TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel website, has announced a new collaboration with Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) involving the creation of an online education portal to help inform travellers about the standards of care for wild, captive, and endangered species in tourism.
A year ago, WildCRU's Professor David Macdonald and Dr Tom Moorhouse published a research paper exploring the impact of tourism on wild animals through activities such as elephant rides, big cat petting and dolphin displays – a study that showed there were substantial problems within the industry, but also that there was an enormous opportunity to do immense good for animal welfare and conservation.
In a statement, TripAdvisor confirmed it would discontinue selling tickets for certain animal-based tourism experiences and would aim to set up the education portal by early 2017.
Professor Macdonald, from Oxford's Department of Zoology and the founding Director of WildCRU, said: 'We are delighted that TripAdvisor has announced it plans two radical steps towards ensuring that tourism can become a greater force for conservation and a lesser force for the exploitation of wild animals.
'The tip of the iceberg, conspicuous above the water, is the welfare of wild animals in tourist attractions, but hidden beneath the metaphorical waterline can be a huge cascade of effects on the welfare of animals in the wild, and far-reaching impacts on their conservation.
'If our involvement in TripAdvisor's education portal can help us inform millions of tourists about the likely impact of their choices on wildlife conservation, WildCRU will be proud. Beyond informing them, if we can contribute to driving change in the industry to improve conservation standards in tourism, we will be even more proud.
'We at WildCRU are professional researchers, and we are especially excited about using our analytical skills to collaborate with colleagues at TripAdvisor to research how the education portal affects behaviour change and conservation outcomes.'
TripAdvisor said the education portal would provide links and information on animal welfare practices, helping travellers to write more informed reviews about their experiences and to be aware of opinions that exist on the conservation implications and benefits of some tourism attractions. The content will provide numerous points of view from experts in the fields of sustainable tourism, animal welfare, wildlife conservation and the zoological and marine sciences – including WildCRU.
Speaking about the collaboration, Professor Macdonald said: 'In the first instance, this means that Tom Moorhouse and I will be writing short articles for the portal to inform and guide travellers about the likely impact of their custom on the wildlife held at, or sourced for, tourist attractions.
'Perhaps even more excitingly, in terms of the potential to change people’s behaviour for the betterment of both wildlife conservation and animal welfare, we will develop with TripAdvisor research strands on information and consumer choice, investigating ways to inform consumer behaviour to facilitate beneficial outcomes.'
Dr Moorhouse added: 'We are convinced that research into the choices of tourists and their impacts on the welfare and conservation of wild animals is a powerful tool for enabling tourism to deliver greater benefits for wildlife.'
WildCRU made huge headlines last summer when Cecil, a lion being tracked by Oxford researchers in a Zimbabwean national park, was shot by a big-game hunter. The incident led to more than US$1m being donated to WildCRU's conservation research by members of the public within six months of Cecil's killing.