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Whether whale-watching, horse-riding, or visiting a zoo, activities involving animals are a large part of what people look for when they go travelling. Research by ABTA suggests a quarter of UK consumers have some form of animal experience whilst on holiday. Few other sectors have such popularity, or come fraught with so many potential issues.
ABTA's Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism (GWG) is the first report of its kind that seeks to establish concrete guidance for welfare best practice across the broadest range of animal interaction experiences. Whilst acknowledging that cultural differences worldwide make for very different relationships with animals in various countries, it seeks to ensure that a level of animal welfare is met wherever you are. Aside from anything, this is good business sense, with the Society for The Protection of Animals Abroad recently finding that when tourists witness animals being mistreated, 52% are put off visiting a destination again.
Unsurprisingly, the guidelines' scope is vast. Practices that are blankly considered unacceptable today are detailed, such as elephant polo, ostrich riding and crocodile wrestling. Elsewhere, detailed specific guidance is given on the treatment of animals in captive environments, dolphins in captive environments, elephants in captive environments, wildlife viewing and working animals.
Developed in partnership with the Born Free Foundation, and with input from 200 individuals and organisations around the world, ABTA's guidelines are both pioneering and practical. And they are already having an impact. Since their launch in June 2013, inspections against the minimum requirements contained within the guidance have been conducted at 52 facilities by ABTA members with a total consumer footfall of over 6 million visitors each year. STA Travel has stopped offering trips to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona after an audit of its own portfolio against the guidelines. And they have been adopted to form the basis of the Dutch and German industry responses to animal welfare. The more companies and countries that follow suit, the more tourism can show that it can play a role not just in setting standards for the industry, but for society at large.