Direct contact between tourists and elephants, including riding and bathing them, has now been labelled “unacceptable” by the UK’s largest travel association.
Abta announced it had updated its Animal Welfare Guidelines, which apply to all member tour operators and travel agents.
In addition to outlawing elephant interaction without a barrier between animals and tourists, the association also categorised feeding great apes, bears, crocodiles, alligators, orca and sloths as “unacceptable”, plus feeding, contact and walking with wild cats.
Abta’s original Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism was published in 2013, but a research report published by World Animal Protection in 2018 revealed that some of the language used was too vague and inconsistent to protect animals being used for entertainment purposes.
The association has since consulted with organisations including World Animal Protection, Humane Society International, Born Free Foundation, World Cetacean Alliance and Whale and Dolphin Conservation to help strengthen its guidelines for animals.
However, although updated, the guidelines are still voluntary for member organisations.
“The clear advice that it is unacceptable to use elephants for shows, rides, bathing or any other form of tourist contact without a barrier is a real breakthrough,” said Julie Middelkoop, global campaigns lead at World Animal Protection.
“We are equally thrilled to see that other harmful tourist experiences such as selfies with sloths in the Amazon, feeding orang-utans or giraffes and walking with lions in southern Africa have the same listing.”
Clare Jenkinson, Abta’s senior destinations and sustainability manager, added: “Abta Members have led the way on animal welfare by implementing Abta’s guidelines for a number of years, and others in the industry from around the world use Abta's guidelines as the basis for their animal welfare policies.
“Naturally, with the emergence of new evidence, thinking evolves on what constitutes a basic requirement or an unacceptable practice. Thanks to the valued input from many expert stakeholders, the revised guidelines will mean that travel companies can implement animal welfare approaches that reflect the latest evidence, working in partnership with suppliers to raise standards.”
It follows an increased awareness of the damaging impact the tourism industry can have on animal welfare.
In October 2019, TripAdvisor announced it would stop selling tickets to attractions that use captive whales or dolphins.
Along with its subsidiary Viator, the reviews site said it was also severing all commercial ties with these attractions, ceasing to generate any revenue from them.
The changes were rolled out over the subsequent few months, with the policy expected to be in full force by the end of this year. It does not, however, apply to sea life sanctuaries that care for cetaceans already in captivity.
It follows TripAdvisor’s decision to stop selling tickets to experiences where travellers come into physical contact with captive wild animals, such as elephant rides and tiger petting, as well as animal shows and performances.