International animal welfare charity, World Animal Protection (WAP), has accused TripAdvisor of profiting from animal cruelty by promoting irresponsible wildlife tourist attractions around the globe.
Following failed attempts to work alongside the company, this week WAP launched a campaign urging TripAdvisor to lift its game and cease the promotion of what it calls “the world’s cruellest animal attractions’.
In an interview with the ABC last year, TripAdvisor said, “We are open to finding ways in which we can help travellers gain a better understanding of animal welfare and conservation practices."
However according to Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns, the travel website is yet to put its money where its mouth is. She said WAP approached TripAdvisor several times over the past 12 months, asking them to remove wildlife cruelty from the website.
"They've said publicly that they would help travellers gain better understanding of animal welfare issues but they've not been willing to work with us in any practical sense," Ms Beynon said.
"They're the biggest online travel company — they get 300 million hits a month.
"We're asking if they could set up a program, we've suggested Wildlife Leaders, which would reward companies that are animal-friendly," Ms Beynon said.
World Animal Protection estimates at least 550,000 wild animals are suffering at the hands of irresponsible wildlife tourist attractions around the world.
According to Ms Beynon, research conducted by the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) found animals experience cruelty at 75 per cent of the 188 animal tourism venues TripAdvisor promotes.
WildCRU also found that 80 per cent of people who left reviews on TripAdvisor were unaware that the attraction or venue was potentially cruel to animals.
To affect change, WAP wants TripAdvisor to stop all sales of tickets to cruel wildlife attractions (which are booked through its subsidiary, Viator), stop promoting cruel attractions through its certificate of excellence and popularity index, and introduce a program, like the Wildlife Leaders initiative, that will help travelers make informed choices.
For its part, TripAdvisor believes that change must come from the travel community itself and said businesses listed on the website did not necessarily represent endorsements.
TripAdvisor also believes national governments and local regulatory bodies — not internet sites — have the responsibility to ensure businesses were operating within legal requirements.
"If visitors to a wildlife attraction have a concern about the welfare practices they have seen, we absolutely encourage them to leave that feedback in a review … as a way to help other travellers make more informed decisions,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson told the ABC.
WAP believes it’s not that simple.
In a press release published on its website, it said, “TripAdvisor has privately developed an algorithm that determines how business listings are represented on their website. This algorithm can lead to even the cruelest wildlife venues being ranked highly in their Popularity Index, or even receive a ‘Certificate of Excellence’.
“We’re sure TripAdvisor will agree that no place that beats or confines wild animals, forcing them to perform against their will, should be considered ‘excellent’.”
On a more positive note, WAP said more than 100 travel companies have now ceased selling elephant rides to their customers. That’s following a dedicated move by the organisation to highlight the hidden cruelty and abuse at places where tourists can ride elephants and see elephant shows.
"These commitments are in line with public opinion with a recent Galaxy survey commissioned by WAP finding 85 per cent of Australians think travel companies should avoid selling tourism activities that cause wild animals to suffer," a group representative told the ABC.
Australian companies who have removed elephant rides and shows from their itineraries include Adventure Tours Australia, APT and Intrepid Travel.
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