The world's largest travel website has banned destinations which encourage contact with wild or endangered animals. The company is also implementing an educational portal with information on animal welfare practices and advice and opinion from conservation charities. It's a laudable step, but it's still not enough to counter the cruel and exploitative practices encouraged by the tourism business.
We see it all the time. Your friends on Facebook riding an elephant in Thailand. That guy swimming and touching dolphins. The tiger petting "sanctuaries." People love to be in contact with wild animals, and tourism businesses want to capitalize on that. The human-wild animal interaction has never been so readily available - all you have to do is pay up, and you can do it. Whether it's petting tigers, riding elephants or whatever, you can do it for the right price. Naturally, this isn't helping anyone.
Conservationists and biologists have long campaigned against this type of interactions, due to the stress and potential damage it has on the animals. This also leads to the creation of many so-called sanctuaries, which in fact are just places where animals are kept in miserable conditions solely for the purpose of making money. Is that what you would want in your vacation? TripAdvisor says no.
TripAdvisor's voice matters. They're without a doubt one of the biggest players in the travel industry, with over 690,000 attractions listed and 385m reviews. They're visited by about 135 million people every month and are very influential for their visitors. Basically, whenever TripAdvisor does something like this, echoes are felt throughout the entire global tourism industry, so this decision actually matters. Richard Rees, director of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme told The Guardian:
“Out in the real world, TripAdvisor is often the only voice that really scares operators. I like that we’ll have visitors with the right expectations about what good practice is.” He also addressed the problems related to swimming with whale sharks.
“In some places, it’s a free-for-all. We see touching, riding, flash photography, obstruction – all sorts of bad practices.”
But while this is a laudable move, it won't be a boon to ecotourism - it touches just some of the damaging practices. For instance SeaWorld, notorious for its continued ownership of 29 orcas, will be unaffected. Danny Groves of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society points out that captivity is not being tackled.
“This is a positive step, but it does not address the issue of promoting trips to see whales and dolphins that are held captive. It would be great to see TripAdvisor take action in this regard.”
But there are reasons to be optimistic. Steve McIvor of World Animal Protection, one of TripAdvisor's main partners for this move, believes it will only be a matter of time before those issues are also tackled.
“We hope it will only be a matter of time before TripAdvisor will also come to realise that it has to end sales to all cruel wildlife attractions, such as SeaWorld where the animals endure a lifetime of abuse and highly stressful training to perform. Until then we will provide the best education we can on TripAdvisor’s website to steer people away from cruel venues like these.”