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UK travel industry targeted for selling trips to marine parks Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Mar 12, 2014 in Environment
A dolphin and whale advocate is taking on one of the world's leading leisure travel groups over selling tickets to UK tourists looking to visit marine parks located abroad.
Samantha Lipman of Orca Aware is teaming up with Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for the South East of England, to petition TUI Travel PLC., to stop facilitating trips to marine mammal display facilities.
TUI Travel, which includes travel agents such as Thomson and First Choice Holidays, is one of the UK's leading travel groups. With operations in over 180 countries and more than 30 million customers, Lipman said the company has a responsibility to learn about what they are endorsing, and what captivity costs marine mammals held in artificial environments.
The cetacean advocate isn't the first to tackle the travel industry over its promotion of themed animal parks abroad. Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), an international organization, recently approached Sir Richard Branson to ask that his Virgin Holidays, cease the selling of tickets to overseas marine parks.
Lipman's campaign will focus on TUI operations in the UK. Digital Journal spoke with Lipman about the campaign, and what she hopes to achieve with it.
EB: TUI Germany stopped selling tickets to marine parks, but TUI UK continues to sell them to British tourists?
S. Lipman: Yes, through Thomson Holidays and First Choice travel agents that fall under the TUI Travel PLC umbrella. They sell tickets to SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica parks in the USA and to a number of parks throughout Europe, including Loro Parque in Tenerife. TUI travel agents also sell tickets to swim with dolphin attractions in other parts of the world. Some of the dolphins at these parks were captured in the Japanese drive hunts.
The orca at Loro Parque belong to SeaWorld, with the exception of wild-captured Norwegian orca Morgan. Morgan was captured with the intention of being rehabilitated and released, but she was sent to Loro Parque instead. A group of scientific experts, forming the Free Morgan Foundation, are currently fighting for her freedom and they have a rehabilitation plan in place for Morgan.
EB: Does the company earn cash incentives for ticket sales?
S. Lipman: TUI is one of the largest tour operators in the world. Their business model is a profit-making one. They will either charge holiday-makers a fee for booking tickets to marine entertainment parks through their travel agents, or their travel partners (the marine entertainment parks) will pay them commission on the tickets they sell. One way or another, TUI will be making money through these ticket sales.
I did call a UK branch of Thomson Holidays just today and I asked if they earn commission from ticket sales to entertainment parks and if so, how much. I was directed to send my question to them by email, as the representative I spoke to did not know.
EB: You told me that no orca (killer whales) have been held captive in the United Kingdom since 1991, since the Department of Environment (DOE) reviewed standards and conditions of captive facilities. Is this something that UK travel companies should recognize and abide by?
S. Lipman: I think it should certainly be something they consider. But more importantly, they should find out why the DOE made these revisions.
Orca (and other dolphin species) are too large, wide-ranging, sentient, self-aware and intelligent to be confined in any type of concrete tank. They are fast swimmers, deep divers and cover vast distances every day. Orcas cannot truly be orcas in captivity.
TUI's dilemma is such that they must decide whether orca and dolphin welfare has ethical priority over the company's economic welfare. I don't know how much profit TUI makes from selling tickets to these parks, so I don't know how a decision might impact their bottom line. There are alternatives they could investigate, including (responsible) whale-watching trips. They already offer some whale-watching excursions and packages.
EB: You're planning to meet with Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP this week. How did he become involved and help your campaign?
S. Lipman: I emailed several local MEPs after petitions regarding the keeping of marine mammals in captivity, and particularly orca Morgan, were raised during a European Parliament petition committee meeting in 2012. The petitions were dismissed without fair representation and I was trying to find someone who could appeal this dismissal. Keith was the only MEP who offered to help.
Keith is incredibly passionate about animal welfare and particularly the issue of cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) captivity. He recently spoke on the issue at Orca Aware. Keith and his team bring vast political knowledge and understanding, as well as passion to this work, and I am grateful for all their support.
EB: What are you asking TUI to do?
S. Lipman: There are two requests I have for TUI UK's Chief Executive, Peter Long:
1) Please ask TUI Travel PLC executives and directors to learn more about the effect captivity has on whale, dolphin and porpoise welfare, and provide resources to their employees so staff are fully informed.
2) Please ask TUI Travel PLC (including Thomson + First Choice Holidays) to stop selling tickets to dolphin display amusement parks when they could be selling entire holidays to see whales, dolphins and porpoises in their natural environment.
EB: If British tourists want to see killer whales and dolphins, where can they go?
S. Lipman: See them in the wild, through either land, or boat-based whale-watching. You can watch orca off the Scottish coast from land and sea during early summer months and there are plenty of other locations around the world where orca can be encountered. There are over 40 populations of orca in our oceans, so people really are spoiled for choice. This resource gives a few ideas.
There is a fallacy that whale-watching is really expensive. To put it into perspective, one single adult day ticket to SeaWorld costs around £55 and visitors will likely spend much more than that during their visit on food, drinks and merchandise.
A whale-watching trip to see marine life off the coast of Scotland costs around £45 for an adult ticket and I know of whale-watching operators (both in and outside of the UK) who charge less than that. I have paid as little as £30 to spend hours sharing the water with orca, watching them in their natural habitat. Now THAT is a spectacular show to watch!
EB: Ironically, wasn't it a Thomson rep who inspired your petition?
S: Lipman: I had a conversation with a Thomson Holidays travel agent representative last year. We were talking about the impacts captivity has on orca welfare, something she had little knowledge of. The rep seemed pretty shocked at the information I gave her and told me she would be changing her own holiday plans. She was meant to be taking her daughter to see the orca at SeaWorld.
EB: You just returned from your own trip to Iceland where you saw killer whales and dolphins in the wild. How was that?
S. Lipman: It was a fantastic experience. The Icelandic orca population were targeted by the captive industry in the 1970's and 1980's and around 55 individuals (that we know of) were captured from the wild for captive display. Of these individuals, only eight are still alive today. It was breathtaking seeing these orca in their natural environment from a boat and from land. And the Icelandic landscape is spectacular. I have written about my encounters with these orca and there is a link to an information sheet about Icelandic orcas in captivity at British Divers Marine Life Rescue.
Lipman's petition, which is available to read on The Petition, is one of a number of actions being taken over concerns about keeping large ocean mammals in marine parks. Recently, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, credited the documentary Blackfish for the proposal of a new California bill named the Orca Welfare & Safety Act.
Bloom's proposed legislation would seek to ban the use of killer whales during show performances. The move would directly impact operations at SeaWorld San Diego, which currently holds ten killer whales.
More about Seaworld, loro parque, blackfish, UK travel industry, TUI Travel PLC
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