Over the years, tourism has become one of the most important economic sectors in Finnish Lapland. Animals have played a very important role in supporting this development. Animal-based activities are not only very popular among tourists, but also one of the reasons for visiting northern Finland. Furthermore, animals such as sled dogs, reindeer, and Finnhorses have become an important branding element of Lapland and other Nordic destinations.
Animal welfare as a criterion for responsible tourism
We have created three guides aiming to facilitate the process of evaluating animal welfare in tourism in Finland. Their focus is on three animal species: sled dogs, reindeer, and horses. The guides are highly relevant at a time when animal welfare in tourism is being pushed forward due to consumer demand. While many tourists feel that close interaction with animals is an exciting way of spending a holiday, they also are aware of the negative impacts that tourism can have on animals. As a result, animal welfare has become a critical criterion used by tour operators to select their suppliers.
Evaluating animal welfare in Finnish tourism
The guides provide a group of specific themes and focused questions to evaluate the welfare of sled dogs, reindeer and horses involved in tourism operations. In doing so, the guides recognized the nature of these animal species with different welfare needs. They also draw attention to their welfare in relation to the working environment and conditions shaped by the tourism industry. Indeed, the guides aim to help animal-based tourism companies, destination marketing companies, tour operators, and other stakeholders to identify the issues that need to be considered to guarantee the welfare of these three animal species.
These guides build a solid foundation for the future development of animal welfare criteria for auditing systems, certification, or other similar assessment tools focusing on dogs, reindeer and horses as a tourism working animals. The guides are available in both English and Finnish language. To access the guides click on the links below.
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 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.