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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Dolphin Tours Cancelled At Mexico Travel Conference (Article In The Guardian).
TBEX Dolphin Tours Cancelled In Cancun.
Wildlife Tourism Ethics And Practices Debate: A Response To TBEX.
Thanks for bringing this to the attention of your readers, Mike. Travelers and those in the travel industry should be taking a definitive stance against these types of inhumane practices to hasten their demise. Hopefully the discussion of these issues will continue at the conference.
I totally agree Dave, thank you for the comment. I hope it does spread the word a little, and of those writers who do attend the conference I hope they take the opportunity to speak out too. 🙂
I’ve been disappointed with how all of TBEX-NA has been handled this year, and when I saw the pre-BEX offerings, my heart sank even further. I confess that I didn’t know anything about the particular dolphin operator that was selected (and therefore wish TBEX had addressed that in its response — or even better, given the operator the chance to speak directly to attendees). For me, the problems go beyond the dolphins, although that certainly set off a red flag. Everything, from the short notice for early bird registration to the very expensive resort (“special rate” of $200/night? Given that you can get one-week all-inclusives plus airfare for less than $1400, I don’t see how that’s “special,” especially for travel bloggers/writers who have low incomes) to the mass-market-tourism trips, has left me irritated. It just feels like they’re grabbing at whatever freebies they can get this year. I don’t know what went wrong in the planning, but the whole execution is disappointing.
I know exactly what you mean, I think TBEX has jumped the shark (excuse the pun) in more ways than one this year. Trying to entice a lot of travel bloggers, a great many of whom are budget travellers, backpackers and gap year exponents into what is essentially a mass tourism resort with tours that are offered to package tourists isn’t a great fit for us OR many of our readers who do not look to us to supply them with information on that type of travel (on the whole anyway, I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule). For an organisation that claims to represent travel writers and bloggers as an industry they aren’t doing a great job.
Very eloquently put Michael. TBEX is not ‘putting its head in the sand’, it is helping to promote a polar opposite view to that expressed by many travel bloggers.
Thank you very much, and I totally agree! Thank you for the comment.
I also feel like the location is not conducive to the overall thesis of TBEX as well. I like how in TBEX Europe, they are able to set up the convention in areas that could really use the tourism dollars. Cancun is not one of them. Especially the location of the hotel they have chosen, which is right in the resort area, and only contributes to the idea of the wealthy traveler indulging in services which local employees never benefit from, nor get paid well for.
So aside from the unethical treatment of animals, TBEX is also supporting the unethical treatment of humans. All of these resorts are owned by non-Mexican industry locals. None of the money fueled by tourism goes back into the local economy in a significant enough way. Local Mexican businesses struggle to keep afloat in Cancun. I’d prefer it if TBEX stationed themselves elsewhere in Mexico so they could truly be an example of how a traveler convention can help boost the local area in a positive way.
Excellent point Katka, it is the animal welfare issue that has got me riled up against them to be fair, but I don’t disagree with the other statements against them either. Not exactly representative of who many of us are as travel writers or bloggers.
I agree with Katka. I was quite surprised at the choice of location, considering the amazing array of more authentic choices available in Mexico. And also agree with Tammy. I don’t think too many bloggers can afford $200/night! I know I can’t.
They do seem to have forgotten who they are supposed to be representing. But hey, at least they get a nice cushy resort to hold their conference, right? Whether they get anyone to attend or not…
Great piece, Mike. This issue (along with the other issues of early bird tickets) reminds me that TBEX has become disconnected from the bloggers they claim to represent. I commented on their blog response about what happens when the corporation (and yes, you’d better believe it’s a corporation) claiming to represent travel bloggers no longer has the ability to influence us.
Thank you Chris, again I agree. That response was just a joke, and I wonder how long they will be allowed to claim they represent independent travel writers and bloggers after this?
I’m very new to blogging, but I was shocked (appalled even) when I found out that TBEX had activities like the dolphin trainer for a day. I had no plans on going in the first place, but I can’t contribute to that for sure. SO glad I found your article!!
Thank you Katie, I’m really glad you did too. 🙂
There are lots of problems with TBEX, many of which turned me off to it early on.
It’s essentially part of the established travel trade and acting on its behalf in trying to dictate how the fledgling blogging industry —one that is still VERY much in its infancy— should operate. That’s managed to convince many bloggers that their job is first and foremost to interact with the travel industry instead of –and at the expense of– the world they’re out to explore. Too many are very eager to do just that only because they think that those are the rules they need to play by.
The result? One big one, sorry to say, is lots of vapid and facile blogs teeming with vapid and facile posts. I could go on but don’t see the point as I’ve already gone waaaay off track.
Anyway. Glad to see that others aren’t too thrilled about a blogger’s conference in Cancun. 🙂
I don’t disagree at all Bob, thanks so much for commenting 🙂
Amen on this comment. And I dig Care for the Wild too. Excellent points Mike. High fives on standing tall on your values.
Thanks Turner, wish the TBEX organisers would do the same.
We don’t dictate anything to anyone Bob. We strongly emphasize ethics and quality writing at our events.
The vapid facile blogs you hate were around long before TBEX. Many bloggers would disagree with your perceptions.
How can you strongly emphasize ethics when you are showing none yourself?
I appreciate your well thought out post Michael. Our core disagreement can be summed up in your sentence here:
“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.”
We respect there right as much as we respect yours. That is all we have done. I hope you can admit there is an ongoing debate here. Not everyone and not all travel bloggers agree with you. In fact many of them have signed up for these experiences.
Do we represent them, or only you?
We believe as an event that respresents the entire community of travel bloggers, we have to respect the views of all travel bloggers, and to use your own words even if we disagree with them, or even personally think they are wrong, we still have to respect their right to have a different view.
Also to clarify, we have received no monetary or other compensation from Delphinus (the company who offered these tours). This decision had nothing to do with money. In fact if anything we will lose money from people like you who have made a decision to not attend the event.
We are a business but like you we have principals and ethical responsibilities we have to abide by first.
Rick, thank you very much for replying on this issue and giving your side.
Unfortunately I think it is more than a little hypocritical to state that you have principles and ethical responsibilities, when your own response to this ethical responsibility has been nothing short of a weak and meaningless excuse.
And regardless of your justification, standing back and not having an opinion IS a weak and meaningless excuse.
I understand completely that there are differing viewpoints, but respecting an individual ethical paradigm – even if I disagree with it – is not what we are talking about here. What individuals do in their own time under their own moral guidance is up to them. What we are talking about is TBEX stating that they represent all travel bloggers and are representing us as a unified whole to the travel industry, and more to the point a part of the industry that is engaging in practices that are on the whole universally regarded as unethical and exploitative.
I agree that TBEX is not a political organisation, but it is a supposed industry leader, a representative. For now at least. And when you give tacit approval – and promoting these tours (and you ARE promoting them as preBEX tours and excursions) is tacit approval – then what does that say about our professional industry? What does that say about us as bloggers and writers to the travel and gap year industries?
By stating that it is up to the individual to decide you are engaging in not only a weak, hand wringing excuse, but it is also providing approval to these practices. In a rapidly changing industry where even major gap year industry like STA travel, G Adventures and Intrepid are removing any tour or service that involves unethical treatment of animals you are lagging far behind. Or are you saying these companies are wrong to do so? In your own words are the travellers who use these companies unethical and wrong because a few other customers disagreed with that stance? Are they wrong because they used companies that didn’t sit on the fence?
For an organisation that supposedly represents us as travel bloggers and writers, you have a responsibility to represent us in a way that is morally and ethically sound in the same way other industry leaders are. Using the excuse that ‘not everyone agrees’ or ‘people can make their own mind up’ is a cop out and you know it.
As an independent travel writer and travel blogger, and one who passionately believes in the ethical treatment of animals in the tourism industry, you do not represent me at all. At the moment, you are only representing the traditional tourism industry and those that engage in activities that exploit wildlife for profit and tourist pleasure, and I will have no part in that. So I think you need to drop this mask of TBEX representing all travel bloggers, because as has been made very clear, you don’t.
Got it. Anyone who disagrees with you is unethical, hand wringing, and hypocritical. Another point we disagree on.
And anyone who disagrees with you is dismissive and disrespectful of other peoples opinions? Got it. I’ve seen some of your responses to comments on your official response. People in glass houses Mr. Calvert. It isn’t the fact that you are disagreeing with me, it is the moral stance you and TBEX are taking on this issue that is wrong. Using that defensive statement in response is a poor way to dodge the issue.
Interesting. I’ve been on the fence about attending TBEX-NA this year for a variety of reasons and now I’ve just decided that I won’t be attending, despite the fact that I’ll only be a few hundred kilometres away.
How many of you were at TBEX last year in Toronto, the first one after BlogWorld finalized purchase of TBEX? Yeah well you may recall that things didn’t go so smoothly and there was a bit of drama between organizers and one prominent sponsor that I won’t name now (those who know, know).
Anyway given the sloppy and uncaring attitude they’ve demonstrated these last few months, I won’t be partaking in TBEX this year and neither will most of the other travel bloggers I know.
Heads-up TBEX: You’re not the only option anymore. In fact you’re starting to appear like one of the large, uncaring travel companies that made many of us first get into blogging.
I don’t know anything about what happened last year to be honest Derek, all I know is I completely agree they are appearing as part of the established travel industry now and therefore can’t argue they represent many of us.
It is their support of companies that have unethical wildlife and animal policies when catering to tourists that I can’t stand though. It is wrong, and they are cowards for sitting on the fence to appease the travel industry that are sponsoring/hosting them.
Thanks for commenting.
A coward wouldn’t come here and have a dialog with you on your blog Michael.
The bravery of your willingness to engage in debate is not in question rick, that is something I wholeheartedly welcome and actually want. It is the cowardice of your (as in TBEXs) sitting on the fence approach to an extremely important issue that is. TBEX is not an individual, it is an organisation, an organisation that says it represents travel bloggers (and uses us as a commodity to sell to corporate sponsors). As such it doesn’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence, it has the RESPONSIBILITY to take a moral stand.
Totally agree. The last time I went to Mexico I literally went up to the tour desk every single day and hid the dolphin-petting brochures. The staff probably hated me…
Haha! But I bet the dolphins would have loved you!
Well done Tamara!
I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to check out your blog, and I have to say, you have won a fan for life.
I am new to the blogging scene and I don’t quite understand how things like TBEX work. But I know that having cetaceans in captivity is 100% wrong. If I encounter any organisation or function that supports this practice I run a mile from them, and any blogger or group who supports the captive dolphin trade by participating in these activities will lose me as a reader.
Perhaps I’m stomping on some toes by having such a bold opinion but I really don’t give a shit. The cruelty and suffering experienced by captive cetaceans is too extreme to worry about who I might offend.
I think it’s brilliant that you stand up for your principles. Thank you.
Thank you so much Karyn, I’m glad you decided to read the site and I’m happy you like it. TBEX is a conference that puts travel bloggers and writers in the same room as travel and gap year industry providers so we can all network. It certainly isn’t the only one any more (look at the PTBA for example), and I agree completely I could never support or use an organisation that tacitly or otherwise supports the exploitation of animals in this way.
Thanks for sharing this, I only recently learned of TBEX and was wondering if it’s something I can benefit from. I think not.
Thanks Susan, I think a lot of travel writers and bloggers are coming to the same conclusion.
I’ll be interested to see how many self-proclaimed backpacker/full-time traveler/vagabond bloggers write posts about about the resorts, tours, etc. on their blogs. My novice knowledge of blogging is that trust from your readership is crucial. I do not see how they can honestly review a $200/night resort and have their audience identify with it. What is the use in these “free” and discounted tours/rooms, etc. if you “can’t” share them with your audience.
Just a thought from a “part-time” traveler and blogger.
(PS I love that Tamara hid the brochures! You go girl!)
Couldn’t agree more! If your blog or website is about package tours, resorts and the traditional holiday industry then hey, go for it, but it isn’t representative of a great many of us.
Well done on taking a stand on this issue! Captive dolphins for the sake of tourism is never good. I was a huge fan of your site before, I love it even more now!
Thank you, I really appreciate your support, and your readership. 🙂
I am not a travel blogger so I don’t know anything about TBEX, but I cannot believe they would support such a horrible part of the tourism industry! I know that I will never read any website or support any tourist activity that supports or uses unethical practices with animals. I have to admit a few years ago swimming with dolphins was on my bucket list but after learning more about it through the WWF there is no way I ever would now. I am seriously impressed you are taking a stand on this issue, good for you! And the organizers of this conference should be ashamed of themselves!
Thanks Alice, I agree they should be!
I was told about TBEX by a group of very successful bloggers who are all attending TBEX this year. I hadn’t even stopped to think about the chosen venue in Cancun or the fact it was offering such unethical activities so thank you for bringing it to my attention.
I have been on the fence about attending TBEX for a couple of months. Initially I thought about attending Cancun but I don’t like the fact they have picked such a commercialized destination, but praise them for picking Athens for Europe as I can imagine the destination needs all the foreign visitors it can get in its struggling economy.
My blog as well as me personally is all about Eco-Tourism, sustainable tourism and responsible tourism which includes the way animals are treated in captivity (totally against it unless they have valid conservation arguments) and I therefore refuse to visit any establishments, theme parks, resorts that find it acceptable to exploit animals in this way. Therefore since reading your fabulous article TBEX has lost another blogger. I am so glad you posted this and stand up for what you truly believe in 🙂
Thanks Shussey, I know what you mean they really have seriously disconnected with travel bloggers who they claim to represent now. I am really happy to know that so many bloggers and writers are voicing serious concerns over their stance on wildlife exploitation, and I really hope it makes them rethink it.
I was thinking of attending TBEX and was a bit on the fence about it, but now I definitely will not be attending. I can’t believe they can support this type of thing. I’m strongly against swim with the dolphin type things / marine parks / zoos and all for animal rights. I really hope that in the future they will not support these types of things…and I hope there is some backlash against them for doing it!
There certainly seems to be a backlash brewing, but they won’t care until it starts hitting their pockets and bloggers – and as a result the sponsors/brands that want to reach out to bloggers – move elsewhere as a result of TBEX’s stance and subsequent response.
Honey is BEE SLAVERY! Yes! Cancun restaurants may be using honey, and I suspect local stores will be selling honey!
GMO foods are killing the world! Cancun restaurants may use GMO foods and it may be sold in local stores!
Many people believe strongly in these topics and will argue to their last breath that these are the most pressing issues of our time.
In many parts of the world Sex Tourism is a large part of the economy. Is that OK? Or does the age of the sex worker matter? Or does it matter if it is a male worker with a male client?
Should a woman be allowed to wear a tube top?
Is it OK for dog or horse to be eaten? Depends on the country doesn’t it. Do restaurants in the TBEX hotel in Cancun serve Foie Gras? It is against the law for my local restaurant to serve Foie Gras. How about you? Do you boycott the restaurant? Do you boycott the City or State or Country that hasn’t passed a law against the serving of Foie Gras?
Does a facility recycle? Is the answer “yes” good enough? What do they do with the material they recycle? Do they ship it to countries that have strong child labor laws? Does the destination have regulations that support the environment?
As you travel you will discover that raw sewage from tourists is sometimes dumped untreated into local waterways. The trash tourists generate might be burned in open pits or taken out to sea and dumped. You will discover that child labor is used to support the tourism industry. Should we ask and answer all these, and more questions in every article we publish? Or are we writing about vacations, happy, fun travel?
Cultural points of view vary around the world. Who should be the judge?
I will acknowledge that just the arrival of tourists in a location immediately begins to degrade the location. Scuba tours result in coral reef damage. BAN SCUBA! Hiking trips bring trash and destruction into remote natural locations. BAN BACKPACKERS! Even beachfront hotels have impacted the natural changes in the Cancun coastline. BAN BEACHFRONT RESORTS!
I will let local governments, law makers, religions leaders and cultural beliefs guide how other cultures live their lives.
OK TBEX! I demand to know your position on honey and do you support BEE SLAVERY?
Okay, so people shouldn’t take a stand on one issue because there are always countless other unrelated issues happening in the world? Well done. Great argument. Not really doing your cause many favours there, are you?
Great perspective Mike. To be honest, Mexico is a place where you can interact with all sorts of exotic animals both in captivity and in the wild. Being born and raised there I have come to see this as “normal” but you truly have opened my eyes!
Thanks Raphael. You raise an important point, the thing is (what a lot of people arguing for TBEX’s position on this fail to understand) is that there are many ways around the world, not just in Mexico, to see and interact with wildlife in an ethical way, in a way that cares for the animals welfare, that helps and supports the conservation efforts. If people want to see and interact with animals, great! But why not do it in a positive way instead of reinforcing negative tours and activities that are harmful and exploitative? The RIGHT tourism campaign is a fantastic resource for this, if those who disagree with me (and others) ever care to read it. Thanks for the comment.
Valid point. The whole point of a travel blogger lifestyle is to explore of the beaten track and give your views. Not to be offered mainstream commercialised experiences and go with that, especially ones more concerned with making money rather than the protection of our planet and its animals. Independent views on the rarer/less well known experiences in life (which benefit all parties) is what makes a decent travel blog article worth the read.
Exactly, that is precisely the reason independent travel blogs have become so popular and why our collective voice is becoming so influential to the audience/customer base that the travel industry want to reach, because we have moved into the space LP and RG used to occupy before they became part of the mainstream gap year industry. Travellers want true independent advice from their peers, other backpackers and travellers just like them, which is what many of us are. That is why I think we – and especially those who claim to represent us – have an absolute responsibility to promote ethical tourism whenever and wherever we can in our practices and our writing.
Great post. There’s absolutely no way I could attend this conference knowing that they are just having that on the excursion list as an option. It’s so sad they aren’t willing to stand up and say it’s not something they are willing to promote in any way. What a shame, I thought TBEX was looking really interesting and something I would like to be involved in but I feel very strongly about dolphins in captivity.
Thanks Globalmouse I totally agree. Fortunately there are other alternatives for travel writers and bloggers such as the PTBA conferences. I would have loved to attend TBEX to for the networking with travel industry and other bloggers and writers, but there is no way I am showing my support for them on this. By attending I will essentially be giving my tacit approval that I accept these practices, and allowing TBEX to say they represent me as a travel blogger and writer when they make decisions to support these practices. And they don’t.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I’ve shared this blog via Outbounding.
Thank you Ron, I appreciate the support. 🙂
TBEX shows it’s true colors.
It certainly does, especially with it’s dismissive and condescending responses. They are a business that cares about money. That’s it. And a short sighted one at that. I can understand a business caring about it’s bottom line, but surely not having an ethical stance (as many other industry leaders do) and alienating a good portion of it’s customers (who’s influence and reputation they sell themselves on) is bad business? I won’t be represented to the travel industry by any organisation that doesn’t uphold ethical principles.
I wasn’t aware about the issue and after reading your article I completely agree. Thanks a lot for bringing it up! I hope more people realize how destructive that kind of tourism is for nature and wildlife!
Thanks Elena, I hope so too.
i’ve always wondered what TBEX was all about and what all the fuss was but now I don’t think i will ever explore this route for my blog and possible future connections…
thanks for an eye opening article
Me neither Clay, this was going to be my first TBEX conference and I was looking forward to going for the obvious networking, but I won’t be represented by them and I won’t support any business or organisation that supports and promotes unethical wildlife tourism practices. Fortunately there are other options for travel bloggers and writers.
Such a shame, we would have loved to have attended TBEX NA this year but it’s been a gong show from the beginning – and now to hear about the excursions they are offering that are in complete contrast to the principles and practices the majority of the conference’s attendants travel/live by. It’s very disappointing and you’ve done a great job shedding some light in a very tactful way.
Thank you so much Travis, I seriously appreciate all this support, it makes a nice change (not everyone has been so supportive of my stance or the issue!)
Great post, Mike. As a leading ecotourism site, we’ve written about the problems with captive cetacean facilities many times (including interviewing the director of Blackfish). So we totally agree with your ethics here. The only area in which we disagree is on how to fix the problem.
I don’t believe that boycotting TBEX accomplishes much of anything here. The greatest weapon in our arsenal is education and the spread of information.
Everyone should watch The Cove and Blackfish, and learn to recognize the behaviors that plague so many captive whales and dolphins. And then, when they do go to a place like this, they’ll see for themselves why it’s bad, and they can tell their friends/fans accordingly. If everyone who posted in this thread wrote a post on their site about captive cetaceans, imagine how many people we could reach?
But the danger in coming off as a zealot or fanatic about any issue is that you lose the opportunity for well-reasoned dialogue. Remember, segregation in the United States wasn’t ended by a “walk out” but by a “sit in.” If you’re not even at the table, there can be no conversation.
Thank you so much for the reasoned argument Bret, I certainly hope I’m not coming across as a zealot or fanatic?
I absolutely do see your point, and I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree that the best weapon we have is education and awareness. Spreading the word about these issues is something I am pretty passionate about, and it is not hard to notice that there is a huge lack of awareness out there on many wildlife tourism and conservation issues as a whole (not just captive dolphins). That is exactly why I believe organisations like TBEX and other travel industry leaders and tour operators have a responsibility to send the right message.
In this respect I completely take your (and others) points about attending, writing about the experience and disseminating the information. For those that are attending, I sincerely hope they do exactly what you suggest and write about the experience after learning why it is unethical and harmful to support such businesses.
I do disagree with you on the boycott however, and this is why.
In a very simplistic form, no one would even be having this discussion and raising awareness if I had not written this post. Matt would not have put out that petition if I had not written this post. If calling for a boycott is the thing that has kicked this whole discussion off, then surely that is a good thing? A boycott can be a tool to BRING everyone to the table, as this is doing.
TBEX are a business and it’s sole motive is profit. I get that and that is fair enough. But it MAKES that profit by selling itself as representing the travel blogger profession. It sells itself to the travel industry and providers by saying it can put them in touch with us, the influencers. So by supporting unethical practices and saying it represents us, it is basically sending the message to the tourism industry that we think activities/tours and programmes that exploit and harm wildlife is okay. It sends the message that they should continue these practices because they can still make profit from it, and get us as influencers to promote these practices to their potential customers. TBEX – like many tour operators – has a basic stand that it is okay for them to absolve themselves of any moral responsibility because it is up to the individual to make these decisions for themselves. Now there is a kernel of truth in that and as I stated in the post I believe inherently that if an individual still wants to make that choice based on their own moral paradigms then that is up to them. I may disagree with it, but I respect that individual decision. However, a great many tourists and travellers make the decision to partake in activities like this without knowing the truth about them, I was one of them once. In that respect the travel and tourism industry – and I include TBEX in that umbrella – has a responsibility to be thought leaders in this area in the same way STA travel, Intrepid and many others are now starting to do. They have a moral and ethical responsibility to state they will not support any unethical wildlife practice. That way those travellers and tourists who are not aware of the issues surrounding these tours and activities can still partake if they wish, but do so after making a fully informed decision and without the tacit support and consent of the travel industry. Without that support, hopefully activities like this will die out and tour operators will turn to more ethical activities that support conservation and animal welfare as they realise that is where the travellers and tourists are going. That is why I cannot, and will not add my support to TBEX’s stance. By attending the conference I would also essentially be adding my tacit approval to TBEX, telling them that it is okay for them to support unethical practices because I will attend regardless, and nothing will change.
I won’t be attending TBEX Cancun, but it’s so disappointing to hear this. It’s so important to treat animals respectfully and ethically when we travel, and stuff like those dolphin experiences just isn’t cool. There are so many good ways to appreciate animals without exploiting them, and surely there must be other places to host the event in a place like Cancun.
I completely agree Jessica. Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Of course it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see amazing animals such as dolphins, elephants and tigers…but there’s tourism and wildlife for money and exploitation of the animals, including unspeakable acts of abuse towards these creatures (see Arturo, the world’s saddest animal, or the drugged tigers in Thailand), and then there’s ETHICAL wildlife tourism aka get in the damn water with the dolphins, go on a safari and take a photo of the elephants, go to Antarctica and see the polar bears. Animals are meant to be in the wild, in their natural habitat, living their lives…not caged, chained, beaten and tortured for human pleasure. I will not support any brand or business that makes money off animal abuse, EVER! Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.
I’m not sure getting in the water with dolphins is always ethical, but I absolutely agree with your point that there ARE ethical ways to see and interact with wildlife that helps conserve their species and their habitat and cares for the animals welfare. There is no excuse anymore for tour operators to engage in unethical practices and no excuse for tourists or travellers to engage with them. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. 🙂
Sorry….rephrase… I mean get in the water, in the ocean… not in an aquarium or Sea World.
Wow, we’d heard of it but weren’t really sure what it was – thanks for enlightening us and putting us off 🙂
It isn’t the conference and networking side of things I want to put people off, just to be clear. It is just TBEXs support of unethical wildlife tourism practices that should be completely condemned.
I honestly don’t know what to think about this whole story. I am a travel blogger myself and I’m going to attend TBEX in Athens 2014 because I have amazingly great memories and professional contacts from the past one in Dublin.
As far as I am concern I don’t support any businesses that are based on exploitation of people and animals, but if you have a closer look to all actors of touristic scene everyone does something wrong. If you dig deep enough you will always find a dirt. It is hard to believe that any ‘mass’ tourism is green, eco, animal friendly etc. That’s because of the scale.
It is a bit hypocrite to me that you as a blogger promote particular destinations and attractions and then when a global trend is on you shout loud that it damages environment because too many people come. As I said: mass excludes green. If you prefer a 100% green meeting of tourism industry and bloggers you should limit it to 12 people. Honestly. How about air fuel we use to travel? And so many other things!
I’m not saying we should support dolphins slavery or exploitation but we should have a more balanced view. If you check how many underpaid workers care for a place where you live (cleaning services, garbage, etc.) you will be amused, I assure you!
So you too are going with the absolute ridiculous argument that just because I don’t fight for every single issue in the world at the same time I can’t have a say on this ONE issue? Is that REALLY the only argument you people who disagree with me have? That is beyond ridiculous and not even worth arguing with.
And you say you don’t support businesses that are based around animal exploitation? Well those are the exact businesses that TBEX are partnering with and promoting, so I guess your morals are easily swayed when there is a business/contact gain in it for you. Do you really want to argue hypocritical morals here?
I for one am really troubled to learn about this. I wont be coming to TBEX as it is far too much money for far too little return but I think that if I were going I would change my mind in light of this news. Thank you for bringing it up.
Thanks taosresident, I was really troubled myself, I was going to go until I heard about it and changed my mind myself.
I understand your point. I am not going to Cancun (because I didn’t fancy the location) and I certainly wouldn’t go on any dolphin trips. However I do appreciate that there are some people who have differing viewpoints. I will be going to Athens and I hope that there will be the opportunity to debate responsible tourism.
Of course there are people with differing viewpoints Karen, there are on any issue. I hope for the ones that do attend TBEX that responsible and ethical tourism IS debated, and the organisers of TBEX are made to realise just how untenable their position is on this issue.
Great post Mike, it’s good to see someone sticking it to the establishment!!
Thanks Jon, I would honestly much rather work alongside them to promote ethical tourism, it is a shame we still have to fight for this issue at all. Have you signed the petition yet?
Hey Mike, I found your article very interesting and well-written, and it has given me food for thought. I have booked by TBEX ticket long ago (for Athens), but if the Cancun option had come out before then, I certainly wouldn’t have booked. I hope this post will raise some considerable debate and there will be the chance to discuss it at the conference. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Margherita, yeah a lot of people bought their tickets early and are now stuck (since TBEX aren’t allowing refunds or easy exchanges, nice of them!) I’m not attending now until they change their stance on this, but for those that do I really hope they do debate this issue fiercely, and give the organisers hell for supporting unethical practices! Be sure to sign the petition and look out for the press release from Care For The Wild International on the issue too. 🙂
Kudos, Mike! I’m particularly interested in Rick Calvert’s comment “Not everyone and not all travel bloggers agree with you. In fact many of them have signed up for these experiences.” I’ve no doubt that’s true but I’d love to be able to run a questionnaire amongst those people and understand whether they actually positively support cruelly to dolphins (a fact that is not in dispute) or whether, in this horribly crowded travel blogging space, they’d sign-up to an envelope opening run by TBEX just for the possibility of getting their name out there/getting a free trip/getting something to put on their media kit. Competition makes people do strange things. My question is, is TBEX prepared to delve deeper and get to the truth of what people really think on this controversial topic? A short survey shouldn’t cost much or take much time…
Thanks Jo. I know what you mean about Ricks statement, it was a masterclass in politically dodging the issue, sitting on the fence and offering no real reasoning whilst being as condescending as possible. What kind of argument is that seriously? I could throw back ‘well many bloggers disagree with you and many have NOT signed up’. But then we have more factual and logical arguments to back us up.
I seriously doubt Rick or any of the organisers of TBEX will be willing to do anything at all, they don’t care. They have only responded because they were essentially forced to by being called out. It’s all about the money.
And I suspect that you are right, I think there is a good number of bloggers who dismiss the ethical stance because of money or potential business/blog benefits. I know some who openly don’t care about the ethical issues at all, which is a shame, and I can think of one in particular who refused a boycott because he had already paid for his tickets and could not get a refund, and many who put their own needs and the chance of getting some freebies from the travel industry over any other ethical concerns. It’s a shame. I honestly don’t think these bloggers will be doing themselves any favours for their readership in the long run.
I also think however that a lot of people would have signed up to these tours not fully aware of the issues involved, especially if they have been blinded by the false ‘eco’ or ‘conservation’ fronts many of these tours/excursions put on. I can’t blame them for being unaware, I just hope that because some people are taking a stand and have highlighted the issue in a big way, then it has at least raised awareness a little.
Fortunately there are also a great many people who are taking a stand. Enough that the organisers of TBEX have (quietly) admitted they will change their stance and remove any promotion of these tours if enough people sign the petition or show their anger/distaste. I truly am disgusted with them.
Thanks for the comment Jo, I appreciate it. 🙂
What a great post Mike!
I have also been debating whether or not to go to Cancun & attend TBEX with a few of my friends who are actually going.
After reading this I simply will not go.
I think they should learn & talk about responsible & ethical tourism and educate others!
Thank you for sharing this 😉
Thanks Karla, I appreciate the support! So many bloggers and travel writers are taking a stand against TBEXs stance on this! I completely agree that they should start raising awareness and taking the opportunity to educate people on ethical tourism, but I’m not holding my breath. Thanks for the comment.
I have been following the debate about all of this and the comments here with great interest. Over on Outbounding, we’ve had even more discussion, to which Mike and many others have contributed, mostly siding with Mike.
In light of all of this, and in the interest of helping everyone understand more of what is at stake here, we at Outbounding have organized a live Google+ Hangout on Air involving a handful of active and authoritative voices, including representatives from Marine Connection, the Born Free Foundation and Care for the Wild International… and, of course, Mike himself! (We also reached out to TBEX, Delphinus and others to represent their different stance, but have not – yet! – had a reply.)
What: “Tourism and Captive Marine Animals: Ethics and Practices”
When: Tuesday, April 29, 12-1pm EDT
Be sure to open the full description under “Details” for the full roster of speakers, the issues to be addressed and some important background.
And, if you like what you see, please join us… and share the word!
While I’m in no way supporting or condoning cruelty to animals, have we ever thought of our own practises? I can’t fight for such a cause because I would otherwise consider myself a hypocrite – I am not a vegetarian which makes me think how many animals suffered and were slaughtered for my own selfish satisfaction? I think we’re forgetting most of us make poor, irresponsible, unsustainable choices everyday and if you eat meat like I do, how does this give us credibility to call someone else out on animal cruelty?
I’m sorry Cristina, but with the greatest of respect I have been hearing this argument a lot lately and it just makes no sense.
By this logic, no one could ever fight for ANY cause because no one is ever perfect and there are always other issues to fight for too.
How can you support ending child abuse if you don’t have children yourself? How can you support ending sex trafficking if you have ever engaged in sexual relations with a partner? This is how ridiculous the argument sounds.
Eating meat and fighting for the end of the exploitation of animals for profit and entertainment are two completely separate issues.
When I first started backpacking over a decade ago I wasn’t always aware of the issues surrounding wildlife tourism. I have been on an elephant trek and been to attractions and excursions that did not put the animals welfare first. At the time I didn’t know better, and yes I am ashamed of those facts now. Since then I have learned more about it, I have educated myself on the issues and taken the facts put forward by experts and wildlife charities into account as they came to light.
As a result I have changed my behaviour and now campaign for the care of wildlife within the tourism industry. So yes, I have thought of my own practices, I have reflected on my own behaviour and I have changed as a result.
I am far from perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I am trying to make a difference on the issues I feel strongly about.
It is very important as travel bloggers to be responsible for our choices. I do not support the captivity of wild animals for any reason and I think TBEX could have chosen a different place.
They definitely could have. TBEX really do need to show some leadership on the issue and lead by example. It is shameful that they are still maintaining their stance on it.
I’m not a travel blogger, but i am a traveller and I refuse to stay anywhere or participate in anything that has captive animals. I’m very happy to see the travel industry slowly starting to shift it’s values.
Congratulations on your stand against TBEX’s unethical choices.
Thank you dadarren, it’s a shame some parts of the industry are slower to change than others but I definitely agree with you that it is great that at least some parts are shifting their values.
Great post! Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. 🙂