How important is animal welfare communication in tourism?
Communicating about the welfare of animals working in tourism has become highly relevant at a time when consumers values are pushing towards more responsible consumption. A recent study that we conducted at the University of Lapland shows that 83% of tourists are concerned about the rights and treatment of animals in today’s society. At the same time, many tourists considered animal-based activities as an important reason for traveling to places like Lapland. Indeed, although many tourists feel that interaction with animals is an exciting experience, they are also concern about the treatment of animals in tourism. As a result, animal welfare is becoming a critical criterion used by tour operators to select their suppliers.
A guide for communicating animal welfare in tourism
Responsibility emphasizes the important role of communication in creating and maintaining transparent and open dialogues with customers and other stakeholders. We need such dialogues to foster ethical and socially responsible tourism practices. Therefore, we created a guide focusing on the ways of communicating and educating on animal welfare in tourism. The guide aims to help animal-based tourism companies evaluate and develop more comprehensive animal welfare communication strategies. It is also suitable for tour operators, DMOs and other business partners selling or promoting animal-based tourism services.
Although animal welfare communication is company-specific, there are questions that most companies struggle with. For instance, Which communication tools to use? What content to share in social media? Which information to put on the website? What information is relevant for the customers? Rather than being exhaustive, the guide offers some guidance on some of these crucial issues related to animal welfare communication. Furthermore, it helps companies increase the transparency of their operations and the visibility of the values shaping their animal welfare policies.
At its best, it provides a good starting point for an animal-based tourism company to reflect on their way of communicating their business philosophy and how they make it happen in practice. The guide is the outcome of our work in the project “Animals and responsible tourism: promoting business competitiveness through animal welfare”. The guide was written and assembled by Meike Witt from Exploring Iceland, Tarja Salmela and José-Carlos García-Rosell from the University of Lapland.
Millions of travelers share their experiences trough social media. Data generated online can take various forms (e.g. comments, reviews, blog posts, tweets, pictures, videos and vlogs). This type of data is usually referred to as user-generated content or traveller-generated content.
If we consider the amount of user-generated content, social media becomes a valuable source of information for understanding consumer values. As a growing public discussion, animal welfare in tourism is well-represented in social media.
We identified 208 reviews in TripAdvisor and 113 pictures and 30 videos in other social media channels. As a result, we can position TripAdvisor as one of the leading social media channels for discussions about animal-based tourism in Lapland. Tourists write the reviews to share their experience and often comment on the quality of life of working animals in Lapland.
Animal welfare in the spotlight
Animal welfare was the largest topic of discussion identified in the study. We identified a total of 331 comments related to the welfare of animals such as sled dogs and reindeer. Nevertheless, we should stress that most comments focused on sled dogs. We found out that discussions on animal welfare focused on a wide range of issues related to the life and treatment of animals. For example, we identified discussions revolving around issues such as care, health, work, chains, animal facilities, ethics and the retirement of animals.
With our study, we show that tourists using animal-based tourism services pay a lot of attention to different aspects of animal welfare. Although we can see a general interest in how animals are treated, tourists were also concerned about their working conditions and their future retirement. Tourists, who were more concerned about animal welfare, contacted the companies directly. Indeed, they did careful online research before booking the service.
If you want to know more about the study, you are warmly welcome to read the full report HERE.
Although animal-based tourism activities could be one the reasons for visiting a tourism destination, this may not be the case of the Balearic Islands. Nevertheless, animals are clearly part of the experiences of many tourists spending their holidays on these Mediterranean Islands. Animal-based attraction such as marine parks, aquariums and zoos are part of the marketing material and street view of most Balearic towns. In particular, tourism companies are targeting these attractions to families traveling with children. Also scuba diving, which is popular among some tourists, should not be forgotten. After all, it is as animal-based activity whereby marine fauna become an essential part of the underwater experience.
City tours on Galeras
Another popular animal-based activity, which one can see in most towns, is the horse carriages or so called “Galeras”. The Galeras usually operate in the historic city centers. When I asked the students to think about animal welfare in relation to the Balearic Islands, the first thing that came to their mind was the Galeras. The students were concerned about the welfare of the horses working under challenging conditions. Concerned citizens have publicly been debating this issue in Palma.
Indeed, over the last years several horse deaths and accidents have happened on the streets of this Mediterranean destination. The horses have to trot over hard surface (pavement, stone) and deal with high temperatures, particularly, during the summer months. Without appropriate watering and feeding, these horses suffered of dehydration and undernourishment. There also seems to be no control over the number of working hours and amount of weight to be pulled by the animals.
We can ask ourselves the following questions: Can the local government guarantee the welfare of horses through stricter regulation?Or does this case demand the absolute ban of the Galeras? There is indeed a movement collecting firms to stop the galeras in Palma, Mallorca. The movement is called “Stop Galeras”. This movement form part of global criticism on the use of horses for tourism activities in cities. We can see similar discussions taken place in cities like Montreal, New York and Melbourne. According to the criticism, horses do not belong on city streets. A city environment with traffic and crowd of people is already detrimental to the welfare of any horse.
Studying the views of Lapland tourists on animal welfare
During June 2016 and February 2017, we conducted a study aiming to explore the attitudes of Lapland tourists towards animals and animal-based tourism. To that end , we use a semi-structured survey based on cluster sampling. Data collection took place in Rovaniemi and mostly in the premises of the Rovaniemi Airport. We focused mainly on the departures of charter flights. In that way, we were able to get a representative sample of the tourists coming from the most important target markets of Lapland. We selected the respondents randomly. We conducted the survey in six different languages: Finnish, English, German, Russian and Mandarin. A total of 601 tourists from more than 20 different countries participated in the survey. The study was part of the project “Animal welfare in tourism services”.
How important animals are to Lapland tourists?
We found out that animals play an important role in attracting people to Lapland. Indeed, 68% of the tourists surveyed said that animal-based tourism activities were an important reason for visiting Lapland. We also found out that 83% of the tourists were concerned about the rights and treatment of animals in today’s society. This finding is consistent with the results of the Eurobarometer on animal welfare 2016. According to it, 89% of European citizens believe that there should be an EU-legislation that obliges people to care for animals used for commercial purposes. The majority of tourism considered that animals should not be maltreated under any circumstances. Only few respondents saw animals as tourism objects that should be always visible and easy to photograph.
In addition, we found out that the staff and marketing channels of animal-based tourism companies play a important role in providing information about animal welfare. Also the respondents stressed the role of local tourism information offices in communicating about animal welfare. If you are interested in reading more about the study, you can access the full report HERE. Although we can say that the majority of Lapland tourists are concern about the welfare of animals working in tourism, we could identify a group of customers that are particularly concerned about the issue. We call this group “ethical consumers”. We have conducted interviews with them to study their values and how they influence their tourism consumption. In addition, we have conducted a social media analysis focusing on animal welfare in Lapland tourism. We will publish these studies in the coming months.
For a second year in a row, we were in the The Nordic Travel Fair held at the Helsinki’s Expo and Convention Center. The event counts with more than 1000 exhibitors from 80 different countries. As a travel event, it offers an excellent space for discovering new products, services and business partners. Moreover, it is a place for discussing the late developments in the Finnish and global tourism industry. The event took place between January 18-21. The first day is exclusively reserved for travel professionals and the rest of the days is open for the public in general. Also in 2018, we could see that animals continue to play an important role in the fair. Pictures and shapes of animals could be found in the different corners of the travel fair.
In this post, we want to talk about the arrival of the the Pandas in Finland and our public discussion on “Ethical Business and Animals” at the Nordic Travel Fair.
Although some have celebrated the arrival of the pandas, some have also showed concerns about their introduction to Ähtäri Zoo. The arrival of the pandas has been surrounded by a lot of discussion in the Finnish media. Indeed, it can be seen as a backward step in terms of ethics by a society that is becoming more sensitive to issues related to animal rights and welfare. As a result, Ähtäri zoo might be taking a risk by hosting the pandas. In an interview with Radio Suomi (18.1.), Minni Haanpää talked about the pandas in relation to ethical tourism. Listen to the interview in Finnish here (starts at minute 27:55).
In particular, we want to draw attention to three issues that were highlighted in the discussion. First, the growing interest in animals in society. Indeed, this is not just phenomenon limited to the West, but something that can be seen in different parts of the world. For example, in China, there is also a growing social movement for animal rights and welfare. Second, ethical consumption is colorful and evolving. As a result, ethical consumers cannot be categorized under one and the same group. Third, ethical business demands transparency and continuous interaction with consumers. Only so we can reach the degree of trust that is expected by ethical consumers. Next time, we will write about the views of Lapland tourists on animals working in tourism. So, Stay tuned!
Recently, some international tour operators have been conducting animal welfare audits in animal-based tourism companies located in Lapland. This is the first time that animal welfare audits are conducted in Finnish animal-based tourism companies. The audits help the tour operators to ensure that their suppliers are operating according to their animal welfare policies. Most of these animal welfare policies are based on the “Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism” defined by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). Our expert José-Carlos García-Rosell was able to join one of the audits conducted in one of our project companies in December 2017.
What is the animal welfare audit about?
The idea of the audit is that a team of auditors is assigned with the task to assess the welfare of animals working in tourism. The auditors can work for the tour operator or an inspection company contracted for the assignment. The auditors assess the welfare of animals according to a given criteria. The companies to be audited are contacted in advance to set a time for the visit. Usually, the auditors have a list of the companies and premises to be contacted for the audits. These companies have usually a contract with the tour operator requesting the audit. In some cases, contractors of the supplier of the tour operator could also be asked to be audited. For example, the audit can be carried out in an animal-based tourism company selling services to a destination management company that has a contract with the tour operator.
The audit can take between 2 and 5 hours. It depends on the location, type of animals, company size and premises to be audited. The auditors go through an interview guide together with representatives of the company being audited. They also visit the animal premises and may even take part in some of the activities offered by the company. The interview material is supported by visual material (pictures and videos) made during the on-site visit. After some weeks, the audited company is informed about the results of the audit. The audits are an important tool for the tour operators, as it allows them to gather information on the quality of animal-based services they sell. For an overview of different auditing practices check our report “Quality monitoring practices in animal-based tourism”.
How do the audits work in Lapland?
The animal welfare audits have been designed to be used in different animal tourism services and attractions. This can be seen as a strength and a weakness. By using global animal welfare criteria, the audits face some limitations in considering the specific needs of different animal species and the way they are used in particular tourism contexts. For instance, sled dogs and elephants are common animals used in tourism, but they have totally different needs and requirements. Nevertheless, similar audit criteria may be applied to both animal species. Furthermore, since most audits have initially been developed for assessing the welfare of captive wild animals (elephants, dolphins, etc.) , it tends to stress the needs of those animals in the evaluation. This causes some challenges for assessing animal welfare in Lapland tourism.
For example, one audit criterion may consider as negative if the skin of an animal is scratched or bleeding. Although this is important, it disregards the fact that reindeer rubs the antlers against hard surfaces to get the skin off in the late autumn. So blood in the antlers of reindeer is quite normal at that time of the year. Another criterion may require that animals are provided with a shelter, which is self-evident in other animal species. Nevertheless, this does not concern reindeer. As semi-wild animals, reindeer do not need shelter in the winter. Their hair is hollow which insulates them from the cold temperatures.
Auditing criteria may also see the chaining of animals as negative. In the case of sled dogs, a tether can sometimes be a better option for the dog than a kennel. Similarly, the audits may lack more specific criteria that is necessary for guaranteeing the welfare of reindeer and sled dogs.
What to conclude?
The fact that there are some limitations in the audits does not mean that they are not beneficial or needed. On the contrary, we should be appreciative that we have animal welfare guidelines in the tourism industry and that tour operators are conducting these audits. These first audits clearly indicate that animal welfare in tourism is becoming an important issue for both companies and consumers. Indeed, there will be an increase in the number of animal welfare audits conducted in the near future.
These first auditing experiences open new possibilities for developing an animal welfare criteria that are suitable for the animals working in Lapland tourism. This is part of the work we are doing in the last phase of our project. We are doing this work in cooperation with local companies, international tour operators and experts in the fields of responsible tourism and animal welfare. As a whole, this will support our local companies in developing their animal welfare policies and business operation in a way that benefit both the animals and the industry.
The article introduces both projects and the work done by the University of Lapland and the Lapland University of Applied Sciences on animal welfare in tourism. In the article, Mia Sivula draws attention to two important issues surrounding the animal welfare discussion in tourism: customer education and an animal-center perspective.
As stated in the article, tourists are usually not familiar with the animals working in Lapland tourism. Indeed, most visitors are unaware of the living conditions and needs of animals such as huskies and reindeer. As a result, there is a need to educate visitors on the animals they may interact with during their visit. As Miia Merkku explains, they have to teach tourists reindeer manners as they teach human manners to reindeer. In fact, a better awareness of the animals may lead to greater welfare and tourist experiences.
An animal-center perspective
In order to guarantee the well-being of the animals, it is is important that service provider put animals first. Customer should not always be king when it comes to animal-based tourism services. For example, Miia Merkku has many times said no to the request from customers to get inside the reindeer fence. As she explains, the fence area is the reindeer home and where they can just be among themselves. They have a right to their own private sphere. Also for Päivi Hiukka the well-being of their dogs come first and she expects the same attitude from their customers.
Text: JC García-Rosell (based on the article written by Mia Sivula)
The conference track on animals and tourism invited discussions on the interaction between people and animals in tourism settings. As such, it aimed to draw attention to the growth of animal-based tourism activities, the spectrum of tourists’ perceptions of animal attractions and examples of poor and good practice.
There were six presentations in the track. Three of them were delivered by Animal Tourism Finland researchers. Indeed, Tarja Salmela, Mikko ÄijäläandJ.C. García-Rosell presented a paper titled “Insights into the Certification of Animal Welfare in Tourism”. The presentation was based on the results presented in the report “Quality Monitoring Practices in Animal-Based Tourism”. In his presentation “Animal Agency in Tourism: Sled dogs in Finnish Lapland”, Mikko Äijälä discussed the role and agency of sled dogs in a tourism context. J.C. García-Rosell and Prof. Philip Hancock (Essex Business School) presented a paper titled “Christmas Tourism and the Cultivation and Symbolism of Lapland’s Reindeer”. The paper offers some reflections on the emergence of the Lapland reindeer as an economic resource, both as a carnally appropriated raw material, and as a mythical beast of Christmas folklore.
Prof. Susanna Curtin presented a paper titled “Morally torn but aesthetically persuaded: Why zoos are still attractive”. Her presentation drew attention to the current attitudes of tourists towards animal-based attractions such as zoos and marine parks. Rie Usui (Hiroshima University) delivered a presentation called “Investigating animal ethics and wildlife management issues at a nature-based tourism setting”. Her presentations offers moral reflections on current wildlife management practices implemented in Yakushima Island, Japan. Also Clare Jenkinson (ABTA Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager) took part in the track by given a presentation on ABTA policies and actions concerning animal-based tourism. If you would like to read more about the presentations included in the track, please check out the conference proceedings.
Sustainability in practice: TUI and ABTA
In the conference, there was also a track focusing on practical implementation of sustainability. TUI and ABTA were two of the tourism organizations represented in this track. Clare Jenkinson (Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager, ABTA) offered an overview of the work done by ABTA concerning sustainability issues. She also emphasized the role of partnerships with destination governments in promoting more sustainable practices. Similarly, Jane Ashton (Director of Sustainable Development, TUI)talked about how TUI is tackling sustainability in a globalized tourism industry. She drew especial attention to TUI sustainability strategy for 2020 “Better Holidays, Better World” and how it has been driven by company values, investors, consumers and other stakeholders.
Visit to ABTA
After the conference, Animal Tourism Finland headed to London to meet Hugh Felton (Senior Sustainable Tourism Executive) and Clare Jenkinson (Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager) at the ABTA headquarters. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for sharing experiences on animal-based tourism. Indeed, we were able not only to tell about our work in Lapland, but also to familiarize ourselves with ABTA’s initiatives. One of them is The Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, which are available to ABTA Members and their suppliers. So, if your company is doing business with an ABTA member, you can have access to these guidelines. You just have to ask your ABTA client to make them available to you.
The ABTA Animal welfare guidelines consist of six manuals which provide a set of minimum requirements designed to assist in improving animal welfare as well as phasing out poor practice. For animal-based tourism companies in Lapland, the manuals focusing on working animals and wildlife viewing are the most interesting ones. For example, the manual on working animals includes some welfare criteria for sled dogs. Through the animal welfare guidelines, ABTA aims to make sure that animals used in tourism are treated humanely, with respect and in accordance with transparent and robust animal welfare standards.
In this post, we provide access to an article referring to the project “Animal and Responsible Tourism” and its sister project “Animal Welfare in Tourism Services” in Aamulehti (Finnish newspaper). The article “Animals have enormous value in tourism” was written by José-Carlos García-Rosell and Tarja Salmela and published in Finnish in the June 11, 2017. The article was triggered by our reflections after participating in the Finnish Human-Animal Studies seminar “Valuable Animal” organized by the Finnish Society for Human−Animal Studies in April 2017.
In the article, we draw attention to the value of animals for the tourism industry. For example, we draw attention to the fact that the brand of many destinations are based on animals such as a bull (Spain), reindeer (Finland), panda (China) and Kangaroo (Australia). Also tourism companies used animals as part of their brand value. Moreover, animals play an essential role in the travel experiences of many tourists. A trip to Africa are usually associated to a safari. Similarly, when thinking of Iceland, one think of whale watching or horseback riding.
Tourists are not indifferent to the treatment of animal used in tourism. More and more tourists are interested in the well-being of the animals they get in touch with. Indeed, Animal welfare is a growing concern in the tourism industry. Global tourism companies like TUI and TripAdvisor have already taken these concerns seriously and are working towards better animal welfare practices in the tourism industry.
On June 12, 2017, we organized a seminar that brought together a group of experts to share knowledge and exchange experiences about the notion of responsible consumption in relation to animal-based tourism. Researcher Maria Pecoraro (University of Jyväskylä), Travel Writer and Editor Vicki Brown (Responsible Travel) and Professor Anu Valtonen (University of Lapland) were among the key note presenters. Also Minni Haanpää and Tarja Salmela from our research team presented preliminary findings of our ongoing studies. In this post, we want to offer an overview of the main arguments and ideas presented in the key notes.
Ethical consumption and animal welfare
In her key note, Maria Pecoraro focused on discussing ethical consumption in relation to animal welfare. She started her speech by drawing attention to the attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare. Indeed, according to the Eurobarometer on Animal Welfare 2016, 89% of European citizens believes there should be EU legislation that oblige people to care for animals used for commercial purposes. Although the document focuses particularly on farm animals, it has also implications for animals used in tourism.
Pecoraro stressed that ethical consumption is a dynamic and contextual phenomenon, involving different meanings, values and ideologies. She also drew attention to how producers and consumers may approach animal welfare differently. Producers may view it as an issue related to performance and productivity. For consumers, on the other hand, animal welfare may be more about empathy with the emotions and feelings of non-human animals.
Responsible tourism in practice
Vicki Brown stressed that the idea of “responsible travel” doesn’t refer to a niche market of ethical consumers. On contrary, it is mainstream, reaching a large consumer base. To make her point, she used the example of “Undercover Tourists” – a BBC TV show watched by millions of people in the UK. In the show, undercover wildlife activists travel to holiday destinations to investigate cases of animal abuse. She also discussed how public interest in the impacts of tourism on society and animals is reflected in the success of documentary films such as Gringo Trails, Black Fish, and Blood Lions.
Contemporary consumers are better informed, and expects their service providers to act responsibly. If their expectations are not met, they may express and share their dissatisfaction in social media spaces. Furthermore, responsibility requires collaborating not only with consumers, but also with different stakeholder such as non-governmental organizations and the media. To learn more about Vicki Brown’s experiences in the seminar and Rovaniemi, read the post “Responsible travel goes to the Arctic Circle”.
Ethics: the in- and outsiders
In her key note,Anu Valtonen offered an overview of consumer research focusing on human-animal relations. As she pointed out, most attention has been given to the relationship between humans and pets, farm animals and animals used in entertainment. In this discussions, moral reflections have revolved around the welfare and rights of animals as well as the ethics of hunting and fishing. So, large, charismatic and attractive animals (e.g. bears, lions, reindeer) have been at the spotlight of this debate. Which animals have been left out? What about mosquitoes and other insects?, Valtonen asked provocatively.
Despite the role of these small animals in society, they have been totally neglected when discussing human-animal relations. Even though they may have a huge impact on our daily consumption habits. For example, in Lapland mosquitoes influence tourists and their activities. According to Valtonen, the study of animal-relations have been biased by western ideology that it is not shared by other societies. Indeed, she drew attention to the role play by insects in Asian societies. For example, Young-Sook Lee and colleagues showed in their study “Evidence for a South Korean Model of Ecotourism”how insects were seen as the main attraction in ecotourism sites in South Korea.
Encounters: Animals in tourism consumption
Minni Haanpää and Tarja Salmela pointed out that the target group of Finland “Modern Humanist”is more or less based on ethical consumerism. Ethical and value-driven consumption is particularly made explicit in human-animal encounters. Hence, there is a need to better understand who the ethical consumers are and what they expect from animal-based tourism service providers. The answer is not simple as ethical consumers are not an homogenus group. As Haanpää and Salmela stressed, ethical consumers have different roles, expectations and values. Their consumption doesn’t follow rational patterns, rather it is context dependent. For example, travel companion, destination and previous experiences can determine ethical consumption in a given time and space.
As a result, Haanpää and Salmela prefer to talk about perspectives on ethical consumerism rather than types of ethical consumers. In their research on ethical consumerism in animal-based tourism services, they identified three perspectives: indifference towards animals, ethical treatment of animals and conscious rejection of animal-based services. These three perspectives determine the consumption or non-consumption of animal-based tourism services.
The seminar received positive feedback from the speakers and the audience. According to the audience, the seminar was useful for understanding the connection between animals and ethical consumption. In particular, the dialogue between industry representatives and academicians was seen as fruitful and rewarding.