Thomas Cook to cease promoting SeaWorld tickets over killer whale captivity
Thomas Cook, one of the UK’s largest tour operators, will next summer stop selling tickets to animal attractions that include killer whales.
The new policy announced over the weekend means SeaWorld in Florida, one of the world’s best-known attractions, and Loro Parque in Tenerife will be removed from the holiday firm’s site and brochures.
Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser said in a blog post that the decision was not one that was taken lightly and that it was in part motivated by changing customer expectations when it comes to animal attractions. The tour operator sells more than 10,000 day trips 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.”
He said the operator’s research showed that more than 90 per cent of customers want their holiday company to take animal welfare seriously.
Thomas Cook implemented an animal welfare policy 18 months ago that has led to the removal of 29 animal attractions from its books as they did not meet minimum standards set by Abta, the travel association. Only 20 now remain.
“When we introduced that policy, we recognised that customer expectations were changing when it comes to animal attractions,” said Fankhauser. “We also talked about the important role tourism has to play during the transition to ending practices that are known to harm animals.”
Fankhauser said SeaWorld and Loro Parque, which he did not identify by name, both passed the audit process, but would be dropped since they “keep orcas in captivity”.
In May Telegraph Travel reported that Thomas Cook had given SeaWorld three months to fix an issue that raised concerns at its Orlando park. Neither SeaWorld or Thomas Cook would give any further details. A SeaWorld spokesperson at the time said: “The audit process is ongoing, and while we recognize that the Abta standards and auditing process is still in its infancy, we continue to work with Thomas Cook through the process.”
Thomas Cook’s new policy is a blow to SeaWorld, which has seen visitor numbers fall since the release of documentary, Blackfish, which chronicled the fate of Tilikum, a captive whale at SeaWorld’s park in Orlando that was involved in the deaths of three people, including a veteran orca trainer. SeaWorld has called the film “manipulative”.
A number of public figures including actor Matt Damon, television host Sharon Osbourne and actor Ewan McGregor have previously appealed to Thomas Cook to cease selling the attraction.
“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 a statement 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 said that though it no longer breeds orcas “the current animals in our care will be with us and our visitors for many years to come”. It said that “millions of UK guests” visited its parks and that it would continue to “welcome the public” to them, adding: “They 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, popular with British visitors to the Canary island, said it wanted to thank Thomas Cook for its custom, adding that it had never had a complaint from the more than a million visitors booked through the tour operator.
As part of a longer statement, the park said: “The decision of Thomas Cook is clearly influenced by anti-zoo organizations leaded 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.”