BOSTON — Travel website TripAdvisor says it's taking a stand against animal exploitation by no longer selling bookings to attractions where travellers can make physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.
The policy, six months in the making, was formed with input from tourism, animal welfare and conservation groups including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but many of the millions of travellers who post reviews to the company's website have been concerned about animal welfare for years, company spokesman Brian Hoyt said.
The company, based in Needham, also will start providing links on its site to take users to educational research on animal welfare and conservation.
TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer speaks during a panel discussion at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 7, 2014. (Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
"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, TripAdvisor's president.
The TripAdvisor policy, announced Tuesday, is in line with increasing public sentiment against the exploitation of wild animals to entertain people. SeaWorld this year announced it would stop using killer whales for theatrical performances, while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year stopped using elephants.
TripAdvisor will cease booking some attractions immediately, but the policy, which may affect hundreds of businesses, takes full effect early next year.
In announcing the policy, which also applies to the affiliated Viator booking website, TripAdvisor specifically mentioned elephant rides, swim-with-the-dolphins programs and tiger petting.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants last year, one of a number of companies making moves to be more aware of animal exploitation. (Photo: David A. Walega via Getty Images)
Several U.S. businesses that offer such attractions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The policy does not apply to zoos and domesticated animals, such as horseback rides, and has exemptions for children's petting areas, aquarium touch pools and other attractions with educational benefits where visitors are professionally supervised.
TripAdvisor won't bar user reviews of tourist attractions, even those it stops booking. The company has long banned reviews of businesses that use animals for blood sport, including bullfights.
A San Francisco-based travel analyst, Henry Harteveldt, said because TripAdvisor is so widely used the wildlife attractions could see a noticeable hit to their business.
However, if TripAdvisor merely stops selling the tickets but continues listing the attractions, he said, the effect won't be long-lasting. He said those attractions may just go through other booking websites to sell tickets.
TripAdvisor said if a wildlife attraction changes its business model it would consider selling tickets again.
Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.