Major Travel Companies Continue Failing Animals

Major Travel Companies Continue Failing Animals

Some of the most well-known names in the travel industry continue to profit from exploitative wildlife experiences that subject animals to a life of captivity and often cruel and inhumane treatment.

The latest “Tracking the Travel Industry US” report from World Animal Protection US (WAP), shows that the worst offenders in the industry at the moment are Groupon and Klook Travel, which scored dismally on the WAP evaluation—an research effort that involved identifying whether companies have policies prohibiting working with captive wildlife venues and whether these same companies continue to sell and promote harmful and exploitative animal experiences.


The new report ranks some of the travel industry’s top booking platforms and tour operators—such as Travel Corporation, Airbnb, Expedia,, TripAdvisor/Viator, GetYourGuide, and Klook Travel, and assigned scores to each company. The most reputable, best-ranked companies earned scores close to 100 percent and the worst offenders scored in the single digits.

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Groupon and Klook Travel received the poorest scores in the assessment, both earning a mere 4 percent out of a possible 100. Following right behind was, with a score of just 6 percent. When it comes to Groupon in particular, the company has a history of disregarding animal welfare in the pursuit of profit.

“Last year we came out with a report called Devastating Deals, which confirmed that Groupon routinely partners with some of the cruelest wildlife venues in the United States,” Nicole Barrantes, wildlife campaign manager for World Animal Protection, US, told TravelPulse during a wide-ranging interview about the current state of the travel industry. “Companies like Groupon need to realize that continuing to sell these attractions is endorsing the cruelty.”

WAP has had an active public campaign urging Groupon to stop selling animal cruelty. But Groupon has yet to respond, according to Barrantes. As WAP continues its efforts with Groupon to bring about change, it is also urging the public to help by not using the platform to book any services at all—whether it’s a travel-related experience or something as simple as getting your nails done in your local community.

Dolphins in captivity for entertainment in Cuba (World Animal Protection)

“We’re asking the public to show Groupon they won’t support its business until they stop selling these services,” says Barrantes.

If recent data WAP research data proves true, the public is likely to heed WAP’s call. Prior survey data from the global animal welfare organization showed that:

—79% of Americans believe that tour operators should not sell activities that cause animal suffering

—81% also said they would prefer to see animals in the wild, rather than in captivity if they had the chance

—60% said they would not travel with a tour operator or company if it promoted the use of animals in entertainment.

This latest industry assessment was commissioned by WAP but was conducted by the University of Surrey, which independently reviewed and analyzed the public commitments of the travel industry’s top companies. Each company was scored across four key metrics:

Commitment: Does the company have a public welfare policy against captive wildlife attractions that applies across all brands?

Targets and performance: Does the company have time-bound targets for meeting its animal welfare commitments and report on progress?

—Changing industry supply: Does the company engage with its suppliers and the industry to implement wildlife-friendly changes?

—Changing consumer demand: Does the company provide resources to empower its customers to make wildlife-friendly choices?

Travel booking platforms were also reviewed to identify whether they offer such animal attractions as elephant rides, feeding, and washing; taking selfies, feeding, petting, and walking with wildlife, including primates and big cats; swimming with dolphins and other sea-life shows, and the sale of any interactive “experiences” involving wild animals.

All of these activities involve a life of captivity and cruelty for wildlife. Elephant rides in particular, involve an immensely cruel practice known as “phajan.” Directly translated, the word means “crushing,” —as in crushing an elephant’s spirit. More specifically—divorcing a baby elephant from its spirit. The process involves shacking elephants and routinely bludgeoning them.

The brutal practice occurs throughout Southeast Asia in order to make elephants submissive to humans, and suitable for a life spent entertaining and amusing tourists, whether through providing wildly popular elephant rides (that often result in the elephant’s death amid extreme heat and exhaustion suffered by the animal) and treks, performing stunts in circuses or being paraded through the streets in tourist hotspots throughout the region.

An elephant show at a venue in Bangkok, Thailand. Elephants are trained to perform tricks, which causes health problems in the long run and poses a risk of injury. (Courtesy World Animal Protection)

As the travel industry as a whole focuses on shifting to more responsible and sustainable practices to protect the planet and local communities, after the realities that were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, animal welfare and conservation should be a key part of the industry focus and efforts moving forward.

“Customers trust travel companies when making travel choices. It’s the travel industry’s responsibility to protect animals and not exploit them,” continued Barrantes. “Animal welfare shouldn’t be left out of the equation when talking about responsible tourism.”

Some of the current leaders in the industry when it comes to not exploiting wild animals for profit include the top-scoring Travel Corporation, which received a score of 75 percent in the new WAP report, followed by Airbnb, which earned a 67 percent, and rounding out the top three was Expedia at 64 percent.

Airbnb is notable as the company worked directly with WAP to develop its current animal welfare policy. Additionally, Expedia made the most improvement since the first Tracking the Travel Industry report was released a few years ago. In 2020, Expedia’s score was just 22 percent, and today it is 64 percent.

The change in score comes after a successful public campaign by World Animal Protection that led Expedia to establish a new company policy prohibiting the selling of tickets to dolphin and whale performances and interactions on its platform.

“We always want to applaud companies that have scored well in their commitment, target and performance,” said Barrantes. “Expedia does not support activities where animals are bred for entertainment.”

Expedia still has some room for improvement however, added Barrantes. Researchers were unable to find any evidence surrounding how Expedia engages its suppliers with regard to ensuring wildlife welfare and best practices, explained Barrantes.

TripAdvisor/Viator—another two of the industry’s most well-known brands, scored in the middle of the pack with 44 percent. The brands removed ticket sales to captive dolphin and whale performances and interactions in 2019, but there’s still a great deal of room for improvement, says WAP. Both need to end the promotion of such attractions as swimming with dolphins and elephant rides.

“Every positive review on TripAdvisor for a captive elephant venue allows them to continue to sustain demand for these types of harmful attractions and it shows that the customer has not been properly informed and allows these venues to have credibility,” explains Barrantes.

While the report calls on travel companies to change their offerings, the public can also take some steps to be responsible tourists when it comes to wildlife, and also help drive change moving forward. Here are some of the actions to consider:

—Avoid any activity that involves riding, touching or feeding a wild animal. These activities involve keeping wild animals in captivity unnaturally and often involve cruelty that visitors do not witness.

—Avoid booking activities that scored the worst on this WAP list. Use your dollars to vote and take your business elsewhere

—Demand change from travel companies. Write them to express your opinion, use social media to communicate with them, or even call when possible.

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Major Travel Companies Continue Failing Animals

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