In many tourism destinations around the world, opportunities to view or interact with animals are commonly offered and very popular with many holidaymakers.

Whilst tourism can be a means for positive interactions between tourists and animals, where such attractions are not carefully managed or do not exhibit best practice there is the potential that such attractions can jeopardise animal welfare or the customer experience. Animal welfare is a complex area given the different requirements for different species. 

Animal attractions and experiences are now a common part of many holidays, but while animal attractions are undoubtedly popular with customers, they want to be assured of good animal welfare standards. A 2017 ComRes survey found that 71% of respondents would be more likely to buy from a travel company that cares for animals*.
*ComRes poll, commissioned by Born Free Foundation, April 2017

ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines

ABTA has produced the first Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, supported by six manuals covering specific topics. These are practical guides for travel businesses as well as suppliers of animal experiences. The aim is to encourage good practice in animal protection and welfare. 

The manuals set out unacceptable and discouraged practices, minimum requirements for animal welfare and best practice. They bring together existing guidance and are intended for travel providers to issue to their suppliers, for tourist boards and relevant destination authorities as well as animal attractions.

Developed in consultation with the Born Free Foundation as well as over 200 stakeholders including animal welfare experts, the manuals ensure that everyone working in the travel industry can be informed and up to date with the latest guidance and good practice in animal welfare. 

The guidelines are available to ABTA Members and their suppliers, please email sustainabletourism@abta.co.uk or call 020 3117 0590 to receive your copy. The guidelines are also available to purchase, please contact websitesales@abta.co.uk.

What can I do as a holidaymaker and how can I check that I’m buying an animal-friendly activity?

By choosing to book a holiday with an ABTA Member, you’re helping to raise and uphold animal welfare standards across the whole tourism industry. 

Here are 11 things to keep in mind about animal welfare when on holiday:

  1. It sounds like common sense but don’t interact in any way with dangerous wild animals. They are unpredictable and if you’re not careful, you could be seriously injured or worse. 
  2. Never feed, touch, tease or provoke wild animals. 
  3. Don’t use captive wild animals as props for your photos, such as a lion cub or monkey. They may look cute but many of these animals could be drugged and are at risk of being killed once they become too large to handle. 
  4. Don’t buy souvenirs that are made from wildlife products or other threatened natural materials including turtle shells, feathers and ivory. Many of these products support unsustainable practices such as poaching, and are illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Learn more about the work of CITES here.
  5. When viewing animals in the wild, ensure your guide leaves sufficient distance so that your presence doesn’t disturb them or interfere with their natural behaviour. 
  6. Don’t encourage guides to pursue wildlife that are showing avoidance tactics e.g. displaying threatening or alarmed behavior or if they are moving away. 
  7. Speak quietly and don’t make any sudden movements when close to wildlife so as not to alarm them. 
  8. Never ride donkeys, horses, mules or camels that are too young, too old, pregnant or nursing. For advice on how to spot the signs of whether an animal is suitable to ride, check the Happy Horse Code, which has been developed by the animal welfare charity Brooke.
  9. Don’t approach or interfere with breeding sites (nests, burrows, dens, etc.) as this can disturb and affect the animals, sometimes resulting in parents abandoning their young. 
  10. For marine wildlife, when contact with animals is permitted and controlled (e.g. when swimming with dolphins), don’t approach the animals but let them approach you when they choose to.
  11. If you can, we encourage you to put something back into the area and wildlife you’ve visited by making a personal contribution to support conservation in the area. 

The Five Freedoms

ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism is based on the principles of the Five Freedoms,* originally developed for farmed domestic animals. An additional three criteria have been included to address animals in tourism. 
*Developed by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC 1979) and Welfare Quality® criteria

Five Freedoms Welfare quality® criteria
1. Good feeding
  • Absence of prolonged hunger 
  • Absence of prolonged thirst
2. Good housing 
  • Comfort while resting
  • Thermal comfort
  • Ease of movement
3. Good health 
  • Absence of injuries
  • Absence of disease
  • Absence of pain induced by inappropriate management procedures
4. Appropriate behaviour
  • Expression of social behaviours
  • Expression of natural behaviours  
  • Good human-animal relationship
  • Positive emotional state
5. Protection from fear and distress
  • Absence of general fear/distress/apathy
  • Ability to seek privacy/refuge
  • Absence of surgical or physical modification of the skin, tissues, teeth or bone structure other than for the purposes of genuine medical treatment/ manipulation/sedation

Minimum requirements
The guidelines also outline minimum requirements for feeding, enclosures, veterinary care, sedation/surgery, permits and records. There are extra requirements for dolphins in captivity as well as working animals.

How ABTA Members are using the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines
ABTA provides practical guidance for its Members and their suppliers, to encourage good practice in animal protection and welfare by providing businesses with knowledge and guidance. 

Many ABTA Members include animal welfare standards as part of supplier contracts and carry out independent checks. Hundreds of attractions have been audited in this way, with improvements to animal welfare made where needed. Travel providers working with these guidelines have also agreed that they will not sell animal attractions or activities to customers where there are unacceptable practices. The industry has made good progress in recent years, and will continue to learn and respond as new issues come to light.

The Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism is publically available; please click here to download.

Please read our FAQs

See some great examples below of how ABTA Members are helping to safeguard animal welfare.

G Adventures

G Adventures believes that a robust animal welfare policy is an essential part of a commitment to responsible tourism and to making the world a better place. This commitment led to the adoption of ABTA’s animal welfare guidelines in 2014. G Adventures uses these guidelines along with advice from other organizations, including World Animal Protection, to inform decisions regarding which activities to include or exclude when developing tours.

If a new activity is proposed that includes animals, the potential supplier must fill out a detailed assessment form and comply with requirements in order to be approved as a partner. If a supplier can make changes in order to be compliant, they’re given the opportunity to do so.

In 2016, G Adventures announced a collection of wildlife-focused tours endorsed by Dr. Jane Goodall, who reviewed and congratulated the company on its animal welfare policy.

To read G Adventures’ animal welfare policy, please click here.

Saga Holidays

Wildlife viewing features strongly in Saga’s itineraries with excursions forming an important part of customer holiday experiences. ABTA’s guidance manuals are currently helping the company to assess its whole range of holiday packages that involve contact with animals.

With the help of the Born Free Foundation and the ABTA guidance manuals Saga Holidays continues to review its animal attractions with the aim of bringing holidays in line with animal welfare best practice. They will alter or remove animal attractions where necessary, ensuring this is done sustainably by educating suppliers as needed.

STA Travel

In 2014, STA Travel began a major review of its products to ensure they all complied with good animal welfare practices. Since this review began, STA has removed more than 3,000 tours from its supply list and changed the itineraries of about 10% of its tours. Many tours were disqualified even before they went on sale because the company knew that they would contravene the new animal welfare policy.

In developing its policy, STA worked closely with ABTA and its animal welfare guidance team and consulted with the Born Free Foundation and other world-class animal welfare experts. 

The company has invested in staff training and invited external speakers to host workshops at its offices to improve overall understanding of animal welfare issues. It’s also developed specific guidance manuals for staff. For example, one such guide helps the marketing department determine what imagery is suitable on websites, social media and in printed publications. 

For further details on STA Travel’s policy on animal welfare, please click here.

Thomas Cook

As part of its approach to animal welfare in tourism, a full audit of all Thomas Cook excursions that feature animals is underway. Attractions receive no notice of the audit but are expected to comply and provide access to relevant materials. Failure to do so sees the attraction immediately removed from sale. If an animal attraction is found not to be fully compliant with the ABTA Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, Thomas Cook won’t sell it. 

Non-compliant attractions are given three months to resolve outstanding issues. Thomas Cook will work with the supplier to improve conditions over this period. If it doesn’t reach the required standard then the attraction is put on ‘stop-sale’ and any promotion is ended. However, even if an attraction is taken off sale, the company will continue to provide assistance to suppliers to help them meet the required standards. Decisions to put excursions back on sale after the three-month deadline has expired are taken on a case-by-case basis.

To read Thomas Cook’s approach to animal welfare in tourism, please click here.

TUI Group

TUI has engaged suppliers of all their animal excursions to publicise the guidelines and to begin the audit process. Prompted by this work, and influenced by its partnership with World Animal Protection, in July 2015 TUI decided to withdraw completely from elephant riding and elephant shows across all its operations — this was achieved by the end of 2016. Instead, TUI offers ‘elephant-friendly excursions where our customers can see and learn about elephants in a way that avoids unnatural behaviours’.

Adherence to the ABTA Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism is a component of all supplier contracts.

The auditing programme continues to prioritise an independent audit against ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism as a condition to being a supplier of animal excursions for TUI Group.

In addition, the company has set up the TUI Care Foundation, an independent charitable foundation through which TUI Group invests in sustainability programmes in destinations. Among other initiatives, significant funding has been agreed to protect around 1,500 elephants in Thailand and one million newly hatched turtles across five TUI holiday destinations. 

To read TUI Group’s approach to animal welfare and biodiversity, please click here

Virgin Holidays

In 2014, as the public became increasingly aware of problems concerning captive cetaceans, Virgin Holidays took the initiative by engaging with its stakeholders to better understand the tourism issues involved. As a result, Virgin pledged to no longer feature attractions that continue to take whales and dolphins from the ocean and has also committed to explore a long-term vision for captive cetaceans.

In February 2017, Virgin Holidays made clear that it would not be adding any new attractions that feature captive whales and dolphins for theatrical shows, contact sessions (such as ‘swim-with’ programmes) or other entertainment purposes to its programme. Virgin also said it would help fund the creation of coastal sanctuaries for whales and dolphins, as well as promote conservation in their natural habitats. 

To see Virgin Holidays’ approach to cetaceans, please click here.