Elephant rides

Travel industry gears up to push elephant-friendly tourism

Press release

Berlin: The poor treatment and unacceptable welfare conditions of elephants used in the tourist industry will be a hot topic of conversation at the world’s largest travel trade fair, ITB Berlin today (March 8th).

Travel industry leaders have joined forces with global animal welfare NGO, World Animal Protection to prove the growing demand for elephant-friendly tourism.

This joint industry - NGO initiative sets out to prove there is a strong demand for elephant-friendly tourist experiences. The aim is to shift elephant venues offering cruel activities involving tricks, rides and other direct contact, to those that ensure higher welfare, where travellers can observe elephants in their natural settings.

James Thornton, CEO Intrepid Group, said:

“Elephant riding was on every traveller’s bucket-list when Intrepid made the decision to remove rides from all our trips. South East Asia made-up around 40% of our business, so we took a huge commercial risk when we decided to be the first global travel company to end elephant rides. But we couldn’t ignore the research and we believed our travellers would support our decision once they had all the information. That leap of faith paid off, people want to do the right thing. It’s now up to the tourism industry to help them in doing so and encourage elephant owners to offer truly elephant-friendly experiences.”

The working group has also teamed up to ensure consistent standards for captive elephant in tourism. This consistency will help travellers and tour operators to recognise the genuine good venues, in an industry where the mislabelling of poor welfare venues ‘sanctuary’, ‘rescue centre’ and ‘retirement home’ is common practice.

Jane Ashton, Director of Sustainability at TUI Group, said:

“Global responsibility for sustainable economic, environmental and social activity is something we promote at TUI Group. As market leader, demonstrating respect for the natural environment and the protection of animals is a responsibility we take seriously. As a result, we have stopped offering excursions with elephant rides and shows to our customers and we continue to seek out elephant-friendly excursions to ensure we give customers the opportunity to experience elephants in a responsible manner.”

Julie Middelkoop, Head of Campaign for Wildlife Not Entertainment at World Animal Protection, said:

“The travel industry has the fantastic opportunity to change the lives of thousands of elephants by proving there is a strong demand for tourist experiences that allow elephants to be elephants. This shift in demand will we hope encourages elephant camps to move their venues from exploitive, to a better quality of life for these intelligent and social giants.”

Across Asia over 3,000 elephants live in captivity and used for tourist activities. Most of them are kept at venues with severely inadequate welfare conditions to provide elephant rides and shows for tourists. When not giving rides or performing, most of the elephants are chained day and night. This life of captivity begins with severe trauma, with young elephants separated from their mothers before suffering a harsh training process to break their spirits. This makes them submissive enough to perform tricks and offer rides and other direct contact with tourists.

The group started discussions on the elephant topic during last year’s ITB Berlin. Since then the members have shared data; including customer numbers visiting elephant attractions, and polled consumers on their willingness to pay more for humane and natural elephant experiences. The group includes tour operators TUI Group, The Travel Corporation, DER Touristik, Intrepid Group, and EXO Travel. Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and sustainability certifier Travelife for Tour Operators are also members and participating in the meeting brought together by World Animal Protection.


Note to editors

For an interview with a spokesperson, contact the International Media Team: mediateam@worldanimalprotection.org / +44 (0)20 7239 0500

World Animal Protection is building a global movement to put wildlife protection on the global agenda and reduce tourist demand for cruel animal entertainment attractions. Find out more via worldanimalprotection.org/wildlife-not-entertainers

Additional quotes from working members:

“DER Touristik is convinced that animal-friendly tourism is possible. We launched our animal welfare policy in January 2017 defining binding criteria and standards and are reviewing all our animal attractions for compliance. The tour operators within DER Touristik will adapt their product portfolio gradually and not offer any direct interaction with wild animals, such as elephant riding in the future. Over the course of the coming months we will work on the detailed timeline and action plan to move forward animal welfare in tourism.” - Ulrike Braun, Head of Sustainability at DER Touristik GmbH

“EXO Travel already advocates among its clients to shift to more elephant friendly activities. While at the same time we don’t consider it responsible to immediately stop all elephant rides as this would put at risk the livelihoods of local people. Based on assessments that we have developed with expert advice we only want to sell camps where elephants – as well as the staff and mahouts - benefit from good working conditions. Cooperative work between travel industry leaders and animal welfare organisations is what will help camps to shift to elephant friendly activities in the midterm.” - EXO Travel

“Our journey around the welfare of animals in the tourism industry started several years ago.  As part of this, we stepped away from all interactions with elephants in captivity because our research indicated that every elephant in the facilities in which we would even consider taking our travellers to, had to at one time been “broken” and there is no way to do this ethically. Sourcing of elephants is also a huge concern of ours, ensuring they are not unethically or illegally sourced from the wild. Our experiences for travellers feature elephants in their natural setting. Not all destinations have such experiences, therefore it remains a challenge as well as an opportunity to educate travellers.”  - Adrienne Lee, Program Manager, The Planeterra Foundation of G Adventures

“The greatest impact we can hope for is to improve the welfare of these beautiful animals. Our journey towards becoming a more responsible tour operator started several years ago, and we continue to make improvements to our tour offers as well as our operations as we proceed along that path. On this journey, we’ve relied on subject experts to help us make the best choices, in this case it’s World Animal Protection on how to create wildlife friendly experiences that matter to our guests.” - Shannon Guihan, Program Director, The TreadRight Foundation of The Travel Corporation

“Tour operators and customers need objective information on animal welfare, while camps need to be better aware of best practices for the elephants in their care. As Travelife for Tour Operators we are developing in partnership with tour operators an assessment and support system for camps. This will enable tour operators to exclude camps with unacceptable practices from their product offer and promote the camps with excellent standards.” - Naut Kusters, General Manager, Travelife for Tour Operators