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.
Animals have become a very important part of tourism and leisure experiences of tourist visiting the Nordic countries. Animals play different roles in tourism. They can be in captivity ( zoos), in the wild (bear watching) or as as part of tourism activities (horseback riding). The picture of animals or human-animal encounters have become common in the marketing and promotion material of Nordic destinations.
For example, the marketing campaigns of Finland, Norway and Sweden include animals to a greater extent. By taking a glance at Visit Finland, Visit Norway and Visiting Sweden travel portals, one will soon notice the images of wildlife animals, horses, huskies and reindeer among other. These images become stronger and more prevalent as soon as we look for further northern destinations such as Northern Norway, Swedish Lapland and Finnish Lapland. Reindeer and huskies are not only represented as one of the main attractions, but they have also become an important branding element of these places. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a visit to Lapland without huskies or reindeer.
Huskies, reindeer and horses in Lapland
Although the tourism industry in Lapland is aware of the significance of animals, there was a lack of knowledge about the current situation of animal-based tourism services. How many animal-based tourism companies are operating in Lapland? Which and how many animals are used in the creation of tourism experiences? Where are these animals situated? What is the economic impact of animal-based tourism services? In the project, Animal Welfare in Tourism Services, we conducted a study to find out answers to these questions.
This study identified a total of 158 animal-based tourism service firms in Lapland. A total of 53 firms offered services such as hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. We were able to locate 42 husky, 34 reindeer and 11 equestrian farms. These companies are well-distributed across Lapland.
Although the turnover of animal-based tourism services represents2,4 % of the total turnover of the Lapland tourism industry, these services play still an major role in the economy of Lapland. Indeed, they bring value to local tourism brands and attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to Lapland. From this perspective, we clearly see that animals have an impact on the turnover of tourism programme service companies, restaurants and hotels. For example, we identified 42 destination management organizations (DMO) in Lapland, which do not own animals, but the sales of animal-based tourism services represent a significant share of their annual turnover. Indeed, we can argued that animal-based tourism services have a considerably direct and indirect impact on Lapland’s economy.
A more detailed report of the study is available HERE.
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.
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.
At the beginning of November, we helped organize a seminar focusing on well-being at work in tourism. Animal tourism work was included in the seminar programme (in Finnish). We cannot neglect animals when discussing well-being in relation to tourism work. Indeed, tourism work is performed by both people and animals. As David Fennell (2012) explains, animals perform different form of labor (e.g. pulling, carrying) that contributes to tourism experiences in unique settings. Furthermore, in our project, we have identified a clear relationship between the well-being of workers and animals laboring in animal-based tourism firms. The animal welfare presentations in the seminar were giving by Mikko Äijälä, Outi Kähkönen and Miia Merkku from Arctic Reindeer. The presentation can be found here.
Animal tourism work in Lapland
Tourism work in Lapland touches the lives of thousands of humans and animals. In fact, many of the services sold to tourists are based on animals such as huskies, reindeer and horses among other species. In Particular, huskies and reindeer are popular among international tourists. Sled dog and reindeer safaris are usually among the top 10 things to do in Lapland. Last year sled dog safaris overcame snow mobile safaris as the most popular winter activity. Snow mobiles were on the top since its introduction in the late 1980s. Now sled dog safaris are in and growing very fast.
The organization and execution of these safaris demand trained staff who knows how to work with the animals. In Lapland, there are around 2000 tourism workers working directly with animals. The work may included safari guiding, feeding, taking care of the animals as well as their shelters. As a result, the lives of these workers and animals are closely interrelated. We have estimated the number of animal working in tourism to be around ten thousand. Approximately 70 per cent of them are huskies and 15 per cent reindeer. These two animal species work mainly in the winter season. Animal welfare is one of the issues that need to be considered in a fast growing Lapland tourism industry.
The concept of animal work
Kendra Coulter just published a book called “Animals, Work and the Promise of Interdisciplinary Solidarity”. She uses the concept of animal work as framework to critically evaluate the work done with, by and for animals. In the book, Kendra challenges the reader to reflect on work involving animals and its implications for both human and animal well-being. In particular, she draws attention to the connections and differences between work performed by people and animals. Although we recognize that human and animal workers are connected, their situation is not similar. For example, animal workers do not have a choice about what they do and where they work. Also, as Kendra points out, laws and policies are in place to better protect people at work. There is lack of legal infrastructure for governing animals’ working lives. If you are interested in human-animal labor relations, this book should be part of your book shelf collection.
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.