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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

Animals in Tourism: Theoretical and Practical Insights

Animals are a very important part of the global tourism industry. They can be in captivity (zoos), in the wild (whale watching), or as part of tourism activities (horseback riding). They not only play a key role in the creation of tourism and leisure experiences, but animals have even become icons and symbols of destinations and tourism companies around the world. This is the case, for example, of the kangaroo – the official brand logo of Australia – as well as the Rooster of Barcelos – a well-known symbol of Portugal and the Portuguese lifestyle. Indeed, the use of animals and human-animal encounters has become a common practice in the marketing and promotion material of most tourism destinations.

Animals in tourism and hospitality research

While the use of animals in the creation of tourism experiences has contributed to the economic success of many tourism locations, it has also contributed to raising questions about the practice of using animals as resources controlled and exploited for the sake of human pleasure. As a result of this, there have been growing public concerns for the rights and welfare of animals used in tourism. These concerns are also reflected in tourism studies where human-animal encounters have been approached from ethical, consumer and management perspectives. In doing so, most attention has been on evaluating the role of animals in the creation of different tourism experiences, as well as their rights and welfare in relation to the work they perform. Recently tourism scholarship has also started to take a less anthropocentric perspective by exploring the position, meaning, and active agency of animals as a part of human-animal tourism encounters.

Although research exploring the use of animals in tourism has considerably increased over the last two decades, animals and their role in tourism have been almost completely ignored in official documents and policies focusing on animal welfare and responsible tourism. For example, the EU strategy for animal welfare makes reference to animals used in laboratories, farms, and zoos, but totally neglects those animals who perform work in a tourism context. In a similar way, the Global Code of Ethics for tourism, which represents a fundamental frame of reference for responsible and sustainable tourism fails to include and protect the millions of animals used in the tourism industry. In an opinion piece published in 2014, Professor David Fennell advocated for the revision of the Global Code of Ethics to include Article 11 concerning the welfare needs of animals used in tourism. It is now the year 2022 and the Global Code of Ethics hasn’t been revised yet.

Animal welfare developments in the tourism industry

Despite the lack of conversation in the political realm regarding the use of animals in tourism, there have been a variety of positive advances in the industry. Many tourism organizations around the world have, to a certain degree, taken concrete steps to address animal welfare issues in relation to their business operations. This is the case of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) which was one of the first tourism organizations to introduce a practical set of animal welfare guidelines for the suppliers of animal-based experiences and attractions offered within the tourism industry. These guidelines have been used by global tourism operators as a guiding principle for developing their own animal welfare policies as well as monitoring their supply chains for animal mistreatment and exploitation. For example, the animal welfare policy of TripAdvisor is based on the ABTA guidelines.

Similar developments have been taking place at national and regional levels where tourism organizations, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, universities, and other stakeholders, have been involved in animal protection campaigns and the development of animal welfare certifications and policies. “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” is an example of a campaign launched by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Icelandic Whale Watching Association (IWWA) aiming to raise awareness about responsible whale watching as an alternative to commercial whaling. The IWWA also introduced a code of conduct for responsible whale watching which has been followed by most of the whale-watching companies in Iceland. Another example comes from Finland where a set of animal welfare criteria for sled dogs and reindeer has been recently released. The criteria, which is part of the Finnish Green Activities Ecolabel, was developed in close collaboration between public and private organizations.

Although animal welfare criteria, certifications, policies, and audits are a positive development in the tourism industry, we are still at the beginning of a long learning path. Indeed, more research, education, and political will are needed to improve the welfare and ethical treatment of the millions of animals who are part of one of the most rapidly growing economic sectors.

This article was originally published on the Fanimal Blog and is partly based on the article “Literature Review: Animals as Part of Tourism” co-authored by Mikko Äijälä, José-Carlos García-Rosell, and Minni Haanpää (2016) in The Finnish Journal for Tourism Research.


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