One of the world’s largest travel websites, TripAdvisor, announced on Tuesday that they, alongside Viator, will no longer sell tickets to attractions where endangered animals are being exploited or held in captivity.

This decision and major breakthrough came after numerous petitions and campaigns put TripAdvisor on the spotl to use their influence as a leader in the travel industry to stop promoting cruel animal attractions such as elephant riding, swimming with dolphins in captivity and petting endangered species like tigers.

With the new changes and with endorsements from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) TripAdvisor is committed to use its reach of 350 million monthly visitors to better education in wildlife tourism and be a portal for travellers.

“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” said Stephen Kaufer, president and CEO, TripAdvisor.

“At the same time, we want to celebrate those destinations and attractions that are leaders in caring for animals and those in the tourism industry who help further the cause of animal welfare, conservation and the preservation of endangered species. We want to thank the dozens of trade groups, academics and nongovernmental organizations who helped us design our path forward as a company.”

Several top accredited trade groups, conservation organisations, academics, researchers and tourism experts have partnered with the company to create and launch a new education portal by early 2017.

Every animal-related attraction listed on TripAdvisor will be identified with a “PAW” icon that will link to the education portal. The content of this education portal will help inform travellers about the standards of care for wild, captive, and endangered species in tourism and educate about the conservations implications with points of view from thought leaders such as the Global Wildlife Conservation, Asian Elephant Support, Pacific Asia Travel Association and academic leaders in the sciences of animal conservation and animal welfare like Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).

Locally the issue of animal interactions has been centred around the canned lion industry with the release of documentaries such as Blood Lions. As a means to recognised the potential pitfalls of the animal interaction and voluntourism conservation industry South Africa’s Fair Trade launched a new set of guidelines to help them avoid the dark side of voluntourism.

The new Fair Trade Tourism criteria does not allow for any physical interaction by tourists or volunteers with a range of captive animals, including all large and medium sized carnivores, big cats, elephants, rhinos, large apes, hippos, ostrich, crocodiles and venomous snakes. They also do not allow for tourists or volunteers to interact with any child or vulnerable person unless this takes place under continuous, qualified adult supervision.

Dr Tom Moorhouse, a senior researcher at WildCRU shared, “We are convinced that research into the choices of tourists and their impacts on the welfare and conservation of wild animals is a powerful tool for enabling tourism to deliver greater benefits for wildlife.”

 The following changes and amendments were made to TripAdvisor and Viator’s booking policy concerning animals:

TripAdvisor and its Viator brand will no longer sell tickets to, or generate booking revenue from, specific attractions where tourists come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species, including but not limited to elephant rides, “swim with” programs where tourists touch or ride on dolphins, the petting of captive wild or endangered species, etc.

For attractions that can provide evidence that they are in-policy, but were impacted by today’s decision, TripAdvisor and Viator will implement an appeals process to re-establish ticket sales to certain experiences that may have been excluded through our booking policy update.

And while People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) strongly opposes any and all activities that makes profit from animals in captivity, including zoos and aquariums, tourists will still be able to book some animal attractions on TripAdvisor and Viator.

The policy includes several exemptions, including:

– Domestic animals, eg horseback riding, children’s petting zoos with domestic animals like rabbits, etc.

– Aquarium touch pools used for education purposes where tourists are under the supervision of zoo, aquarium and or wildlife officials.

– Feeding programs where tourists are under the supervision of zoo and or wildlife officials; and

– Voluntourism programs for endangered species preservation at zoos, aquariums or sanctuaries where it is possible that there might be some level of physical interaction with an animal.

Ms Shaw of PETA said, “TripAdvisor’s competitors and others within the travel industry will take note of this, and we hope and expect that many other companies will follow.”

This announcement is a win for wildlife; with creating awareness and informing tourists about the impact of their travel activities on the environment and how they can be more responsible tourists the prize is just getting better and bigger.

TripAdvisor is certainly living up to its tagline of “Know better, book better and go better”.