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STA Travel, the travel company which provides affordable flights, accommodation, tours and expeditions packages for up to 2.5 million students and young adults each year has stopped tours to animal contact sites to ensure that the expeditions and tours that they offer meet the ethical standards demanded by their customers, some of whom were questioning the company’s current offers.
Tours which included the elephant rides and Tiger Temple in Thailand, an opportunity to see and touch tigers up close has been criticised for ‘obviously drugging’ their animals and ‘marching tourists through to pose with a tiger for a photo and marching them back out, just for commercial exploitation’. Trips to SeaWorld in Orlando and San Diego, which are usually a popular hit with mainstream tourists have also been called into question by STA after many customers complained about the treatment of captive animals after the release of controversial 2013 documentary ‘Blackfish’.
The company, who reported an annual turnover of more than £800 million last year, is reviewing its provision involving contact with animals. The company has turned to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for advice and the animal rights group is now likely to turn its sights on helping other big holiday companies to lead the way in ‘compassionate and responsible tourism’.
Kathryn Kirkpatrick, the manager of STA’s social responsibility programme said, “We are constantly assessing our products to make sure they are of a high quality and responsible. We take this seriously and listen carefully to feedback from animal welfare experts, customers and staff. If something isn’t up to our standards, we remove it. We have a responsibility to our customers to make sure they have a fantastic experience as well. We need to make sure our products are right for them. We will continue to deliver products if they are done in the right way”.