Animal welfare

Written in collaboration with World Animal Protection

Updated 3 months ago
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As a Booking.com partner, you’re probably already aligned with our Animal Welfare Standards. These principles reflect our commitment to prioritizing the wellbeing of animals in the travel experiences we facilitate. In this section, we explore the topic of animal welfare in greater detail, covering not just the dos and don’ts but also the why – why the welfare of animals matters, and why it’s a crucial consideration for the long-term viability of our industry.

Experiencing the incredible diversity of wildlife that the planet has to offer can be an enriching part of the travel experience. Unfortunately, many popular tourist attractions and activities involve or result in the rights of animals being violated, in many cases in the form of cruelty and abuse. An especially problematic form of tourist attraction is wildlife entertainment – activities and attractions that allow people to have close contact with wild animals or see them perform. These often involve procedures that are stressful to animals or that otherwise encourage them to perform behaviors that are unnatural or harmful.

Animal welfare is a term that broadly refers to the treatment of non-human animals both in captivity and in the wild, and the impact this has on their physical and mental wellbeing. It applies to all animals in every context, from the elephants in Thailand and sea turtles in the Mediterranean to the cats in a Tel Aviv hostel and the ducks in Central Park.  

The Five Domains model, which builds on the original Five Freedoms tool, offers a good framework for understanding animal welfare. It outlines the five basic dimensions of wellbeing that must be addressed when meeting an animal’s welfare needs. However, it’s important to remember that a wild animal’s needs can only be fully met in the wild.  

 

The Five Freedoms The Five Domains
1. Freedom from hunger or thirst 1. Nutrition – factors that involve the animal's access to sufficient, balanced, varied, and clean food and water.
2. Freedom from discomfort 2. Environment – factors that enable comfort through temperature, substrate, space, air, odor, noise, and predictability.
3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease 3. Health – factors that enable good health through fitness and the absence of disease, injury, and impairment.
4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviors 4. Behavior – factors that provide varied, novel, and engaging environmental challenges through sensory inputs, exploration, foraging, bonding, playing, retreating, and others.
5. Freedom from fear and distress 5. Mental state – by presenting positive situations in the previous four functional domains, the mental state of the animal should benefit from predominantly positive states, such as pleasure, comfort, or vitality, while reducing negative states such as fear, frustration, hunger, pain, or boredom.
Why animal welfare matters

Animal welfare is included in our discussion of sustainability not only because of the fundamental importance of respecting other living creatures, but also due to its importance to the long-term viability of the travel and hospitality industries. At Booking.com, we see it as our responsibility to ensure that our industry doesn’t negatively impact the planet and its inhabitants, and that the world’s beauty is protected for generations to come. That’s why our Animal Welfare Standards play an important role in determining who we do business with.

Whether you have pets at your property or you organize tourist activities involving animals, it’s crucial that those experiences don’t negatively impact the animals in question. Our industries play an enormous role in the continuation of wildlife tourism and entertainment, which means we’re also well positioned to create positive change.

The environments that we live in—and which attract tourists from around the world—are kept vital by the other species that live in them. By working together to protect the welfare of animals, we can ensure that those environments last.

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Turtle
Four benefits of prioritizing animal welfare

1. You’ll guarantee future revenue

Being able to see different animals will continue to be an exciting part of traveling to a new place. Our 2019 survey found that 81% of global travelers consider outstanding natural scenery to be a key factor in their choice of destination, and indigenous animals have a direct impact on this experience. At the same time, travelers are increasingly informed and concerned about the welfare of the animals they encounter. A 2019 Kantar TNS survey found 85% of tourists believed tour operators should avoid activities that cause wild animals to suffer.

By having clear animal welfare standards in place, you’ll position yourself as a market leader. According to the same Kantas TNS survey, 64% of travelers said they wouldn’t use a tour operator if they knew the company promoted the use of wild animals in entertainment, while 79% who witnessed animal cruelty said they’d be willing to pay more for an activity if they knew the animals didn’t suffer.  

2. You’ll safeguard your reputation

Travelers care – and talk, too. People who witness cases of animal cruelty are increasingly sharing these experiences online, even starting campaigns to combat the poor practices they witness on their trips. Thanks to social media and other public forums, these causes receive more visibility than ever. That’s why implementing animal welfare standards is a long-term investment in your brand’s reputation.  

3. It helps build a resilient and responsible tourism economy

Our reliance on the natural world may be much less apparent today, but it still very much exists. This fact is often subtle, as in the case of beavers who create the wetlands that replenish our freshwater aquifers. Other times the delicate relationship between humans and the natural world is glaringly obvious, as in the case of COVID-19.

We’re inevitably impacted when the environment around us is thrown out of balance, which is why it’s in our best interest to protect wild animals and their natural habitats. Safeguarding the future of these ecosystems helps protect the future of the locations where we live and work. By taking on this responsibility, we support the resilience of the travel and hospitality industries.  

4. It promotes behaviors that protects human health

The health and welfare of humans, animals, and ecosystems are all interconnected. Around 60% of all diseases that currently affect humans and 75% of emerging diseases are zoonotic – caused by pathogens that jump from animals to humans. Upholding animal welfare standards is more than just a moral and financial imperative. It keeps people safe by drastically reducing the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. Phasing out the use of captive wildlife for entertainment is a crucial part of this.

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Elephant
How to start prioritizing animal welfare

Draft an animal welfare policy  

The best way to start putting animal welfare into focus is by integrating this priority into your business’s mission and vision. Drafting a policy on animal welfare cements your intentions, offering your team and partners clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable. World Animal Protection offers a toolkit that can help you draft, evaluate, and improve your animal welfare policy (see Appendix 2).  

Audit your partners and suppliers  

With a clear policy in place, you can begin to assess your current partnerships along your own guidelines. Do all your suppliers meet the standards you outlined in your animal welfare policy? Where is there room for improvement? If it exists, you can begin to phase out wildlife entertainment from your supply chain and start offering responsible tourism activities instead.  

Help your guests understand animal welfare  

Guests have as much responsibility toward animals as you. Offering them sustainable, animal-friendly experiences goes a long way toward protecting your local environment. Putting up signs or sharing leaflets on responsible wildlife tourism can also help guide their behavior – both during their stay with you and on future trips.

Show travelers what you’re doing

Have you already ensured that wild animals aren’t harvested, consumed, sold, displayed, or interacted with at your property? You can communicate this to travelers through our platform.

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