Auditing animal welfare in tourism

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.

Photo: JC García-Rosell

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.

Photo: JC García-Rosell

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.

 

Text: José-Carlos García-Rosell and Mikko Äijälä.

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Towards good animal-based tourism practices in Lapland

Launching the process of action and research

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.

 

Photos: JC García-Rosell & Tarja Salmela

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.

What next?

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.

 

 

Text: J.C. García-Rosell

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Animal Tourism Finland goes UK!

During the first week of September, Animal Tourism Finland visited the UK. The main reason for the trip was to take part in the conference “The Visitor Economy: Strategies and Innovations” organized by Bournemouth University. The conference included a track on animals and tourism. The session was organized by Prof. Susanna Curtin (Bournemouth University) and Prof. David Fennell (Brock University). After the conference we traveled to London to meet with Hugh Felton and Clare Jenkinson from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). Animal Tourism Finland was represented by J.C. García-Rosell, Tarja Salmela and Mikko Äijälä.

Animals and tourism

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.

The presentations

There were six presentations in the track. Three of them were delivered by Animal Tourism Finland researchers. Indeed, Tarja Salmela, Mikko Äijälä and J.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.

 

Text: JC García-Rosell

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Responsible whale watching practices – Salka

Salka Whale Watching

Last May, Animal Tourism Visit Finland visited Salka Whale Watching in Húsavík, Iceland. Salka Whale Watching is a family owned tourism company. It takes visitors to see whales, puffins and other wildlife on traditional oak boats. The company is strongly committed to sustainability and responsible tourism practices. Indeed, Salka is one of the 12 IceWhale operators operating in Iceland. As an IceWhale operator Salka follows IceWhale code of conduct for responsible whale watching. The company has also been a key supporter of the “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us” campaign which has aimed to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. As a joint project between IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and IceWhale (the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers), the campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us”, has been around since summer 2010. As a result of this campaign, no restaurant in Húsavík serves whale meat nowadays.

 

Photo: JC García-Rosell

 

Húsavík

Húsavík is well-known for being  one of the best places in the world to see whales. Indeed, Skjálfandi Bay, where Húsavík is located, is a plankton- rich area. No wonder why whale watching in Iceland started in this small town. Due to this long history and high percentage of whales, Húsavík deserves to be called “the whale  capital of Iceland”. During the visit, Animal Tourism Finland was able to learn more about Salka’s operations and their responsible approach to whale watching. The visit was crowned with a whale watching tour on Salka’s oat boat “Fanney”. The tour was a great opportunity for experiencing Salka’s whale watching practices in action.

In the video below, Loes de Heus from Salka tells more about their services, customers and responsible whale watching practices.

 

 

Text: J.C. García-Rosell

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EAZA – an animal welfare standard

EAZA is one of the animal welfare standards used in Europe. EAZA stands for European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. As a membership organization, it aims to improve animal welfare, education, research and conservation. The organization was founded in 1992 and it counts with over 370 member institutions in 44 countries throughout Europe and the Middle East. In Finland, Helsinki Zoo, Ähtäri Zoo and Ranua Zoo are accredited by EAZA.  EAZA is one of the standards included in the study “Quality monitoring practices in animal-based tourism” (see our previous post)

In the video below, Ranua Zoo’s Curator Mari Heikkilä tells briefly about EAZA membership, its benefits and how it contributes to animal welfare. She also discusses the challenge of measuring and assessing animal welfare in practice. Finally, she explains what other animal welfare certifications could learn from EAZA.

 

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Whale watching with sustainability principles – Elding

Certified whale watching

This post includes a short interview with Sveinn H. GuðmundssonElding’s Quality and Environmental Manager. I met Sveinn during my visit to Iceland in early May. We talked about responsible whale watching and the role of environmental certifications and labels in promoting it. In fact, Elding – adventures at sea follows EarthCheck and Blue Flag’s standards along with IceWhale’s guidelines. The company has also been strongly committed to the “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us” campaign which has aimed to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. As a joint project between IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and IceWhale (the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers), the campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us,” has been around since summer 2010.

 

Photo: JC García-Rosell

 

Supporting research and responsible tourism practices

In addition to these standards and guidelines, Elding takes part in international cooperation on the future of whale watching. The company has also strong cooperation with marine biologists and wildlife researchers . Sveinn also mentioned that Elding is the first and only environmentally certified whale watching company in Iceland. According to Sveinn environmental certifications are an useful tool for managing Elding’s operations in a responsible way.

Elding also takes seriously its educational role in tourism. During the tours, Elding’s guides not only explain about the whales, but also how toutists themselves can support responsible tourism practices. For example, they make tourists aware that whale meat is not part of Icelandic traditional gastronomy. The campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us,” has actually contributed to the decrease of whale meat among tourists.

During my visit to Iceland, I joined once more a whale watching tour with Elding. It was my second time. We were able to see minke whales, dolphins, puffins and other birds. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a shot of the minke whale. They were to fasts for me. Nevertheless, the dolphins stayed with us for a while.

Sveinn H. Guðmundsson will be one of the speakers in this year’s Lapland Tourism Parliament. The event will take place in Rovaniemi at the University of Lapland on September 21-22, 2017. So you may have the possibility to meet Sveinn in person and share some thoughts with him.

 

 

Text: JC García-Rosell

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Building up expertise for responsible animal-based tourism

During our visit to Helsinki (see post April 28, 2017), we had a chance to have a cup of coffee and discuss our future collaboration with wonderful people representing responsible tourism and animal welfare expertise. These people included Tytti McVeigh from The Finnish Association for Fair Tourism, Satu Raussi and Tiina Kauppinen from The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare and animal welfare consultant Essi Wallenius.

Experts in animal welfare and responsible tourism

We have been looking for experts to collaborate with our research team and the tourism companies involved in the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. Together with animal welfare and responsible tourism experts, we will focus on the development of criteria for the ethical treatment of animals used in tourism in the Arctic region. We are doing this in close collaboration with the project “Animal Welfare in Tourism Services”.  We will invite a selected group of experts to join workshops, meet the project companies, and engage in knowledge exchange about animal welfare in relation to responsible tourism. This group of experts will definitely complement  our tourism research expertise and help us to work towards the project objectives.  Furthermore, responsible tourism experts with practical experience will provide valuable insights into the value of animals in today’s tourism industry.

The Finnish Association for Fair Tourism

We were delighted to connect with Tytti McVeigh and Mia Halmén from the Finnish Association for Fair Tourism (FAFT). As a non-profit organization (NGO), FAFT takes a broad, global perspective on fair tourism. In so doing, it aims to promote responsible tourism by fostering dialogues about ethical choices when traveling. Moreover, FAFT aims to educate travelers and tourism operators about the principles of fair tourism. With FAFT’s expertise, we are able to gain further insights into the current recognition of animal welfare in global tourism. FAFT can also help us to identify existing challenges and opportunities for the development of ethical and quality criteria for animal-based tourism services. Indeed,  FAFT has been involved in the development of eco-certifications.

Photo: José-Carlos García-Rosell

The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare

As representatives of The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare (EHK in Finnish), Satu Raussi and Tiina Kauppinen are part of a network of animal welfare specialists in Finland. The Centre is funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland. EHK aims to improve and safeguard the welfare of animals through active stakeholder collaboration. The expertise of EHK, which is highly valuable for our project, is based on scientific research and knowledge. Indeed, Tiina and Satu can help us to understand animal welfare in general and in relation to tourism. In particular, we found their expertise to be essential for the development of criteria for the ethical treatment of animals in tourism. You can watch Satu’s and Tiina’s greetings in our post November 16, 2016.

Photo: José-Carlos García-Rosell

Animal Welfare consultants

Essi Wallenius works as an animal welfare consultant. Her expertise is in quality monitoring, auditing and communication of animal welfare. Essi holds a broad working experience in animal welfare. She has work in research, public offices and project consulting services related especially to welfare of livestock. In addition to her animal welfare expertise, Essi also has a wealth of experience in animal welfare communication. Indeed, Essi holds knowledge in responsible communication and marketing related to animal welfare. This knowledge is relevant for the development animal welfare communication strategies in the tourism industry.

We are really looking forward to starting our collaboration!

 

Text: Tarja Salmela-Leppänen, Mikko Äijälä & José-Carlos García-Rosell

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Get inspired by Iceland and its animals

Destination “Iceland”

I just came back from an inspiring trip to Iceland. I was captivated by the hospitality, nature and animals of this Nordic country. The main objective of my trip was to visit the University of Iceland in Reykjavik and Holar University College in North Iceland. The Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI) is strengthening research and educational collaboration with its Icelandic partners.  The trip was also an opportunity to visit and interview Icelandic tourism companies, which services are based on encounters with animals. From this perspective, the trip helped collect more data and information for the Work Package 1 of the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. The trip was funded by Erasmus+ and took place from May 1st till May 10th.

Animal-based tourism in Iceland

Horses and Whales

Animals are a very important element of tourism in Iceland. Icelandic horses are not only part of the brand of Iceland, but also a key constituent of Icelandic identity. Indeed, Icelandic people are very proud of their horses. Whale watching is also nowadays associated with a holiday in Iceland. According to Ice Whale20 per cent of tourists visiting Iceland take part in whale watching tours. The number of whale watching companies has considerably increased during the last decade. During this visit to Iceland, I was lucky to see two humpbacks whales and one minke whale from the shores of Hvammstangi in North Iceland. So with good luck, it is possible to see them from mainland too.

Photo: JC García-Rosell

Birds

With more than 300 bird species, Iceland is a paradise for birdwatchers. Several tourism companies focus on this particular customer group. There is a bird that has also caught the attention of most travelers, the puffin. This Nordic bird, which live on the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and come to land just for breeding, has become a sensation among tourists. Many whale watching companies offer puffing watching tours. In some cases, puffing watching is combined with whale watching. Puffins are not only clever birds, but also very cute. This is the reason why the puffin has become one of Iceland’s most popular souvenirs.

Hunting and fishing

Hunting and fishing are also part of the tourism offering of Iceland. Many tourists come to fish in rivers or on the sea. Reindeer hunting is also offered by some tourism wildlife companies. Icelandic reindeer are wild animals and live in the East part of the country.

Photo: JC García-Rosell

In Hvammstagi, there is also a tourism company that offers seal watching tours. A couple of companies in Iceland offer husky safaris. This is a new animal-based tourism service that could grow in the future. So Iceland offers a wide variety of animal-based activities and they are growing fast.

Meeting Icelandic tourism companies

Reykjavik

During this trip, I had the opportunity to talk about animal welfare with local tourism companies. I met Sveinn H. Guðmundsson, who is the Quality and Environmental Manager of Elding – a whale watching company. Elding is highly committed to animal welfare and environmental issues. I also met Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir and Meike Witt from Exploring Iceland. Steinunn is Managing Director of the company and Meike works as Sales and Product Manager. Exploring Iceland is an Icelandic tour operator selling outdoor activities and horseback riding tours. Animal welfare is one the key guiding principles of the company.

Photo: Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir

North Iceland

In Husavik, I met Erna Björnsdóttir and Loes de Heus from Salka Whale Watching. Erna is Marketing Director and Loes works as tour guide. Salka is a small whale watching company operating one (and soon two) fishing oak boats in Húsavík. This small Icelandic fishing town is known as the capital of whale watching.  Salka follows the Ice Whale code of conduct for responsible whale watching in Iceland and it has been active in the campaign “meet us, don’t eat us” in Húsavík. Because of the campaign, no whale meat can be found in the menus of Húsavík’s restaurants.

In Skagafjördur, I met Evelyn Ýr Kuhne, Eydís Magnusdóttir and Sigrún Ingriddóttir. These three female rural tourism entrepreneurs are jointly promoting their services under the name “The Icelandic Farms Animals”. Eydís owns Sölvanes Farmholidays which offers accommodation in an old farm house. She also offers visitors the opportunity to experience the everyday life of Icelandic sheep farmers.  Sigrún runs Stórhóll Runalist Galleri where visitors can find handicrafts made out of natural materials. Visitors can also visits the Icelandic goats and other farm animals. In addition to a farm environment in Lýtingsstaðir, Evelyn offers horseback riding tours with a touch of Icelandic cultural heritage. In fact, she has reconstructed an Icelandic old stable made of turf (see picture below).

Photo: JC García-Rosell

During the next months, I will publish posts and short videos about each of these visits. So stay tuned to learn more about responsible animal-based tourism in Iceland!

 

Text: José-Carlos García-Rosell

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Responsible animal tourism – Off-Piste Adventures

This blog post introduces a company case of responsible animal tourism from Finnish Lapland.  The post offers a short interview with Mia Lappalainen. She is one the owner of Off-Piste Adventures.  The company is situated in Outinen (Kemijärvi), close to Pyhä Ski Resort, Finland. Off-Piste Adventures is one of the 11 companies participating in the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”.In the interview, Mia talks about her company, reindeer and Finnhorses. She tells how horse riding is popular among domestic customers and reindeer safaris is a beloved activity among foreign visitors. In the interview, she explains how she uses the hierarchy of the horse herd when organizing the trail rides.  Mia also reflects on a possible business expansion and its implications for animal welfare. Off-Piste Adventures has a quality label from The Equestrian Federation of Finland. The interview was conducted by JC García-Rosell. Date: January 13, 2017.

 

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Responsible Animal Tourism – Polar Lights Tours

In this blog post, we present a company case of responsible animal tourism in Finnish Lapland.  The post offers a short interview with Päivi Hiukka. She is one of the owners of Polar Lights Tours.  The company is situated in Veitservasa, close to Levi Ski Resort, Finland. Polar Lights Tours is one of the 11 companies participating in the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”.In the interview, Päivi talks about her company and the role that animals play in her business. She also tells about their new horse open shed and the value of certifications for their business operations. Polar Lights Tours is certified by Priimatalli (Prime Stable) and Quality1000. The interview was conducted by Tarja Salmela in October 4, 2016.

 

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