World Animal Protection has urged Flight Centre to join more than 220 travel companies in unambiguously banning the selling of elephant riding tours.
Ben Pearson, head of campaigns for World Animal Protection and a speaker at Travel DAZE 2019, said Flight Centre stopped promoting elephant riding on its website last year after a push by the non-profit organisation, but he’s now calling on the retail travel giant to put a ban on offering the practice altogether.
“The single most influential thing Flight Centre could do to help phase out cruel wildlife attractions is to stop selling tickets, as well as proactively educating their customers to avoid these venues,” he said.
“More than 220 travel companies have shown unambiguous leadership on this issue. We look forward to Flight Centre joining them.”
Pearson’s response came after the company’s Worldwise leader, Sandra Vardanega, explained why it hasn’t banned offering elephant riding at Travel DAZE, citing a “holistic approach to responsible travel” as the reason.
“When we consider animal welfare and the environment, we need to consider the social and economic impact of our actions,” Vardanega said at the time.
“At the size of the travel company that we are, we have to consider the social and financial impact that removing a product may have on those small businesses.”
She clarified that Flight Centre favours informing, educating and empowering customers, staff and communities to effect change, as opposed to boycotting attractions. Alongside this is giving stakeholders the opportunity to “change and grow for the better,” Vardenega explained.
Pearson called this approach and Vardanega’s comments “inadequate to responsibility”.
“What [World Animal Protection] would prefer for [Flight Centre] to do is to say, ‘we did this because we knew it was the right thing to do’,” he told Travel Weekly.
“What we know is that at the heart of wildlife tourism – and cruelty to animals – is that tourists who go there, as animal lovers, do not understand how cruel those venues are.
“They don’t see a lot of the cruelty because, particularly in the case of elephant riding, it happens behind the scenes – tourists don’t see it.
“For Flight Centre to say, ‘we’ll continue to sell tickets to venues which engage in these activities, and it’s really up to tourists to be educated’, is a complete abrogation of responsibility, at a time when we really need the tourism industry to be showing leadership on this.”
Pearson said the travel industry is taking steps toward “doing the right thing” in other sustainability areas by addressing carbon emissions, orphanage tourism and environmental sustainability. However, he believes tourism needs to up its game when it comes to stamping out animal cruelty.
Recently, major travel and holiday companies like Virgin Holidays and United Airlines made the commitment to stop selling tickets to and promoting SeaWorld, due to the attraction seen to be profiting from animal cruelty.
Qantas recently backflipped on its decision to stop partnering with venues that house captive cetaceans, a move that was slammed by Pearson and World Animal Protection.