The tour operator will audit animal attractions in its portfolio

Thomas Cook had already banned elephant rides

Thomas Cook has launched a new animal welfare policy.  The travel company has asked Global Spirit to conduct a full audit of its animal excursions.

These will be measured against the standards set out by ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism.

Chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said:
“Our animal welfare policy, developed in partnership with the Born Free Foundation and animals in tourism specialists, Global Spirit, will require all animal attractions and outings sold by Thomas Cook to evidence full compliance with the ABTA Global Welfare Guidance.”
This is not the first time that Thomas Cook has shown its commitment to animal welfare.
In January, following a petition by World Animal Protection, it joined STA Travel and Intrepid (who both stopped in 2014) in a ban of elephant rides.

The holiday review website, TripAdvisor, following a long  World Animal Protection campaign said in October that it will stop selling tickets to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals.


So why not just stop selling the tickets?

Instead of auditing attractions why doesn’t the company just stop selling them altogether?
In the blog published to announce the new policy, the company said:
“…We know that for many people, animals in captivity of any form is unacceptable. However, it is a sad truth that many captive animals cannot be safely returned to the wild. Tourism has a big role to play in raising standards for those animals during the transition to ending the practice of capturing animals for entertainment, and ending practices that are known to harm animals…”

Born Free is concerned about the welfare of all animals that come into contact with tourists.

ABTA’s partnership with members and animal experts

ABTA’s guidelines were produced in partnership with the Born Free Foundation. They have been further developed through consultation with industry experts, ABTA members, scientists, zoologist organisations, associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from around the world.

ABTA spokesperson, Sean Tipton, said:

“The animal welfare community is very vocal with its views and we’ve had very little critical responses about the guidelines, so a pretty good job has been done by the destinations team who drafted them with the help of Born Free.”

The Born Free Foundation works to improve standards in zoos and other attractions

Associate Director of Tourism and EU Compliance at Born Free Foundation, Daniel Turner, said:

“Born Free welcomes the announcement by Thomas Cook and their decision to improve animal welfare through the enforcement of the ABTA Global Welfare Guidance.

“The leadership shown by Thomas Cook is a potential game-changer for wild animals kept in captivity that are involved in tourism practices; ending their exploitation and phasing-out their confinement in restrictive conditions.”

Born Free has questioned the keeping of wild animals in captivity since its establishment in 1984. It advocates that wildlife belongs in the wild. The charity works with third parties to improve standards in the welfare of animals in zoos and other attractions, and seeks viable conservation and education alternatives.

It has been working with Thomas Cook and other mainstream tour operators for over 10 years, championing the need for greater respect for, and care of animals used in tourism activities.

Not all animal attractions are covered by the new policy

However, Thomas Cook is not auditing all the animal activities in its portfolio. One that is not covered by the new animal welfare policy is the Grand National.

Horse racing is a large, traditional, business in the UK, but it can be dangerous. Between 2000 and 2015, 24 horses died during the Grand National meeting. Eleven of these were killed in the main race. In the year to 19 December 2016, 131 race horses died while competing at UK racecourses.

When asked if ignoring certain types of animals by the new animal policy was an example of speciesism by Thomas Cook, group head of corporate communications, Robin Tozer, said:

“In terms specifically the point around the Grand National and ‘speciesism’, we are getting into the areas of definitions. Namely we would not consider the Grand National an animal attraction in the same bracket as a zoo or aquarium.

“If a horse was involved in an attraction we might sell as part of someone’s holiday – e.g. petting zoo or pony-trekking – that would be audited in accordance with the ABTA guidelines and our policy and taken off sale if it does not comply.

“The Grand National package is provided by Thomas Cook Sport who do ticket/accommodation packages for sporting events such as football matches.

“The distinction being (1) as a sport, it is subject to legal guidelines and regulation already in terms of animal welfare (2) The horses do not live at Aintree.”

Is Born Free only interested in photogenic animals?

Horse racing is just one example of how some animals are treated differently to others by the UK public. So, does it depend on the animal and how it is used before its welfare is of concern?

Turner said:

“No, not at all. We are talking about all animals, whether they are wild, captive, or in the wild, or whether they are domestic animals, whether they are used in a working practice such as horses, donkeys or mules.

“All animals used in tourism practises is the key focus here. As far as what Thomas Cook is going to do and when. We will find out when we start to look at the strategy in the early part of next year.

“That will include the scope as well – which animals in which capacity and what we hope to achieve in this collaboration.”

Hear the full interview with Daniel Turner on the John Guinn Travel Show