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.
In August 2017, we started an action research (AR) process that aims to produce and disseminate good practices concerning animal welfare. The focus is mainly on sled dogs, reindeer and horses. To that end, we invited our project companies to engage in a dialogue with each other and other stakeholders. Indeed, we want to create a fertile ground for the development of future animal welfare monitoring practices for the tourism industry in Lapland. The AR process consists of a planning, acting, observing and reflecting phase that will be implemented between August 2017 and April 2018. We illustrate the AR process and multi-stakeholder dialogue in the images below.
Small workshops on sled dogs, reindeer and horses
As the first step of the AR process, we invited the project companies to join a small workshop to discuss about animal welfare in relation to their own operations. In total, we organized four small workshops during August-October 2017. We divided the workshops according to animal species. Indeed, two workshops focused on sled dogs, one on reindeer and one on horses. The workshops took place in Muonio, Rovaniemi and Kuusamo. The discussions in the workshops were guided by – but not limited to – three main themes: information sharing, monitoring and the link between employees’ well-being and animal welfare. We identified these themes during previous studies conducted in the project. We audio-recorded all meetings. Then, we carefully examined and summarized the discussions from the meetings into a report.
Large workshop with companies and external experts
As second step of the AR process, we organized a large workshop in Rovaniemi on October 21, 2017. We invited the project companies and and key stakeholder representatives to join us in the event. The aim of the large workshop was to discuss the outcomes of the small workshops and receive feedback from stakeholders with expertise in animal welfare and responsible tourism. Indeed, we counted with the participation of representatives of two international tourism companies: Meike Witt (Exploring Iceland) and Vicki Brown (Responsible Travel). Also Satu Raussi (The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare) and Kati Pulli (Finnish Federation for Animal Welfare Associations) joined us to share their expertise on animal welfare. Finally, Mia Halmén (The Finnish Association for Fair Tourism) took part in the workshop as a responsible tourism expert. Before joining the workshop, these representatives read the report from the small workshops.
In the workshops, we were able to exchange ideas and views on how and what kind of practices should be developed for monitoring the welfare of sled dogs, reindeer and horses. In the next months, we will focus on developing a set of guidelines for animal welfare communication and questions for auditing animal welfare in tourism companies operating in Lapland. Furthermore, we will use these guidelines for performing animal welfare auditing simulations in some of the project companies. Meike Witt already helped us to develop questions for assessing the animal welfare practices of horse stables. We will keep reporting on the AR process. So stay tuned!
In the video below, Tarja Salmela and Meike Witt send some greetings and briefly tell about the work done so far.
Exploring Iceland is a tour operator selling Iceland as a destination. Among their services, the company offers horseback riding tours with Icelandic horses. During my visit to Iceland in early May, I had the opportunity to visit this Icelandic tourism company. I met Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir (Owner and Managing Director) and Meike Witt (Sales and Product Manager). We sat down over a cup of coffee and talk about their company, Icelandic horses and animal welfare in tourism. Indeed, animal welfare is one of the guiding principles of the company.
Exploring Iceland has its own animal welfare policy which provides guidance for the responsible and respectful treatment of Icelandic horses. Both Exploring Iceland’s employees and business partners are expected to follow the animal welfare policy. Steinunn and Meike recognize the relevance of animal welfare in the tourism industry. Moreover, they believe that animal welfare is an essential aspect of responsible tourism.
By visiting Exploring Iceland, I was able to gain further insights into animal welfare in a Nordic context. I was also able to confirm that there is a need for certifications that focus on the welfare of horses used in tourism.
In the video below, Meike talks about their horse riding tours and some of the animal welfare practices of Exploring Iceland. If you want to know more about my visit to Iceland, please check our post from May 10, 2017.