I know this is a little break from the usual travel tips, advice and inspiration I usually write about on this site, but I wanted to take just a little moment to write about why I – as an independent travel writer and brand – will not be attending TBEX Cancun this year.
For those of you who don’t know, TBEX is the Travel Blog Exchange, an event where independent travel writers, professional travel bloggers, brands and content creators can meet up with travel industry professionals in order for them to showcase their travel products and services so that we can then pass it onto you – our readers. Basically it’s a big trade show for the travel industry.
That sounds great, I hear you cry. So why won’t I be attending?
Supporting Wildlife Exploitation?
Because quite frankly in this conference TBEX is showcasing tourism products that I believe are wrong and unethical simply because that is what the sponsors and the tour operators at their host destination are offering for tourists.
More specifically they are offering typical mass tourism excursions to independent travel writers that support the mistreatment, abuse and exploitation of wildlife simply for profit and tourist pleasure.
And that is wrong.
Let me be clear here, they aren’t just showcasing a destination and allowing bloggers to make their own choices, they are actively and specifically offering and promoting wildlife tours that are unethical.
The sponsors and destinations that TBEX rely on are showcasing products such as dolphin rides, swimming with dolphins, programmes on learning to be a dolphin trainer and many more. Many of these excursions offer tourists the chance to interact with the dolphins, kiss them, touch them, pet them and even be ‘propelled into the air’ as the dolphins push you out of the water with their noses. These are quoted directly from the TBEX promotional material.
Sounds great right? Sounds like a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with these amazing and beautiful creatures, especially when there are plenty of greenwashed, blasé and unproven claims of eco authenticity and conservation work. All this sounds great until you take into account the sheer amount of evidence put forth by leading conservationists, wildlife experts and charities such as the Humane Society, WWF and Care For The Wild International – who I am happy to be partnered with – that states that these tours and excursions are in no way contributing to conservation, the exploitation of wildlife in this way is harmful and abusive and keeping dolphins in captivity is extremely damaging to them in a variety of ways.
“If we all choose to shun any business or attraction that contributes to the poor care or abuse of animals, and instead choose to support those attractions which help, protect and conserve wildlife, then we can all make a real difference.”
The wholesale exploitation of dolphins – and indeed any animal – for profit and tourist pleasure is wrong and it should be stopped. As the RIGHT tourism campaign quite rightly states, there are ways to see and interact with wildlife that supports and benefits the conservation efforts of that species and puts the care and welfare of the animals involved above the needs of the tourist.
I think all travellers have a responsibility to support experiences such as this and shun the bad practices that are all too evident throughout the traditional tourism industry, and as a travel writer I have a responsibility to you – my readers – to give you information and advice that conforms to these ideals. I think as a whole, professional travel writers and bloggers who have influence in the travel and gap year industries have a responsibility to hold our profession up to a higher standard when it comes to ethical stances like this. We are accountable for our words and have a duty to not support any tourist activity, excursion or organisation that exploits or harms animals for tourist pleasure and profit.
A Weak Response.
Unfortunately this year TBEX is holding its conference in a resort that offers such activities, and it’s response to the vocal outcry by many travel writers was in my opinion weak and dismissive. They essentially washed their hands of any responsibility, sat firmly on the fence and said it is up to you what to do. It was a naive response that showed that TBEX did not share the same ideals or goals as independent travel writers such as myself, which is absolutely shocking when you consider they are claiming to represent us as industry influencers to the traditional gap year and travel industries.
The ‘put your head in the sand’ approach that the official TBEX statement took is in my opinion very wrong. We are starting to see a lot of leading industry professionals such as STA travel, G Adventures and Intrepid start to take note of public opinion (however reluctantly) and begin to remove tours and excursions that exploit – or are even seen to exploit – wildlife. For TBEX to turn a blind eye at a time like this – when they claim to represent us as a profession – just shows how out of touch they are with the aims and ideals of many independent travellers, backpackers, writers and bloggers.
If individual writers and bloggers choose to support and participate in these activities, then that is their decision and down to their own moral and ethical viewpoints. I may disagree with them, even personally think they are wrong, but I respect their right to have a different view. The difference is TBEX is an organisation that supposedly represents us as a professional industry, and in that respect they have a responsibility to lead by example, take an ethical stance and act as a thought leader. In other words, they are completely wrong not to denounce these practices.
TBEX claims it represents us, it claims it is the future of travel writing, but by chasing the money and by tacitly supporting the traditional tourism industry on this matter, they no longer represent me. As an independent traveller and backpacker, and as a travel writer who believes passionately about responsible tourism and animal welfare, TBEX could not be further from representing me on this, and I suspect many independent travel writers and bloggers will agree with me.
If backpackers, independent travellers and tourists alike – and that includes writers such as myself – all choose to shun any business or attraction that contributes to the poor care or abuse of animals, and instead choose to support those attractions which help, protect and conserve animals, then we can all make a real difference.
And that is why I will not be attending the TBEX conference this year, or for the foreseeable future.
Since this article was published, Bemused Backpacker’s partner charity Care For The Wild International has released an official statement on the issue.
*Update: Since this article was published the charity and partners of Bemused Backpacker, Care For The Wild International, were unfortunately closed down and swallowed up by Born Free who do not share all of the same goals and principles of Care For The Wild International. Unfortunately this also means the amazing RIGHT tourism campaign is now defunct. This is a huge loss to the conservation world but their message of responsible wildlife tourism lives on.
Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt has also started a petition to get TBEX to drop the support for the unethical tours and activities and remove them from their programme.
Outbounding.org also hosted a live Google hangout debate on 29/7/14 which you can watch in it’s entirety here. It involved myself, Diana Ederman from D Travels ‘Round, Ethan Gelber from Outbounding.org, Chris Pitt from Care For The Wild International, Alison Hood from the Born Free Foundation and Rick Calvert from TBEX. Unfortunately those responsible for the actual dolphin tours at this years TBEX Cancun conference refused to take part, and unfortunately there wasn’t much time to cover all of the issues raised due to time constraints, but I will be writing more on the issue and you can all add your voices to the debate in the comments below.
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