Animal welfare in tourism: society’s changing values

Animal Welfare in tourism

At the end of 2016, Animal Tourism Finland looked back at some of the major animal tourism stories. TripAdvisor stopping the selling of tickets to attractions that involve physical contact with wild animals or endangered species and Sea World San Diego announcing that 2016 will be the last year of theatrical killer whale experience. These initiatives show how companies are listening to their customers and redesigning their animal-based services according to their customer values. As Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld said “The main point [for this decision] is we are listening to our guests”.

Also in Finland, we have seen that the topic of animal welfare in tourism has been in the news lately. While the case of Särkänniemi’s dolphins was among the top stories in the media, animal tourism related stories have constantly been in the news. For example, news about how the husky safaris are gaining popularity among Asian tourists and discussions around the development of wolf tourism in Lieksa. Also Tytti McVeigh (Finnish Association for Fair Tourism) in a interview given to Talouselämä recently observed that Finnish tourists are becoming more and more interested in animal welfare.

Photo: JC García-Rosell

These developments in the tourism industry are not isolated from the rest of society. In fact, they are happening due to changing values in society.

Animal-friendly consumer values

In a study published in the Journal of Biological Conservation in 2016, it was reported how the attitudes of Americans towards animals has changed during the past decades. Similarly, a study conducted with Chinese university students in 2010 showed positive attitudes and opinions toward animals welfare initiatives. These studies are indicative of growing concern for the welfare of animals both wild and domestic. These developments have been reflected in the media. For example, South China Morning Post reported last December on China’s growing animal rights movement and Newsweek closed the year with a report on society’s increasing positive views of non-human animals. As consumer, humans are beginning to see non-human animals as individuals with personalities, preferences and rights.

Human-animal relations in the spotlight

The importance of human-animal relations were also addressed in the traditional New Year’s Speech of the President of Finland. President Sauli Niinistö referred to these relations when citing Director Juha Hurme “People, animals and plants, all from the same root, made of the same matter”. He then continued by reflecting on his encounter with Sulo Karjalainen “the bear man”. As President Niinisto said “Sulo Karjalainen looks at a bear and the animal looks at him, face to face. Do they understand something, even a lot, about each other? Humanity or animality, both creatures of nature”.

Photo: Tarja Salmela-Leppänen

The Finnish Animal Welfare Act is under reform. There are plans to acknowledge the intrinsic value of animals in the new Finnish Animal Welfare Act. The intrinsic value of animals refers to the value an animal possesses in its own right, as an end-in-itself. From this perspective, animal welfare becomes a question of protecting animals, rather than simply evaluating the morality of human practices toward animals. The Dutch Animal Welfare Act recognized the intrinsic value of animals in 1981.

“The values of animals” will be discussed in the up-coming Animal Studies Conference organized by the Finnish Society for Human−Animal Studies in April 24.-25, 2017 in Helsinki. Animal Tourism Finland will take part in the conference. The event will be an excellent forum for discussing the value of animals for tourism companies and tourists.

The year 2017 will be a year full of exciting discussions on animal welfare. Some of these discussions will be related to tourism and Animal Tourism Finland will definitely be part of them!

Text: JC García-Rosell

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