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NEEDHAM, Mass. - TripAdvisor will no longer book attractions that come into contact with captive wild animals or endangered species as a part of a "commitment to improve wildlife welfare standards in tourism," the company announced Wednesday.
"TripAdvisor and its Viator brand will discontinue selling tickets for specific tourism experiences where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species, including but not limited to elephant rides, petting tigers and swim with dolphin attractions," the company wrote in an official statement.
According to the New York Times, the decision is the first of its kind by a leading travel booking site.
"TripAdvisor's new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections," said Stephen Kaufer, president and CEO, TripAdvisor. "At the same time, we want to celebrate those destinations and attractions that are leaders in caring for animals and those in the tourism industry who help further the cause of animal welfare, conservation and the preservation of endangered species. We want to thank the dozens of trade groups, academics and nongovernmental organizations who helped us design our path forward as a company."
Instead of removing activities that feature captive and endangered animals from the site, TripAdvisor is enacting educational opportunities. Banned activities will still appear on the site, but instead of being able to book them, customers will be able to "learn from experts about responsible interactions with wild, captive, and endangered species and the relationships between tourism and conservation," Conde Nast Traveler reported. Among the groups that will provide expertise are World Animal Protection, Oxford University's WildCRU and PETA.
"We believe the end result of our efforts will be enabling travelers to make more thoughtful choices about whether to visit an animal attraction and to write more meaningful reviews about those attractions," Kaufer said.
Many activist groups praised the move.
"This animal abuse is a hidden by-product of the tourism industry. Millions of people look at TripAdvisor every day to guide what they see and do," Steve McIvor, CEO of World Animal Protection, told National Geographic. "This is a significant step towards ending the sale of hundreds of cruel wildlife activities and sends a message to the travel industry and millions of users that wildlife entertainment such as taking tiger selfies or riding elephants is not something you should do."
"TripAdvisor is a leader in the industry, and we understand and applaud that this is a precedent-setting move," Stephanie Shaw, a corporate liaison for PETA, said.
But Conde Nast Traveler pointed out that certain animal attractions, "including activities such as horseback riding and aquarium touch-pools where guests can pet wildlife under the supervision of experts," will continue to be offered through the site. Day-passes to SeaWorld were still available on the site as of Wednesday afternoon.
TripAdvisor's new policy is set to be completely implemented by early 2017.