements provide clients with a feeling of comfort as they click the “Book Now” button.
By protecting the environment and the animals within, tourism companies can hopefully flourish while educating the public. The majority of customers want to support proper animal welfare but many don’t know why or how. The public is slowly recognizing that direct interactions can be traumatizing for wildlife. When looking for answers, tourists will come across recommendations and guidelines.
What do tourists expect?
Articles like “Five Ways to Be a Responsible Wildlife Tourist” and “Top 12 Animal Welfare Tips When Taking a Trip” give tourists guidance when searching for a welfare-friendly experience. They are instructed to be wary of staged selfie opportunities and submissive or abusive training practices.
Initially tourists trusted companies with the appropriate animal welfare in both wild and captive settings. Unfortunately, movies like Blackfish, in 2013, and the National Geographic article from June of 2019, titled “Suffering Unseen: The Dark Truth Behind Wildlife Tourism,” have shed light on a different side of the tourism industry. Clients now feel empowered and are encouraged to question travel company policies.
What’s a tourism company to do?
Most of us want animals to be happy and healthy but what is the role of the tourism company? Start simple with education as to WHY you do not offer selfies with a cub, WHY clients should not feed bears, or WHY they should not wear sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate while snorkeling. Affirming safe practices on your site, will give a level of comfort and care.
Depending on the tourism company, you may consider establishing an animal welfare policy, or at least a statement. World Animal Protection offers a “ready-to-go animal welfare template.” Here at Tourism Tiger we will gladly help you add or edit your animal welfare statement. Unique Maui Tours provides us with an example of a simple yet effective Value Statement that includes environmental and animal welfare. Clients quickly realize that for each tour booked, a tree is planted locally. The page also includes statements like:
“We consider the environmental and social implications of our decisions, and we commit to offsetting negative impacts.” and “We respect the wildlife and abide by all legislation in place and best practices to protect turtles, monk seals, dolphins, and any other animals we may encounter.”
Here is another example from the FAQ section of A Whale’s Song Expeditions:
“Our vessel adheres to the Alaska Humpback Whale Approach Regulations and does not intentionally approach whales within 100 yards. For the safety of the whales and our passengers, if a whale approaches our vessel within 100 yards, the vessel will place the engine in neutral and wait until the animal is located at a safe distance away from the vessel before reengaging the engines.”
The company guideline is not only described but an explanation as to why the policy is in place and what authority (Alaska Humpback Whale Approach Regulations) has established this policy.
A final example can be found at Tremblant Dogsledding. By clicking on “Read About Dog Welfare” button, a customer can review how they care for their sled dogs.
The FAADA (Foundation for Advice and Action in Defense of Animals) has posted a list of recommendations to help control the negative impacts of safari and sighting tourism on wildlife and the environment:
- Reduce the number of visitors and regulate the number of tourists that can access certain areas at the same time.
- Adopt codes of good practices for different types of sightings. In Uganda, for example, tourists have to keep a minimum distance of 7 meters from the gorillas, they cannot touch them, make loud noises or use camera flash. The sightings are limited to a maximum amount of time and people.
- Train and hire guides with the necessary knowledge.
- Move sightings away -the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society promotes, whenever possible, whale sightings from land rather than from boats.
- Redirect visits and prevent access to the most sensitive areas and develop alternative attractions such as virtual tours. In Patagonia, Chile has installed interactive panels along Torres del Paine National Park that act as an educational mural for visitors.
- Have previous studies that indicate the type of activities and number of tourists compatible with a certain area and its fauna, especially considering the effects that visits can cause towards the animals and their habitats.
- Control and restrict the number of tour operators that can work in a certain area.
- Regarding tourists, report bad practices of companies or other travelers.
Change requires time, but we can resolve to make a difference and support our wildlife community through the implementation of better welfare practices. Start discussing how you plan to respect animal crossings and promote animal wellbeing. Client education with explanations, examples and policy descriptions is a great way to start! Manuel’s Tours provides us with a great example of what and why:
“Under no condition should a National Park visitor EVER feed the wildlife. This type of activity has a severe negative consequence to an animal’s natural behavior and instinct. Some animals, especially monkeys, can die from the bacteria transferred from your hand. It is imperative that the animals live a balanced lifestyle based on their natural environment.”
We can all agree that nature is a powerful yet delicate force. As we admire her beauty, we must respect her vulnerability and watch for wildlife crossing.
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