TBEX Mission & Programming Ethics

 

We often tell prospective destinations that hosting TBEX is like offering the world’s biggest press trip. It’s a chance for a destination to showcase its tourism product, the attractions that make up the backbone of the destination’s tourism economy.

rickcalvert_blogworldPart of this amazing opportunity is the ability to host a variety of tours and excursions that will give attendees a small sampling of what the destination has to offer visitors, a sampling that they, in turn, can share with their readers. Each destination creates a wide range of itineraries to offer TBEX attendees. For example, these may include food and shopping experiences, historical tours, ecological tours, adventure tours, cultural experiences, museums, even wildlife and zoological experiences.

When we were in Cancun for our site visit, there were three dolphin related tour companies that came to meet us. They subsequently provided itineraries for Cancun to offer to TBEX attendees. This has the TBEX community talking. Talking about issues is good. Talking about issues where everyone has a chance to get full information and respond is even better.

So let’s talk.

First let me share the Mission of TBEX.

TBEX exists to provide educational content and networking opportunities that benefit both bloggers and the travel industry, and in doing so, raising the standards of professionalism on both sides. This creates more opportunities for content creators and delivers measureable value to the travel industry.

We are passionately committed to this mission, and to the belief that new media has empowered all of us in a way never before seen in human history. New media gives everyone the opportunity to share their opinion no matter what his or her views are.

Our goal is to give you everything we can to help you chart your own success, leaving it up to you to pick and choose what best fits your personal preferences and business plan. We know you may not like everything on the program, but we hope the diversity of information helps you connect with what will be most useful to YOU.

We are not a political event. We are a professional development event. We are an advocacy organization. We advocate for you, the travel content creator. It is not in keeping with our mission to advocate on one side or the other of a political debate.

The same is true for any tourist board. Their job is to bring visitors to the destination and to represent their private industry partners who make up their local travel industry.  There is a saying in the travel industry:  the job of the tourist board is to put “heads on beds”.

Even though TBEX isn’t political, and tourism boards as a whole are not political in nature, it still begs the question – is there a line, and if so where is it?

The honest answer is yes. There is a line. But there is a very high threshold to crossing that line.

We know that some of you are offended by these dolphin programs. Some even find the concept abhorrent and consider it animal cruelty.  You have been very vocal about your beliefs and convictions.  Some have asked, or even demanded, that we remove these experiences from the program.  We respect you and your beliefs. We have heard you. And we understand you. But at the same time, numerous others members of our community have excitedly signed up for those same experiences and have emailed us to ask that we do not cancel them.

There are numerous advocates for these programs who believe they offer valuable research and that their practice is humane. There is obviously an active debate both outside and within the TBEX Community. It would not be ethical for us to choose a side in this debate. Doing so would be doing a disservice to some part of our community and violating our mission to advocate on behalf of ALL content creators.

We believe the TBEX community is made up of professionals who can accept people with differing views, never allowing a healthy debate to turn into personal attacks or insidious conversation aimed at any attendee. In fact, encouraging constructive discussion is exactly in line with TBEX’s mission.

I know some of you may be upset with this decision, but I sincerely hope you can respect the reasoning behind it.

You have only seen the tip of the iceberg in the trips and excursions that will be offered by Cancun and their partners. There will be diversity in the opportunities, including cultural and local experiences, and we believe that there will be something that will pique the interest of all our attendees.

This is a good debate to have. Change can come out of debate, so feel free to sound off in the comment section below, on your own blogs, and the social channels.

We value you. We hope you will find many other excursions that you are passionate about exploring and blogging about when you join us in Cancun this September for TBEX North America.

Thank you for understanding and respecting our mission here at TBEX.

Rick Calvert

 

***Update 7/12/14****

This has been a very active debate and I thought it was important to include some more information.

Some of accused us of including these programs on behalf of sponsors and to make money.

Fact, the company providing these tours is not a sponsor. TBEX has not been compensated monetarily or otherwise.

Diana from d travels’ round has been very active in this discussion. All of her comments have been thoughtful and respectful. I felt it was appropriate to include her latest comment here. My reply to her comment is below as well.

Diana’s comment:

That is the problem though: your audience is not that knowledgeable. Speaking from experience and working in both the PR and blogger sides, most bloggers don’t know the truth about animal tourism and without someone actually taking the time to educate them, they won’t. I’ve come across so many in my time working with responsible tourism who tell me they wish they would have known the truth about whatever animal attraction it is they supported and wrote about, because then they would not have written/advocated for it. People learn because thought leaders, brands, etc. speak out and make it a priority to educate.

My reply:

 Fair point and very well said Diana. They should be. Isn’t it their job as providers of information to educate themselves and share that information with their audience? Isn’t that your job?

Imagine if every blogger who signed up for one of these trips came home and wrote a story that agreed with your point of view. How many more people would be educated?

This is the point I have been trying to make from the beginning. Our audience is not made up of consumers. It is made up of new media content creators and travel industry professionals. TBEX is not for the general public. This is an important distinction. Part of our job is to teach new media content creators how to improve their investigative skills, how to write and communicate effectively and deliver real value to their audience. In order to do that, they need to gather information.

It is their job to educate the public.

Our critics are taking the position that some sources of information are acceptable and others should be censored. That they have found the truth and no further debate or fact finding is needed. That our audience is too naive to learn and decide for themselves. That is completely contrary to what we believe and what we advocate for on behalf of new media content creators.

We are not trying to defend these programs or promote them. We included them because local businesses offered them. We think our audience is / should be sophisticated enough to make the decision of taking one of these tours and then writing objectively about their experience for themselves.

 

We hope more of our community uses this debate to educate themselves about this subject.

 

Comments

  1. From this, I note that TBEX management has a rather different viewpoint of both its mission and responsibilities than what I, and many others, believed it was and should be. I won’t be attending TBEX Cancun, and it’s unlikely I’ll be attending any other TBEX in the future.

    I “understand and respect your mission”, as you’ve stated it to be — I just don’t choose to share it.

    • Thank you Dave for taking the time to comment. Would you mind if I asked what you think our mission should be?

  2. This post is incredibly disappointing. As a leading travel blogging conference, I think that TBEX SHOULD take a stand. I am deeply involved in responsible tourism and have been working in promoting responsible animal tourism for more than two years. To see this is incredibly disheartening. As a place where people go to learn about best practices and blogging, wouldn’t it make sense to help educate travel bloggers about the impact of their words and how their words directly influence their readers to make either responsible or irresponsible decisions? By simply saying TBEX chooses not to get involved makes it seem as if this isn’t an important enough or sexy enough topic, or it will likely piss off sponsors who are providing said attractions. Actions like this simply exacerbate problems. Why can’t TBEX be a thought leader and come out and encourage participants to respect the world in which they travel? To me, not taking a stand, not saying “you know what, thanks but no thanks” just reminds those out there who turn to TBEX for guidance that ethics and being responsible and helping the world isn’t what is important; what’s important are the numbers, the photos, the SEO, and that is just a shame.

    • We completely agree with you and the simple answer to this question is YES Diana:

      As a place where people go to learn about best practices and blogging, wouldn’t it make sense to help educate travel bloggers about the impact of their words and how their words directly influence their readers to make either responsible or irresponsible decisions?

      There are other travel bloggers who disagree with you. We represent them as well as you. They believe they are just as responsible as you are.

      The company offering these tours is not a TBEX sponsor. It has nothing to do with our decision.

      • With all due respect, that sounds like a huge cop out. If you recognize the importance of education and making responsible versus irresponsible decisions, why not at least explain what responsible tourism is and why it is important to the world? World Travel Market has an entire responsible tourism track, accredits organizations for being responsible and is clearly leading the way as a major through leader and influencer to many of the same audience members of TBEX. There is WTTC, Intrepid, STA, G Adventures, and many, many others who have all come out and said that responsible tourism is important, that it is something the industry needs to take notice of, to support, and yet, TBEX chooses to straddle a fence versus encourage ethical travel decisions. I feel that a decision like this simply shows a company that dubs themselves the future of travel media has yet to see the importance of promoting responsible tourism, nor does it care about the attitude they foster among travel bloggers. Why not take a stance and say, “we want to build help show the rights and wrongs in the world” and let people know how their decisions to support or not support/be responsible or irresponsible directly impacts people, places, animals, etc.?

        • We are definitely including a session on responsible tourism in Cancun. Our audience consists of travel media professionals (AKA bloggers, podcasters, video producers) as well as traditional media types who are using new media.

          We believe our audience is knowledgeable enough to make their own choices, and advise their own communities of their position and make recommendations to that audience.

          • That is the problem though: your audience is not that knowledgeable. Speaking from experience and working in both the PR and blogger sides, most bloggers don’t know the truth about animal tourism and without someone actually taking the time to educate them, they won’t. I’ve come across so many in my time working with responsible tourism who tell me they wish they would have known the truth about whatever animal attraction it is they supported and wrote about, because then they would not have written/advocated for it. People learn because thought leaders, brands, etc. speak out and make it a priority to educate.

          • Fair point and very well said Diana. They should be. Isn’t it their job as providers of information to educate themselves and share that information with their audience? Isn’t that your job?

            Imagine if every blogger who signed up for one of these trips came home and wrote a story that agreed with your point of view. How many more people would be educated?

            This is the point I have been trying to make from the beginning. Our audience is not made up of consumers. It is made up of new media content creators and travel industry professionals. TBEX is not for the general public. This is an important distinction. Part of our job is to teach new media content creators how to improve their investigative skills, how to write and communicate effectively and deliver real value to their audience. In order to do that, they need to gather information.

            It is their job to educate the public.

            Our critics are taking the position that some sources of information are acceptable and others should be censored. That they have found the truth and no further debate or fact finding is needed. That our audience is too naive to learn and decide for themselves. That is completely contrary to what we believe and what we advocate for on behalf of new media content creators.

            We are not trying to defend these programs or promote them. We included them because local businesses offered them. We think our audience is / should be sophisticated enough to make the decision of taking one of these tours and then writing objectively about their experience for themselves.

  3. This is one of the most naive statements about the nature of tourism I have ever read. The idea that tourism boards are not political (little p or big P) is just plain wrong. And it is deeply disturbing to read that TBEX holds this view, amongst others, when the organisation is trying to position itself as a leading and influential force within the travel blogging community. Sadly this piece does much to explain the (mis)conception that travel bloggers are just out for a free ride.

    • First off, thank you for taking the time to comment Thomas. The point I was trying to make is that tourism boards do everything they can to avoid political debates. Choosing a side is bad for business and is not part of their mission. Do they have to deal with politics. Of course they do.

      Does that clarification help or do we still disagree?

      What does this issue have to do with travel bloggers getting a free ride or not?

  4. I am actually happy that the dolphin programs have remained on the list. I feel it will give an opportunity for people to see for themselves what it is really like. I know the participants will not get full behind the scenes info, but by seeing it for themselves they will be able to share with their readers what it is truly like at these facilities rather than just watching a movie and basing a decision on that. Although I agree that even in the documentaries it is quite damning!

    I agree that these places typically create a terrible environment but at the same time I would rather see for myself and give the public real knowledge from someone who has seen it with their own eyes. I plan to attend and be extremely honest with my readers about my true opinions on the subject. I already feel very against this practice and prefer to see animals in the wild in a setting that does little to disturb them but I also feel it can be very helpful for people to hear from someone who actually has been there.

    • Thank you for the comment Mary. I agree with you completely. Your readers deserve an honest review no matter what the product is.

    • Mary — as someone who works with animals who have been abused by the tourism industry, it is very important that you dig deep. Simply seeing what you think are animals being “happy” does not equate to that. Speak with an animal expert not associated with this trip. Get an idea of their behaviors and lives outside of a tank versus in. Like most places with animals, smoke and mirrors normally wins, and most people — even some of the best bloggers out there — cannot discern the difference. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about this offline. 🙂

      • Diana, Thanks for commenting back to me. I totally understand your position and truth be told I hold the same opinion. I know that their lives are far better outside in the wild as is nearly any animals life. I have spoken with experts and I have done loads of research. BUT that being said I also think, especially for lay people, that it is more valuable to have first hand knowledge to back up all my other viewpoints on the subject. I will be asking them tough questions when I get there and will be reporting back to my readers honestly, including information that I have gained from other outlets. I will be able to discern the difference, have no fear!

  5. “Our goal is to give you everything we can to help you chart your own success, leaving it up to you to pick and choose what best fits your personal preferences and business plan. We know you may not like everything on the program, but we hope the diversity of information helps you connect with what will be most useful to YOU.
    We are not a political event. We are a professional development event. We are an advocacy organization. We advocate for you, the travel content creator. It is not in keeping with our mission to advocate on one side or the other of a political debate.”

    I respect and understand this position.

  6. I think it would be very helpful to have sessions – and debates – about responsible tourism at this year’s TBEX events.

  7. I am seriously disappointed at this response, and will not be attending TBEX Cancun this year, and very unlikely to attend in the future either.

    TBEX does not seem to represent me as an independent travel writer, or the travel blogger community as a whole.

    If TBEX wants to proclaim itself as the leading representative force within the travel blogging community, then it has a right – a duty – not to take a weak, vacillating stance on such an important issue. Especially when other leading industry professionals such as STA, G Adventures, Intrepid etc are taking a definitive stance on it. (reluctantly and belatedly in some cases but still).

    TBEX may be taking this stance to appease the tourism industry and traditional content creators who they are looking toward for sponsorship, but you are not there to appease them, you are essentially there to represent us too and showcase the true power and influence independent travel bloggers and writers have within the industry now. By aligning with independent travel bloggers and stating that you are there to bring us together with the travel industry, you are by default saying that you represent us. This in no way meets that expectation. So without us Mr. Calvert, who are you going to rely on for a revenue stream? Without us – who you claim to represent – how long will TBEX last?

    • Yes, we do our very best to represent all Travel Bloggers. Not just part of them. I have the same question for you as for others who have made similar points. What do you say to the travel bloggers who disagree with you? Do they not belong in the travel blogging community?

      • Of course they do, that has never been the issue and throwing weak circular arguments like that around does your stance no favours. What individual bloggers do based on their own ethical stance and paradigms is down to them as INDIVIDUALS. But as a supposed representative of us all, a self proclaimed industry leader YOU have a duty to take a moral and ethical stance, lead the way on such an important issue and be an example. If other industry leaders can do it, why can’t you Mr.Calvert? Or is TBEX a special case?

        Saying a few people disagree is a very, very poor reason not to take a stance on important issues.

        And what do you say with the bloggers (of whom there are clearly quite a lot) who clearly disagree with you? Do we not belong in your travel community?

  8. well that official response fell well short of what I was expecting/hoping for…as many people have said TBEX sort of represents bloggers as a professional body so I’m pretty disappointed that they’ve fobbed off the issues in such a generic and blasé way. Making an ethical decision IS simple, its not about following the pac, its about where peoples morals lie. If bloggers wants to go man handle dolphins they always have the time to do it off their own backs on their owns terms – there’s no reason TBEX needs to offer it and certainly no defend it under “diversity or option”. Bloggers CAN afford to pay for these things after all! By offering them as press trips and actively promoting them because of it TBEX is basically saying – “yeah no worries we don’t really have any moral code of conduct”
    Who knows…maybe if TBEX makes it Africa one day we’ll have the option of a trophy hunting FAM trip?!
    TBEX certainly doesn’t align with my viewpoints or professional stance anymore so I – much like other bloggers – won’t be participating.

    • I appreciate the comment Chris. So in your opinion any blogger that signed up for one of these tours is unprofessional, or unethical?
      If we were following the pack we would cancel the tours. That would be the easy and in my opinion unethical thing to do.

  9. I was under the impression TBEX was aiming to be the legitimate place where travel bloggers meets the travel industry. Decisions like this – and the way in which the decision was reached – imply a serious disconnect between this… corporation… and the bloggers you need.

    What happens when you make decisions that drive travel bloggers away?

    How much of that legitimacy is lost?

    What happens when you provide a service that bloggers are less willing to pay for?

    And how credible will you look to a sponsor when bloggers not only decline the invitation to the trip, but negatively report about the sponsor?

    Back in August 2013, Rick, you blogged about TBEX getting ‘too big’. I’d invite you to revisit that post and replace ‘too big’ with ‘too corporate’. Between decisions like this, a policy that discourages early birds – your biggest fans – from buying early, it’s becoming ever more clear that bloggers are not your focus. I’d go so far as to say we are more likely the products that get offered up to the sponsors who pay far more to attend.

    I have been planning to attend TBEX as soon as it and I are on the continent. However, decisions like these make me reconsider – and there are other events worth attending.

  10. Marina Delponti says

    It is a pity that TBEX is not taking a stand on this. I believe you don’t need to be a political event per se to compromise with the industry to promote responsible tourism (unless the mere existence of this event is highly supported by tour operators which are leaving mass and irresponsible tourism??)
    People who attend this event to learn about tourism best practices, ethics and communication are also part of the tourism industry and thus, have the pivotal role to communicate and promote destinations based on their knowledge and experiences but bearing in mind the importance and especially the impacts of their words when communicating to their readers. TBEX should be a platform to educate travel bloggers about their impact of their words which as Diana Edelman said above, directly influence their readers to make either responsible or irresponsible decisions? TBEX should at least take a side by discouraging some tourism activities which are detrimental for the environment as well as for local communities. Not surprisingly, your statements remind me the typical market driven response by leaving everything in hands of the travel bloggers (and choices of visitors). I have been promoting responsible tourism and have contributed to organizations which “do advocacy” in a more serious way and whether you promote responsible tourism or not is not a matter of religious “belief or respect” so this makes me to wonder who are the recipients of what you advocate for? The whole purpose of TBEX seems shallow to me and this controversial article should continue the debate and we, all those who promote responsible tourism should discourage bloggers, tourism enterprises, tourists as well as other people to NOT attend these type of events unless they decide to be helpful and permit this to be also a space to promote responsible tourism.

    • I appreciate the comment and respect your passionate beliefs on this issue Marina. What would you say to the attendees who paid for their registration to TBEX and signed up for these tours?

      They are not welcome in the TBEX community?

  11. I would also be in the camp of those who say investigate yourself and write a first hand perspective to help bring on real change. If TBEX just said no, which they could have done easily, then no content would ever get produced on the topic and no one would ever have taken a stand anywhere other than in those one-sided documentaries that those with differing views never watch anyway. Consumers would still go to Cancun, still head to the dolphin encounters, and otherwise go about their day not knowing any different as all of our personal opinions, and more importantly experiences on the topic would not be out there.

    I do wish that this article would have gone into more as to why this particular company was chosen and not on ethics as a whole (or at the very least, a paragraph or two dedicated to it). As there are other places around the world that do indeed have good work with captive/rescued animals, this post could have been a platform for highlighting that in specific terms and how this company fits in. I do believe that there is potential for a “good” place to exist and believe it is our job as professionals to find that out for ourselves before blasting a topic as a whole. If the community is so quick to give some animal centers a pass, why is there no hope for others? If that is the case then the merits of the specific facility does in fact mean quite a bit when it comes to this topic.

    I could go on all day about these ethics and animal rights, because if we have to take a stand as a community that “everything is bad” as some would like in regards to dolphins then I hope no one likes going horseback riding or dog sledding, eating processed meats, or travels via plane a substantial number of times per year, either. All of these things are significantly hurting animals and the world we live in. I don’t see anyone in the community getting up in arms over those kinds of activities, nor industry leaders doing the same, either (other than perhaps offering carbon offsets for tours).

    The question is what are we doing to find out the truth (the real truth here) and what are you doing to help influence your community to get on board with it to bring about change? The unfortunate thing about opinions is that they can often be based off of false truths. So who is going to seek out the facts?

    • Thank you for the comment Jeremy. You bring up a very good point that I should have been more clear on. We do not pick these tours at all. When we select a host city we explain to them all the details that surround TBEX. Part of that is the pre and post event tours. The local tourist board then reaches out to the local industry to give them the opportunity to offer tours and experiences to the TBEX community. Sometimes the tourist board will set up a meeting and invite local travel industry businesses to meet with us during our site visit. Cancun did this for us. We then explain to the group what TBEX is about and how they can participate.

      In this case, Delphinus offered these tours.

      We did consider including a couple of paragraphs from pro and anti Dolphin and other marine mammal advocates, or some background on the company offering these tours but in the end we decided against that. We didn’t see that as the main point of the post or the issue. We don’t want to defend them or advocate for them and we don’t want to advocate against them. This is the principle we tried to focus on.

      Once we choose a side, we have made the decision to represent a part of our community and not all of it. We see that as a violation of our mission.

      While some people in our community are upset about this particular set of tours, there are others that people have complained about in the past and I am sure people will take issue with in the future.

      • I appreciate this response, thank you for taking the time to reply. I do not think it should be TBEX’s mission to take a stand on the issues but, since it is a conference, TBEX should foster an environment where we can all work on those issues together as a community. Whether it is good or bad right now, at least the conversation is out there for the community to have.

        No matter what side TBEX would have chose on this debate someone would look at them in the wrong. Most of us arguing tend to agree that captivity is either not ideal to just plain bad, but it is the nuance of how we handle it. Some want to avoid it altogether, while others want to investigate for themselves. The fact that a company wants to invite mostly skeptical travel writers in to see their work should not be met with disdain, but an open opportunity to make a difference. I seriously doubt anyone writing “dolphin trips are bad” in a blog post are going to convince anyone without hard facts and first hand stories, but perhaps that is just me. Now, 50 people who went and asked hard questions, and then wrote blog posts afterwards, well, that is much more powerful.

        The only part about this debate that I am getting upset by is the statements of “TBEX must do this” and “we as a community must do that.” All the community “must” do is have a conversation, and even then I think 99+% of those who will attend TBEX are not taking part in this discussion as of now. If this is a big enough issue that we as a community take a united stand, then we should do it through our professional associations (PTBA, etc) that have codes of conduct that members follow. As of now I do not think TBEX is trying to be a professional association, just a conference for bloggers and industry leaders to get together to have discussions about travel as a whole. So while there are maybe 20 people having this conversation at the present, I do not think throwing around what the community should do is the right way to approach this topic.

        If I said the same thing about all of the engineering conferences I attended in my past life, where companies were damaging the environment for profit, then no conference would ever go forward, ever. But I still attended those conferences because I was a member of an organization trying to protect the environment and get those companies to change their ways. Either way, no one ever blamed the conference organizers themselves even if there were tour opportunities to visit factories and establishments that operated in ways we did not agree with ethically.

        • Thank you for bringing up to more very important point’s here Jeremy.

          1. Should TBEX take a stand on political issues?

          Yes when there is complete or even near complete unanimity among our community we should reflect the position of our community. That is not the case here. There is serious and thoughtful disagreement among the travel blogging community. Name calling and questioning peoples morals and ethics does not lend weight to an argument. It would be irresponsible of us to ignore that disagreement.

          2. No matter how controversial, if a topic is important to our community we should address it and foster that conversation.

    • I’m sorry Jeremy I disagree on a few points there.

      First of all I agree absolutely that having a discussion around the issues is always a great thing, that is never in doubt. However, there are ways to do that without tacitly supporting the issue in question. By taking a stand and saying we do not support these activities (and not advertising them on the PreBEX tours), TBEX could have fostered the same debate.

      Now I also take issue with the statement that many of us are making these moral stances based on anything other than cold hard fact. The fact is the truth and evidence are already plain and visible to anyone who cares to look for them. Wildlife specialists, animal specialists, scientists, vets, academics, charities, etc etc, all have produced rafts of evidence on this issue. Many of us who are taking this stance know this. We have seen the evidence. Some may have even seen these practices in the past when evidence wasn’t as clear. I personally have partnered my website with Care For The Wild International and campaign passionately against animal exploitation within the tourism industry, so I don’t need to see this first hand to know that it is bad. Bloggers going ‘to see for themselves’ is not going to add anything more to that, but it WILL be supporting the exploitation of these animals by lining the pockets of those businesses DESPITE all the evidence.

      And I take your point about TBEX not being a professional association, but at the end of the day it IS claiming the peripheral reputation of an association by claiming to represent travel bloggers as a whole, it is essentially acting as our industry’s professional voice to the gap year and travel industries, and that is where I take issue. Rick himself says that TBEX should take a stand on political issues ‘when there is complete or even near complete unanimity among the community’. I agre again that the vocal ones leaving comments here are only a small proportion of the whole, but if STA travel, G Adventures, Intrepid and a whole host of other industry leaders are starting to take a moral stance on this issue, then surely they think there are enough people concerned about the issue to justify it?

  12. This response is incredibly disappointed but expected (especially because it doesn’t mention the dolphin tours). You took a BS, wishy washy stand, basically saying “hey, who are we to judge?” but what’s wrong with taking a stand FOR responsible tourism? As the organization that supposedly represents us to the world, what kind of message is this when you don’t fight bad tourism practices? What’s next – promoting elephant riding or using companies with bad labor practices? At TBEX, there’s all this talk about “being the future of travel writing” but really, if we promote this, are we really acting like that? Are we saying to the world – here’s how to travel a better way.

    It’s sad TBEX is not leading by example. By having the activities available, it’s tacit approval of them.

    And to the people defending dolphin encounters, I’m disappointed in you too. Dolphins are captured in the wild and put in these pens for your amusement. Most are not born in captivity. Going there and “seeing what it is like” doesn’t change that fact nor does it change the fact that these highly intelligent creatures don’t thrive in captivity. Maybe tourists will go there but I think it’s our job as travel writers to educate and inform and show people a better way. Responsible tourism is what we should advocate.

    Two resources:
    http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/08/debunking-captivity-3-reasons-not-to-keep-dolphins-in-a-tank/
    http://www.hsi.org/issues/captive_marine/facts/swtd_attractions.html

    I’m not done with this battle. We owe it to ourselves to be held to a higher standard and promote responsible tourism practices around the world – animal, human, and environmental.

    These dolphin tours need to go!

    • Let’s start with where we agree. I wholeheartedly support your passion and your championing this cause Matt. I would encourage you to use this opportunity to bring more attention to what you believe and to educate others and try to win them over to your side. That is your job as one of the leading travel bloggers in the world.

      I disagree with you that it is a “wishy washy stand”. We discussed this at great length internally. We read all the comments we could both in public and those sent to us in private from members of the TBEX community. We knew that you would be upset, yet we made what we believe to be the ethical and responsible decision despite knowing you would be openly criticizing us. You have a pretty big microphone Matt.

      We do specifically mention the dolphin tours at the top of the third paragraph. Including them in the pre-event options for attendees does not mean we are giving them any kind of approval implied or otherwise. During past TBEX events some tours that have been offered were canceled because no one signed up to attend them. That is not the case here.

      The fact that any blogger attends a tour does not guarantee a glowing or even positive revue. You write negative reviews sometimes don’t you?
      By not being bullied into canceling these trips we are allowing our community to decide for themselves and write for themselves whatever they believe is right.

      • “Including them in the pre-event options for attendees does not mean we are giving them any kind of approval implied or otherwise.”

        Yes, yes it does. It gives tacit approval that as an organization you don’t think anything is wrong with this. If you thought they were wrong, you wouldn’t include them. It’s that simple. You’re essentially saying “We just provide the forum, we let bloggers decide” is a cop out. And just because someone goes to this and says “wow, it was fun” doesn’t make it right. People like elephant rides, doesn’t change the fact that the elephants are abused. Someone can have a good time at an ethically bad attraction – it’s still wrong.

        The fact is these shouldn’t be an option in the first place.

        I expected more from you guys.

        • Matt do you respect people who disagree with you?
          There are travel bloggers who do. All we are doing is showing them the same respect we are showing you.

          I understand and respect how passionately you feel about this. I have my own feelings in this debate as does every person on our staff. It would be unethical for us to impose our feelings on the rest of the community no matter which side we fall on the issue.

          You can and should advocate for your beliefs. You should try to win people over to your thinking. Questioning our ethics isn’t fair and it doesn’t help you win people over. I’m sorry you can’t see that.

  13. I respect this response and TBEX’s position. I personally was disappointed to see all of the dolphin tours – aside from the ethical questions, I just thought they missed opportunities to offer interesting tours that showcase what Mexico as a country has to offer and what is unique to Mexico and the area around Cancun in terms of culture, food, etc. Maybe those are still coming, I hope so (actually, re-reading the post, it sounds like more is yet to come). As for the ethics of the dolphin facilities, I think each blogger has to decide for themselves what they are comfortable with and if these tours are being filled, then clearly plenty of people have an interest in them – whether it’s because they want to experience it for themselves to try to educate their readers or because they have a different view of the ethical debate. I don’t think it’s TBEX’s job to make that decision.

    At the end of the day, I think it’s good that these issues are being discussed and I think the bloggers who go on the tours will have an opportunity to see and judge firsthand for themselves and share those feelings with their readers – which will likely draw much more attention to the issue of dolphins in captivity than ever would’ve been drawn if TBEX didn’t offer these activities.

    • Thank you for the comment Katie. Obviously we agree on the main point. Yes there are lots, lots more pre and post tbex Cancun events coming.

  14. Rick, what a shame you didn’t give the courtesy of a reply to the other bloggers who earlier expressed an opinion, before responding to Matt. You have done yourself no favours whatsoever.

    • I’m sorry John. This was the first task on my list and I am trying to respond to all the comments in order. I had to step away for about 45 mins for a call. More replies coming now.

      ***Update***
      11:25 am PST and I have responded to all comments on this post.

      • Thank you Rick. I’m sure you understand why responding to the biggest name commenter first, instead of the order in which they were submitted might not be the best way.

        • Thank you John. Actually I responded to the first comment I saw when I logged into WP. I didn’t realize they weren’t in chronological order (.

  15. Should we boycott ranches because they ride horses?

    Should we boycott Middle Eastern Bedouin tribes and their lifestyle because they ride camels?

    Should we boycott Taste of X (insert city here) events because some of them serve meat and you are vegan? Or some of them serve beer and you are religious and don’t drink alcohol?

    Why aren’t these same bloggers up in arms over child brides in Africa, or the sex/human trafficking issues that are rampant in SE Asia where all the budget backpackers flock to and brag about “living so cheaply” on X dollars per day? I sure as heck don’t see any of the budget bloggers covering ANY of these topics on their blog while bragging about living on Y dollars per day while living in cities and countries where such issues are prevalent.

    Everyone has a viewpoint. As someone who has lived in the Riviera Maya for the past 4 years, I can say from first-hand experience that the government takes animal conservation projects very seriously…the turtle and monkey sanctuaries are just as relevant as the dolphin sanctuary…and yet I don’t see bloggers up in arms about “animals in captivity” there.

    I’m personally not a fan of animals in captivity for any reason. I grew up on a ranch. I understand the whole “ethical treatment of animals” and know better than most how to go about that. And as far as I’m concerned there is NO DIFFERENCE in what Delphinus is doing than ANY ranch in ANY corner of the world.

    Or, for that matter, any of the tours many bloggers have gone on where the pack animals are mules or donkeys or llamas or camels. Where are the outraged bloggers over the ethical treatment of animals then?

    TBEX isn’t PETA. It isn’t a platform for political statements. It’s a tourism/travel-based exchange, whose primary role is to bring people to a destination and foster relationships between content creators and brands within the industry. Maybe you don’t like meat, so you don’t go to any of the restaurants that serve meat while you are in Cancun. Maybe you don’t like animals in captivity so you don’t go to the Delphinus tours. It’s as simple as that.

    I don’t personally like the dolphin rides, even though I support conservation efforts. Which means I simply choose not to participate. I’m an atheist as well, and my wife is religious. We love each other and we have a great relationship. We simply choose to respect each other’s point of view and go on about our lives, as neither one of us is “right” or “wrong”.

    I support your stance, Rick, and wouldn’t have stated it any other way than you did in your post. Spot on.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment Tim and explaining our position much better than I did.

      • Cheers, Rick.

        It’s really a non-issue, as far as I’m concerned.

        The irony for me is that many of the very same bloggers who are complaining about the “ethical treatment of those poor dolphins” have dozens of blog posts on their sites and social media pages with them chowing down on burgers, chicken salads, tacos, ostrich meat, fish and various other forms of animal flesh in third world/developing countries from around the world where the concept of free-range means NOTHING, because those animals were raised in captivity and specifically bred for human consumption/enjoyment.

        Where are the “poor, sacred animal” posts then? Instead, it’s “look at how CHEAP these tacos/this salad/my burger is!” while traveling to a poor, impoverished country and snapping photos on a 5,000 USD camera from the back of a tuk-tuk pulled by a malnourished grandfather and completely ignoring the human trafficking, child sex trade and beyond.

        If we really want to talk about responsible tourism, let’s not mince words.

        I think responsible tourism is a VERY important topic, and one that absolutely should be brought up in presentations and workshops.

        The Mexican government is at this very moment talking in Congress about marine life in its sanctuaries throughout the country, because they are very keen on ensuring the ethical treatment of animals and their conservation. Not to mention, Delphines has all of the required licenses + conservation badges from the various organizations showing that they do, in fact, provide ethical treatment of their animals in the conservation department.

        If certain bloggers have an issue with Delphines and the way they operate (kind of hard to do unless you have boots-on-the-ground knowledge of how they operate, which I doubt many bloggers have unless they’ve spent a significant amount of time here in the Riviera Maya), they should take it up with the boards who issue those licenses, and the Mexican government, not an impartial travel blog exchange that has NOTHING to do with politics and is purely about connecting content providers with brands and industry markets.

  16. Hey folks. Get over it. The primary mission and purpose of TBEX is to turn a financial profit for its owners. Period. They can do whatever they want with their conference in the interest of making that profit, even if that includes putting Dolphin burgers on the menu at the Expedia party. The profit motive has been well articulated by Rick and TBEX before. TBEX’s mission is simply to make money and they make a lot of it by facilitating, “…a marketplace where transactions can occur.” To put it plainly, TBEX makes its money off charging companies for access to us bloggers (kind of like being our pimp). It’s the beauty of capitalism at work. TBEX isn’t like SATW or PTBA and they don’t have to listen to the haters. Move on.

  17. Wow, we really seem to have picked a great TBEX to head to for our very first travel bloggers conference. I honestly don’t have a stance either side on this one but do appreciate the vocal responses we have seen from everyone to show just how passionate they are. At the end of the day we are all individuals who are entitled to our own viewpoints and we should respect each others. I don’t have enough of experience and knowledge of TBEX’s overall mission and cultural values to negatively comment and I honestly respect this post and feel that others should to.

    I am looking forward to Heather and I heading to Cancun in September and having an absolute blast. Whenever the Pre-BEX tours became available, we immediately hopped on there and selected one of the tours (actually opted for one completely different to the dolphin related discussion) and are just excited about learning more about this great industry/domain we are all part of.

  18. I was sent an itinerary including a nearly identical dolphin activity for a press trip to Puerto Vallarta this spring.

    I wrote back and politely told the PR rep that I would not write about the activity because it ran counter to my blog policy, which includes a focus on sustainable and ethical activities.

    I also suggested that many other bloggers would probably feel the same way, and that our time on that day would be more likely to result in blog and social media posts if the dolphin tour were swapped out for something different. The PR person thanked me for my input and made the change. Instead we went on a fantastic tour that everyone did write about.

    A bit of foresight on your part could have prevented the negative social media and blog coverage that your host destination is now receiving.

    In the future, I’d think it would be better business for TBEX to use this as an example of why host destinations should be careful to choose activities that will not offend a large proportion of attendees.

    That has nothing to do with TBEX or the host being ethical. It’s just good business.

    • Thank you for posting and for sharing the story Matt. How is including these tours as an option in the program any different?
      No doubt the PR department from this company submitted them. We posted them. Some attendees signed up for them, other attendees won’t.

      I completely agree with you that we do have to listen to our community and make smart business decisions. The part that doesn’t seem to be coming across is that not everyone in our community agrees here. Yes there are some people are very offended. Comparing numbers, more people have signed up for these experiences than have complained.

  19. I am very late to this party. So I am trying to catch with what is happening. I am not sure why there is also something brewing with travel blogging community. I thought we were brand ambassadors and as brand ambassadors everyone chooses to work with a brand based on their personal beliefs and experiences. Every brand is not for everyone. Every travel destination is not for everyone. Everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes around travel.

    I signed up for the dolphin experiences because I have visited Xcaret Park and the turtle farm at Isla Mujeres. During my experience visiting these two places, I learned how in tune to nature the Mayans and Mexicans. I have a great respect for the way thy live in harmony with nature. I did see a dolphin at the turtle farm along with many sea creatures. I did feel that they were being mistreated.

    This is taken from the Xcaret Park Passport.

    The Xcaret Mexico Creed

    “I believe in Mexico, the land of the sun, and in the vibrant turquoise of her seas; I believe in the Mayan World and in the age-old enigma of its sacred cities.

    I believe in the whisper of the underground rivers, in the delicate balance of the coral reef and in the mystery enshrined in the nesting ritual of sea turtles on the white sands of Quintana Roo’s beaches.

    I believe in the innocent grace of the manatee, in the healing nectar of the bees and in the perennial miracle of the caterpillars that transform into butterflies.

    I believe in the magic of flowers which open the door to the soul, in their subtle perfumes and changing multicolored beauty.

    I believe in the here and the now, in a world in harmony with the song of the dolphins and the colorful flight of the macaws.

    I believe in the certainty that life must be one with nature.

    I believe that there exists a paradise on earth with a name that evokes all that we have been, that we are, and that we desire to be: Xcaret.

    I believe in the fullness of life.

    I believe in Xcaret.”

    This is the blog post I wrote about my visit to Xcaret: http://theskychitravelguide.blogspot.com/2012/04/xcaret-mexico-passport.html

    Are these travel bloggers protesting zoos and aquariums around the world too? I am not really understanding this backlash. I will distance my self from any ensuing controversy. Why would brand want to work with travel bloggers who could turn on them next?

  20. Can’t be bothered debating this with you since you are clearly only after the money. Cancelling my trip to Athens.

  21. I was very excited about TBEX coming to Toronto last year, but since then, have grown increasing disillusioned with your practices, your marketing techniques, and the business of the conference itself. It is one thing to have a goal of professional development for bloggers, but you target those who specifically want to monetize their blogs. While that’s no bad thing, you are, by using the message of financial success, attracting those who are less inclined to care about the ethics of tourism, and in turn, your organization has become something that doesn’t feel it needs to put tourism and ethics above your monetary gains.
    I get that your organization’s goal is to make money, just like any business, but you should be considering your target audience, your ‘clientele’, and listening to what we’re saying here.
    I won’t be attending TBEX, because I honestly don’t get the value in it, other than to meet with my blogger buddies and share stories and network with them (which I can do at any Travel Massive – a free event!) For anyone who believes conferences like TBEX are the ‘best’ or ‘only’ place you can connect with brands and influential members of the tourism industry, I would say to you that you can be successful, without TBEX.

  22. Alastair McKenzie says

    Blimey! I hadn’t seen this thread till Ron (Mader) mentioned it just now.

    Several of you, Rick & Diana for a start, have joined me in ‘live’ Hangouts on Air before… If Ron or I hosted one, would you like to debate the issues ‘live’?

    Maybe get some ‘expert’ witnesses and debate, not so much TBEX Cancun specifically but, the broader debate about tourism promotion, ethics and zoos/aquariums….?

    • Alastair and all,

      I’m afraid we’ve beaten you to the punch! As there has been quite a lot of discussion going on about this on Outbounding, we’ve been working behind the scenes for a week or so to pull together a panel of active and authoritative voices and address some of the issues related to this topic.

      As of a few moments ago, we’ve announced that on Tuesday, April 29 from 12-1pm, Outbounding will be hosting a Google+ Hangout on Air called “Tourism and Captive Marine Animals: Ethics and Practices.” Please visit https://plus.google.com/events/c1ufpjipo7qcire6i8ef8sk0e98 for the roster of speakers, the issues to be addressed and some important background information.

      Note that we did reach out to TBEX, Delphinus and others who could speak for their position, but none responded to our queries. As a result, well be doing very much as Alastair has suggested: discussing the broader issues and their implications.

  23. Someone can offer me to visit a brothel in Asia to see how poor kids are being abused by people with some money who travel thousands of miles to have a bit of unethical fun. Wow shocking to say this, but it is not that different. They are just as helpless as the dolphins. They are human beings so you think someone would have stopped this already. Someone with the power to do so. No they are still there, and the dolphins will stay until the “unethical” tourists become saints.
    Out of all of this I have realized that ethical tourism is my new focus. I am not able to stop it by myself, but I will do what I can to make a difference. On the blog and in daily life.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Help Stop the Promotion of Unethical Tourism.” Like many bloggers, he was upset by TBEX exec Rick Calvert’s disappointing response to blogger concerns over the tours. He listed many of the same reasons we’ve included above […]

  2. […] the co-founder and CEO of TBEX’s operational side of things, posted his point of view on the TBEX Mission & Programming Ethics, I was there to post my own opinion, which included the following (you can read my full reply in […]

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