Thomas Cook, one of the UK’s largest tour operators, won’t be selling tickets to animal attractions that feature killer whales. The company’s new policy will directly affect SeaWorld in Florida, and Loro Parque in Tenerife, which will no longer be included on the firm’s online site or in brochures.
Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser says that the decision was not taken lightly and was motivated by customer expectations in regards to animal attractions. The tour operator was selling over 10,000-day tickets a year to SeaWorld Florida.
“I am clear about the kind of business we want to be,” he said. “And when so many of our customers are so clear in their view, I could not allow our business to ignore them.”
Company research shows that more than 90 percent of customers take animal welfare seriously. An animal welfare policy was instituted 18 months ago at Thomas Cook. Since then, 29 animal attractions have removed from the site after they failed to meet minimum standards set by Abta, a travel association. Currently, there are only 20 animal attractions featured on the site.
“When we introduced that policy, we recognized that customer expectations were changing when it comes to animal attractions," Fankhauser said. "We also talked about the important role tourism has to play during the transition to ending practices that are known to harm animals.”
Though SeaWorld and Loro Parque passed the audit process, they will be dropped since they “keep orcas in captivity.” In May, Thomas Cook gave SeaWorld three months to address the issues at the park.
The new policy will further damage SeaWorld’s reputation, which has been seriously affected by the release of the documentary, Blackfish, which tells the tale of Tilikum, a captive whale at SeaWorld that caused the deaths of three people, including a veteran orca trainer. SeaWorld says the film is “manipulative”. A number of celebrities, including actors Matt Damon and Ewan McGregor, had asked Thomas Cook to stop promoting SeaWorld.
"If we accept, as we must, that orcas are highly intelligent, social animals who feel pain and joy, love and grief, and fear and longing, then we must also reject facilities that profit from denying these ocean dwellers everything that's natural and important to them," French explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau said in May. "As such, the only logical, ethical outcome of this audit must be for Thomas Cook to sever its ties with SeaWorld entirely and immediately."
SeaWorld responded by saying, "The current animals in our care will be with us and our visitors for many years to come". They added that "millions of UK guests have seen first-hand the incredible care we provide all of our animals and learned about how we are protecting and saving species in the wild."
Loro Parque, which is popular with British visitors to Tenerife, issued a statement saying, "The decision of Thomas Cook is clearly influenced by anti-zoo organizations led by a minority of activists not really concerned about the animals, but just aimed in destroying the zoos and their conservation, research and educational activities. But this will not change our determination to continue working for the welfare of every single animal in this world, and for the conservation of the biodiversity in a planet threatened by the sixth extinction as has been scientifically proven."