Tripadvisor Is Finally Stopping Ticket Sales To Irresponsible Wildlife Attractions. But Is It Enough?

FOTA wildlife park Cork Ireland

Tripadvisor has finally announced that it is to end its practice of selling tickets to cruel and unethical wildlife attractions, but is it too little too late? And is it enough? 

Update: This article was written in 2016. As of 2022 Tripadvisor has written policies and blogs about responsible wildlife tourism and has paid lip service to removing irresponsible operators but the fact is they still sell tours and tickets to wildlife attractions that do not uphold responsible practices and nothing has changed.

Tripadvisor, the once proud review site and now the ultimate shill of the travel industry has not had the best of reputations amongst many travellers for a long time now, not least of which because it actively promoted and sold packages or tickets to unethical and abusive wildlife attractions. Not only that, but the sites arrogant stance of blatantly ignoring calls from wildlife charities and campaigners to end the promotion of these attractions often infuriated those who campaigned for ethical and responsible wildlife tourism, and negated a lot of awareness raising of the issues involved by continuing to foster greenwashed narratives to tourists who did not know any better.

Now Tripadvisor has finally announced that it is ending the practice of selling tickets to cruel animal attractions.

It is about damn time. But is Tripadvisor going far enough?

Tiger Temple Abuse Thailand.

A Real Change Or Mere Words?

In a year that finally saw the end of the viciously cruel Tiger Temple in Thailand, Seaworld ending its Orca breeding programmes and shows after intense public pressure, awareness of irresponsible wildlife attractions such as elephant riding at an arguably all time high, and even ABTA working with major tourism providers such as STA travel and Thomas Cook to promote a more ethical approach to wildlife tourism, a more cynical eye may see this move as nothing more than a marketing stunt, as a way to greenwash it’s credentials to appease some of the campaigners for responsible wildlife tourism and appeal to a growing public awareness and demand for responsible alternatives.

This would – on the surface at least – appear to be the case, since they seem to be being very selective with the choice of which unethical attractions they are ceasing to sell tickets or packages to, and there are still a number of irresponsible wildlife attractions that they are still taking bookings for..

Perhaps worse than that however, is that they are still refusing to stop supporting irresponsible and unethical attractions altogether, and are still essentially promoting attractions and industries that abuse and exploit wildlife for tourists pleasure by allowing the site showcasing and reviews to continue.

Why you shouldn't ride elephants in Thailand

Tripadvisor has stated that it is planning a wildlife education portal for some attractions, and is working with animal welfare groups, charities and organisations such as the the Association Of Zoos And Aquariums and World Animal Protection to work on a list of exemptions to this rule for attractions such as zoos, petting zoos and facilities that are both responsible and educational.

If this is the case then I am absolutely in support of that. After all wildlife attractions when run responsibly, ethically and for the care and benefit of the animals involved can be a good thing. Zoos for example are a vital part of responsible wildlife tourism and wildlife conservation and responsible, ethical attractions should be promoted and supported.

Lots Of Talk But No Real Action.

But whilst Tripadvisor still allows reviews and promotion of a whole smorgasboard of irresponsible wildlife attractions as well, any promises of ‘ending bookings’ are completely empty and are nothing more than greenwashing. Likewise, statements of the new policy being implemented by ‘early 2017’ remains to be seen, as this is a policy that should have been done a long time ago and can be implemented with immediate effect.

I welcome the fact that Tripadvisor is finally pulling its collective finger out and is saying it will live up to its responsibility to end promotion of unethical and irresponsible wildlife attractions, but until it does so completely, fully and with immediate effect, I will take these promises with a grain of greenwashed salt and I urge each and every one of you who reads this to hold them to account. Keep asking them why this policy is not yet fully in place until it is, keep asking them why they are still promoting a lot of unethical practices, keep up that pressure and make sure that they live up to their promise.

Responsible tourism should never be a marketing gimmick. Responsible and sustainable travel is something we should all care about and all practice.

What do you think about Tripadvisors announcement? Did you welcome it or like me are you skeptical? I’d really love to hear all your opinions and thoughts on this issue in the comments section below.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

A Photo For Facebook? You’ve Just ‘Liked’ Animal Abuse.

Bemused Backpacker Code Of Responsible Travel.

Thailands Cruel Tiger Temple Finally Shut Down.

The Good And The Bad Of Elephant Tourism In Sri Lanka.

Why Zoos Are An Important Part Of Responsible Wildlife Tourism.

Wildlife Tourism Without Wildlife Harm. Is It Possible?


Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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Posted in Responsible Travel, Travel Talk
27 comments on “Tripadvisor Is Finally Stopping Ticket Sales To Irresponsible Wildlife Attractions. But Is It Enough?
  1. Nicole Trent says:

    I get where you are coming from completely but at the very least you have to admit that this is a good start, and now that they have taken that step (which I agree is years behind when they should have done it) at least public pressure can push them into doing more.

    • I agree it is a positive step in the right direction, I just hope that this PR greenwashing isn’t just a way for them to fool the public into thinking they don’t have to keep pushing them. It’s important to remember that TA are doing the bare minimum here and are still promoting a lot of unethical attractions.

  2. jessica says:

    i think youre being harsh. just because they didnt do it sooner doesnt mean they’re not doing good now. and they let people REVIEW the places… ive written plenty of bad reviews before. people can always write bad reviews if they see bad stuff and that;s actually better because people can read that then. unless there’s something im missing??? are they advertising the places in other ways besides reviews? i see way too many people i know doing this stuff on vacation who don’t have any idea how bad it is and i think this does help tell people that its not good. but are they doing other things to advertise these places that i dont know?

    • Thanks for commenting Jessica, and you make a fair point. I don’t think I’m being entirely harsh though, I do admit that it is a good first step, but they really need to be held to account and pushed into carrying on taking bigger steps to stop this from becoming an exercise in Greenwashing. Which – at the moment – is exactly what this is.

      As for the reviews and advertising, you hit on part of the problem in your own statement, ” i see way too many people i know doing this stuff on vacation who don’t have any idea how bad it is”. One of the major problems a lot of wildlife tourism campaigners have had with TA is that when we are trying to raise awareness on these issues, the general public on the whole are not aware. So when they see certain attractions promoted (and when they are listed on TA they are by default promoted) with a ton of reviews saying how amazing the experience is, people will generally just go along with that. It is the whole ‘well if it’s on TA it must be okay’ mentality. Then this was compounded with the fact that alongside that promotion, TA then sold tickets (which it is still doing for a lot of attractions, just check out its list of exclusions). I’ll give you one example to illustrate my point, the Tiger Temple in Thailand. It has been spectacularly shut down relatively recently and every criticism and accusation of abuse, illegal trading etc, campaigners like myself levelled against it for years have been vindicated. Yet in all that time animal rights and welfare groups were trying to get it shut down, the travel industry was shipping in naive tourists to the temple wholesale, the travel industry in Thailand kept promoting it, and TA with its review system kept sending the message that everything was okay, it was an ‘awesome experience’, an ‘experience of a lifetime’ from reviewers who frankly didn’t know better and were putting their own desires above ethical concerns, and promoted that message to other potential visitors who wanted that experience for themselves instead of giving them the facts on the harm and abuse they would be contributing to. I do absolutely take your point that bad reviews can potentially get that message out there, but that is never the way it worked on TA (especially when we can have an entirely different debate on TA deleting negative reviews).

    • Carol says:

      I don’t think it was harsh at all, I think it was relatively balanced when you remember that TripAdvisor has railed against making any form of ethical stance for a very long time, and STILL isn’t exactly making a very good one.

  3. Abbie says:

    At least it’s a good first step, and it has to start somewhere.

    • That is true, and I have no problem with that. My problem is that they need to be pushed into making bigger and bolder steps to stop this from becoming the exercise in greenwashing that it is at the moment.

  4. John says:

    Not a fan of Tripadvisor then?

  5. I absolutely agree with you, after years (possibly a decade) of avoiding and ignoring the issue of responsible tourism, they make a token gesture like this and everyone acts like they are ‘industry leaders’. They have a responsibility to do FAR more.

  6. Well done on calling out Tripadvisors hypocrisy on this! They can’t just say they are stopping selling packages to irresponsible tourist attractions and then hide in the small print: oh, except this long list of attractions we will still sell them too and promote.

  7. Martin says:

    I could not agree with you more! Very well said. I have hated Tripadvisor for a long time now, it is clear they have just become a site that peddles bookings and doesn’t care about ethics or responsible tourism, the fact that it continued to advertise and promote the tiger temple amongst others even after all the controversy and the shutdown was proof of that. This is just them trying to save a bit of face and is completely meaningless. As you said, far too little, far too late.

  8. Gemma says:

    I love this! You are so right and I love that you just come out and say it when so many others on social media are praising Tripadvisor like they are the second coming. So annoying.

  9. Alison says:

    Amazing article, I honestly never thought of it in that way at all, I just saw the headlines and assumed it was a good thing! Thank you for writing this.

  10. Julie says:

    I would like to be optimistic about this but I do unfortunately agree with you. I doubt this will change anything when it comes to tripadvisors approach.

    • I don’t think it will either to be honest, the simple fact that they already have a get out clause with a long list of exclusions, and will still be promoting irresponsible sites via reviews says it all really.

  11. Natalie says:

    I think you are absolutely right here, it isn’t enough. Tripadvisor is now a booking agency, not a review site (despite outward appearances) and they don’t give a damn about ethical issues. If they did they would not have ignored the issues for this long. They have been forced into doing this legally or from a self interest angle (PR) and are only doing the bare minimum.

    • I completely agree, I hope I’m wrong and TA really does step up, but I genuinely think it has done this to give itself a bit of Greenwashing, let everyone pat them on the back for being so responsible and then go back to business as usual.

  12. Leah Cutler says:

    I’d wait and see but to be honest I don’t hold out much hope.

  13. Aubrey says:

    I’ve noticed as of now they still have a lot of irresponsible tours up and for sale!

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