“The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832),

There is a growing interest in the treatment of animals used in the tourism industry, yet the academic literature on the animal welfare consideration exhibited by tourists is limited. This exploratory study seeks to identify if demographic differences amongst tourists engaging in animal-based tourism influence the importance they attribute to the ethical treatment of those animals. The case study is based on elephant tourism in Thailand. A statistical analysis of 136 completed questionnaires demonstrates a statistically significant difference in animal welfare concerns between Asian and Western tourists, but no significant differences for gender, age, educational background, or research prior to travel. The findings suggest a need for further research on animal-based tourism to examine the link between tourist responsibility and animal welfare. Managerial implications emanate conclude the paper.

Soraya Worwag, Peter Varga, Laura Zizka

Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, HES-SO, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland

Corresponding Author: Peter Varga, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, HES-SO, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland, E-mail:

Image Credit: National Geographic


World Animal Protection has been moving the world to protect animals for more than 50 years. Currently working in over 50 countries and on 6 continents, it is a truly global organisation. Protecting the world’s wildlife from exploitation and cruelty is central to its work.

The Wildlife – not entertainers campaign aims to end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of wild animals used and abused in the tourism entertainment industry. The strength of the campaign is in building a movement to protect wildlife. Travel companies and tourists are at the forefront of taking action for elephants, and other wild animals.

Moving the travel industry

In 2010, TUI Nederland became the first tour operator to stop all sales and promotion of venues offering elephant rides
and shows, followed by others including Intrepid Travel who in 2013 was first to do so globally. By early 2017, over 160 travel companies made similar commitments after engaging with World Animal Protection. These companies now offer elephant-friendly tourism activities.

TripAdvisor announced in 2016 that it would end the sale of tickets for wildlife experiences where tourists come into direct contact with captive wild animals, including elephant riding. This decision came as a result of 550,000 people taking action with World Animal Protection to demand that TripAdvisor stops profiting from the world’s cruellest wildlife attractions.

Yet these changes are only the start. There is much more to be done to save elephants and other wild animals from suffering in the name of entertainment. As always, effective partnerships will be key to our success.

Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach graduated in veterinary medicine in Germany and completed a PhD on diagnosing health issues in Asian elephants. He has worked as a wild animal veterinarian, project manager and wildlife researcher in Asia for more than 10 years.

Dr Schmidt-Burbach has published several scientific papers on the exploitation of wild animals as part of the illegal wildlife trade and conducted a 2010 study on wildlife entertainment in Thailand. He speaks at many expert forums about the urgent need to address the suffering of wild animals in captivity.


This report has only been possible with the invaluable help of those who have participated in the fieldwork, given advice and feedback. Thanks particularly to: Dr Jennifer Ford, Lindsay Hartley-Backhouse, Soham Mukherjee, Manoj Gautam, Tim Gorski, Dananjaya Karunaratna, Delphine Ronfot, Julie Middelkoop and Dr Neil D’Cruze.

World Animal Protection is grateful for the generous support from TUI Care Foundation and The Intrepid Foundation, which made this report possible.

Image Credit Elephant Sanctuary Hartebeespoort Dam