Dr. Martha Honey, CREST Co-Director, has been invited to provide the keynote address at TBEX North America, which will be held September 11 – 13, 2014, in Cancun, Mexico. TBEX is the “world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators, and social media savvy travel industry professionals.”

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Dr. Martha Honey, CREST

Dr. Honey was invited by TBEX following backlash from a number of bloggers and industry professionals over TBEX’s inclusion of captive dolphin tours among the pre-onference tours scheduled by the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau. A number of potential conference participants were understandably irate about the captive dolphin tours, especially those that involved direct interaction with these extremely intelligent and emotional animals. Eco-blogger Bret Love, who is also a speaker at the conference, worked very hard with the Cancun CVB to request that these tours be removed from the schedule, and most were unaware of his effort behind the scenes. See Bret’s excellent blog post on Green Global Travel explaining the situation and, ultimately, the CVB’s agreement to cancel three dolphin tours.

TBEX invited Dr. Honey to speak in order to discuss this issue and, more broadly, what is responsible travel and what should be the role of travel media in responsible travel. Not only will her address provide a platform for this important conversation, but it should be used as an opportunity to drive change for the future. CREST welcomes the opportunity to participate to encourage meaningful dialogue that supports the CREST mission, to promote responsible tourism policies and practices globally so that local communities may thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity.

CREST has been asked by a number of bloggers to issue a statement on our stance on the captive dolphin tours, which we are happy to do. In recent years, CREST collaborated on several projects with the World Animal Project (formerly WSPA) and through this work we are convinced that respecting animal welfare is an important component of responsible travel. Put succinctly, our position is:

CREST believes wildlife belongs in the wild, and animal welfare is an essential component of responsible travel. As a minimum requirement, we believe in the “Five Freedoms” needed by all animals:

  • Sufficient and good quality food and water
  • A suitable living environment
  • An opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors
  • Protection from fear and distress
  • Good health

Check out Born Free UK’s Guide to the 5 Freedoms, which discusses the Five Freedoms in detail and also in context of captive animals.

Dolphins are extremely complex creatures, and we agree with World Animal Protection in that these animals “deserve to live a life free from captivity, where they can properly fulfill their social and behavioral needs.” A tank simply cannot provide them with the space, environment, and social freedom they need to thrive as they would in the wild. As stated by the tour operator Intrepid Travel, a highly respected leader in responsible travel, it is best to view wildlife where it belongs, but if a zoo or aquarium is ever visited, a visitor should make sure the facility adheres to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Code of Ethics before entering. What more, interactions with wild animals should never involve physical contact with people, feeding, or other actions that disturb or alter their natural behavior. These actions often cause extreme distress for the animal and is a health risk for both parties.

Finally, CREST works often in close collaboration and partnership with The Ocean Foundation. On the topic of captive marine animals, President Mark Spalding says, “We have admirable facilities that rescue and when possible rehabilitate and release marine mammals, sea birds and sea turtles. Some of these allow the public to visit and volunteer. And, many have advanced our knowledge of marine wildlife through research during their recovery. But like hospitals for humans, this is not where we want wild animals to spend their entire lives. We prefer to see them in the wild where they thrive.” For more information on the topics of marine mammal research, rehabilitation, and the human relationship with marine mammals, see Mr. Spalding’s blog post following the Southern California Marine Mammal Workshop.

CREST looks forward to discussing this and other issues with both bloggers and media professionals, who have at their fingertips a powerful tool for public education, which can ultimately transform the way the world travels.

Author bio:  The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) is a non-profit research institute with offices in Washington, DC and at Stanford University. Founded in 2003, its mission is to promote responsible tourism policies and practices globally so that local communities may thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity. CREST uses policy-oriented research to design, monitor, evaluate, and improve the social and environmental committments of responsible tourism, as well as to promote sustainable practices and principles within the wider tourism industry. It focuses on tourism’s potential as a tool for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.