Sustainable vs Responsible Tourism – that is the question?

(Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)

As we approach the end of 2019, and look forward to the seasonal festivities, there is no better time to reflect, and consider our social impact. In particular, how our actions are benefiting, or could do more to benefit, the community and the environment on which we depend. In the tourism sector, this is usually referred to as sustainable or responsible tourism. Both terms are becoming more popular and more relevant, but is this just greenwashing, or actually part of a revived ‘green revolution’?

A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) annual conference on the island of Terceira in The Azores. The event, hosted by GSTC and The Azorean Government, attracted over 250 people from 42 countries to this remote Atlantic island, to discuss sustainable destination tourism. Fittingly, the occasion was marked by The Azores receiving a destination’s sustainability award. Of course, any destination that fulfils recognised sustainability criteria should be applauded, but is it right to assume that this includes both sustainable AND responsible outputs? Recognising that it is possible to be sustainable, without necessarily being responsible. This is a fact that is often overlooked by an industry that is trying to do the right thing.

Sustainability refers to the ability to maintain an activity at a certain rate or level (i.e. the availability of flights to The Azores), whilst responsibility refers to taking a conscious decision and accepting the consequences of one’s actions (i.e. a heightened carbon footprint). Noting that this was a particular concern of the delegates of the GSTC conference, many of whom had to take a minimum of two flights to travel to Terceira. This sort of dilemma applies to animal-based activities too: for example, whilst it may be considered sustainable to keep dolphins in captivity – recognising that wild dolphins and whales continue to be caught from the wild to sustain the captive population – it is questionable whether is it a responsible act, noting that studies indicate that the welfare of these animals may be compromised.

In my opinion, there should never be a question of one or the other (sustainability vs responsibility), but instead a consideration and a combination of both values. Whereby the assessment of status and performance, decisions taken, or terms used, include both sustainability and responsibility criteria. In order to maximise our benefits and minimise our negative impacts (on a destination), we must therefore a) ensure our activities can be sustained but, b) that these cannot be at the detriment of the resource upon which it relies, and c) that it does not directly, or indirectly cause irreversible damage. The business case is also attractive: minimised negative impacts = more customers = increased customer satisfaction and loyalty = increased customer expenditure and profit (University of Surrey). Establishing both these values into the operations and activities in the travel destination, business, or conference, is therefore the obvious way to go.

There is a great deal of advice and guidance available to facilitate this sustainable and responsible approach. Whether your destination or business is embarking on its first tentative steps of a brand-new journey or needing help to refine an already trodden path, there are a number of resources to guide you on your way. For general advice, there are the GSTC Criteria that ‘serve as the global baseline standards for sustainability in travel and tourism’, with its Destination criteria (GSTC-D) (December 2019) including baseline measures on wildlife interactions and animal welfare in tourism. ANIMONDIAL is pleased to have inputted and advised on this content.

For general guidance on wildlife interactions and animal welfare, ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines is recommended. Today, ABTA has launched the 2nd edition of the Guidelines and ANIMONDIAL is pleased to have contributed, ensuring that the latest evidence has been taken into account (abta.com/animalwelfare).

For bespoke impartial advice and guidance that is aligned with your unique business model and brand identity, ANIMONDIAL provides a variety of services. These include policy development and integration, a procurement health check, training and internal comms guidance. In addition to minimising any negative impact, ANIMONDIAL can also help to maximise the benefits through introductions to our carefully selected NGOs, projects and experiences. These provide travel businesses the opportunity to offer unique experiences that also make a positive difference to animals involved in tourism.

So, this Christmas, and into 2020, consider adopting BOTH sustainability and responsibility criteria and support, financially or in-kind, one of ANIMONDIAL’s trusted NGO partners.

Wishing you an enjoyable Christmas season and a successful 2020!


In 2020, ANIMONDIAL will be relaunching its Animal Protection Network providing a portfolio of carefully selected NGOs, animal-based projects and experiences. Contact us for more information.
Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL

ANIMONDIAL: Bringing compassion to animals in tourism

Mahout and elephantOn World Tourism Day (27th September) there is no better time to take stock and consider our actions, the implications of our actions, or the consequences of not taking any action at all.

Ill-thought through actions, can cause irreparable damage, whereby tourism has negatively impacted on the environment, natural habitats, people and wildlife, but when managed well, tourism can be a force for good.

It is indeed heartening to see many tourism businesses now embracing a responsible and sustainable approach. This is evidenced to deliver cultural, social, economic and environmental benefits and influence meaningful change. In my capacity as an animal welfare in tourism specialist, with over a decade of experience, I have seen how commercial interests have eclipsed animal welfare concerns. But I have also had the pleasure of working with businesses, such as Thomas Cook, DER Touristik, STA Travel, Audley Travel and Collette, that strive to make a difference by placing animal welfare on their priority list. Importantly, however, animal protection should never be regarded as a ‘green’ option, or a sacrifice of profit, on the contrary evidence indicates that protecting animal welfare throughout the supply chain makes business sense, and enhances reputation and profit.

I believe the main obstacle preventing more travel businesses from adopting animal protection measures, is a general lack of understanding of the complex topic, and an overpowering stigma that making such a commitment will subject the business to intense scrutiny and challenge. It certainly does not have to be that way!

I established ANIMONDIAL, the animal welfare in tourism consultancy, to provide the means for travel businesses to better understand animal welfare, and how to better manage animal activity within the supply chain, whilst respecting commercial interests and brand identity. Our services include a comprehensive review of current practices, supportive training, animal welfare auditing services, and impartial, practical guidance to help businesses make informed decisions on the products they sell.

Tiger Temple in Thailand (Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)

Tiger Temple in Thailand (Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)

With more pressures than ever on tourism businesses ‘to do the right thing’ and ‘end the exploitation of animals’, it is a measured, but strategic approach that is required. Just delisting once popular animal excursions or activities as ‘unacceptable’ practices overnight, is likely to cause greater problems. Such action often leaves the in-destination animal attractions, established to meet the demand of inbound tourism, to pick up the pieces and find a tangible solution. I feel that such an outcome is irresponsible. Firmly believing that international tourism should not turn its back on the attractions that it helped to create, and make profit, but use their influence to enforce change.

On this World Tourism Day, ANIMONDIAL considers the biggest challenges for animals in global tourism and encourages travel businesses not to walk away from the problems, but to instead be  part of the solution.

By example, in my first Blog, I focused on the outcomes of the elephant riding boycott; reporting that the well-intentioned campaigning against the activity, had in fact caused more complex animal welfare and public safety concerns. Importantly, supplier delisting has not ended elephant riding, on the contrary it is still widely available, and there are now wider concerns over the promotion of misinformation, exploitation, and obscured activity.

The elephant ‘tourist’ camps were established to accommodate the 2,000 displaced, conditioned elephants from timber extraction activity in Thailand in 1989. By the late 1990s, the concept had been established and these elephant experiences soon become the most popular tourist attraction in Thailand, influencing similar activity elsewhere. Today, there are thought to be over 300 elephant ‘tourist’ camps, 4,700 captive elephants and an equal number of mahouts in just Thailand alone, all reliant on the travel industry. Delisting the product is therefore unlikely to safeguard the welfare of the elephants and the mahouts, and consequently an alternative approach must be found.

ANIMONDIAL positions itself at the forefront of such challenges. In fact, working with stakeholders, we are developing a solution for the captive elephant industry in SE Asia that we believe will improve standards, phased-out bad practice, modify the offering and maintain a viable industry for all to benefit (including the elephants!). Expect an update in my next Blog.

This is just one example of many where we feel we can make a difference and I certainly welcome the collaboration with businesses, NGOs and academics in identifying and delivering viable solutions to such recurring animal welfare problems that continue to challenge the global travel industry.

This November, the British Travel Association, ABTA, is likely to publish its revised Animal Welfare Guidelines. Updating the 1 st Edition, published in 2013. I have had the pleasure of working with ABTA, and many of its members, in the development and delivery of their animal welfare commitment for many years. This comprehensive guidance on animal welfare in tourism is a ‘must have’ resource for all travel businesses. However, just a word of caution and encouragement – please take care when considering your actions and the implication of those actions. Clearly it will take time to not only understand the complexities of animal activity and the dependence on some for communities’ livelihoods, but also that the consequences of not taking any action to try to influence positive change, may well have wider repercussions.

Noting that more than 90% of tourists have said it is important for their holiday company to take animal welfare seriously, and the fact that there is impartial guidance readily available, travel businesses now have the means to demonstrate their achievements beyond the pure acceptance of this principle.


Please do not hesitate to contact us to learn more about how ANIMONDIAL’s services can help your travel business deliver an inspirational animal welfare commitment.
Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL