DER Touristik Adopts an Animal Welfare Guideline and Consistently Implements it in the Tour Operator Business
In many cases, it is the fascinating wildlife that attracts travellers to faraway lands. Safari in Africa, dolphins and whales in the oceans or flamingo colonies on the Portuguese Atlantic coast: experiencing wild animals in their natural habitat is a unique experience for travellers. What is more, experiencing local wildlife in this way is the least invasive for their habitat and behaviour; we are truly convinced of that.
As part of the travel industry, DER Touristik feels responsible for protecting the welfare of animals against the impact of tourism in the habitats that are visited. We want to ensure that they are preserved for future generations, too. That is why we have decided: animal welfare is of utmost priority – in their natural habitat, but also where animals are more closely linked to humans!
This is why DER Touristik Group is driving forward travel products with their tour operator brands so that travellers can discover wildlife in a safe and responsible way. As early as 2017, we developed a binding Animal Welfare Guideline and are jointly implementing this with our partners in an ongoing process. To this end, we are in constant contact with our partners, animal welfare experts and industry bodies across the globe.
Here the focus is on animal species that are hit particularly hard by tourist activities, such as elephants or whales and dolphins. The goal is to check that our products comply with the guideline and to have animal husbandry standards monitored by independent organisations. Partners are obligated to fulfil the requirements of the Animal Welfare Guideline.
Specific Requirements Make it Possible to Measure Animal Welfare
In terms of animal welfare requirements, DER Touristik is guided by the criteria of the British travel association ABTA, among others. Based on this, we have developed and expanded the DER Touristik Animal Welfare Guideline. Here we commit to the internationally recognised so-called Five Freedoms for supporting animal welfare in terms of adequate nutrition, species-appropriate living conditions, health maintenance, sufficient living space and species-appropriate behaviour.
The Five Freedoms for Assessing Animal Welfare According to John Webster
- Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Freedom from fear and suffering
- Freedom to live out normal behaviour
Our animal welfare requirements include
- fixed criteria under which animal observations take place or animals are kept
- avoiding direct context of certain animal species, e.g., elephants or dolphins, with humans
- no exhibiting of animals that display unnatural behaviours
- no animal fighting of hunting in our programmes
The requirements catalogue of our Animal Welfare Guideline includes a number of animal species and scenarios, each of which are assessed in detail. We have set ourselves the goal of auditing suppliers’ compliance with our standards by 2023. Here we focus on attraction providers that are often problematic as regards animal welfare, such as facilities that keep animals in captivity, as well as species often exposed to risks in tourism, such as elephants. In this way, we ensure that our products either already observe the minimum animal welfare requirements or are consistently improved as part of the project cooperation. In doing so, we actively support providers by conducting joint training and offering advice.
Better Safe Than Sorry: Verification Through External Audits
We have both attractions and animal species that may be associated with risks for animal welfare audited by animal welfare experts. To this end, we cooperate with independent partners which audit providers based on the detailed criteria catalogue of the DER Touristik Animal Welfare Guideline. Depending on their risk rating, either a document audit or an audit on-site is implemented, whereby the implementation of all measures can be reviewed on site.
At the same time, we are promoting the species-appropriate handling of animals in tourism and within the industry. We not only want to make existing products more animal-friendly, but rather to contribute towards a sustainable change in tourism. In dialogue with our providers, we are driving the continuous improvement of standards. In dialogue with the industry and animal welfare organisations, we draw up innovative solutions for animal-friendly experiences and alternatives so as to improve existing products. One way of doing this is in close collaboration with projects that we support through the non-profit DER Touristik Foundation.
One example: Enhanced Living Conditions for Elephants in Thailand
Traditionally, elephants in Thailand were used as working animals in forestry. With the ban on deforestation, many mahouts – the elephant keepers and trainers – became unemployed.
In order to be able to continuing feeding their families and animals, many of them increasingly focus on tourism.
Elephant camps have therefore emerged in many places that are problematic in terms of animal welfare:
- the husbandry conditions of the pachyderms are inadequate in most cases
- elephants are displayed when engaging in unnatural behaviours such as painting and other tricks.
- riding elephants and direct contact with the wild animals poses risks for both humans and animals
The relationship of mahouts to their elephants is one the one hand marked by respect and appreciation for the animals, whereas, the use of pointed elephant hooks, blows, chains and other restraints may take place during training on the other.
What DER Touristik Does
High Animal Welfare Standards in the Travel Programmes
In close cooperation with our Group-owned destination agency Go Vacation, we are working on solutions for products with elephants. Products that do not comply with the minimum requirements of our Animal Welfare Guideline have been completely removed from the programmes of our tour operator brands, such as elephant riding or entertainment shows. Instead, we have integrated products into the travel programme that ensure high standards.
Changing our travel products is sometimes a lengthy and small-scale process, but it is worth it for people and animals! Joint work on improvements to existing products with our partners is one dimension. While we would also like to create and foster alternatives to change awareness and offer customers travel programmes they can book with a clear conscience. That is why we are promoting innovative, animal-friendly, exemplary projects and products by incorporating them in our product portfolio, advertising them or supporting them in other ways.
Raising the Awareness of and Involving Partners – Including Exemplary Products in the Product Portfolio
When improving standards, we focus on a few local providers whose awareness we raise on the issue and with whom we enhance husbandry standards and other aspects of animal welfare.
In joint forces with the animal protection organisation “World Animal Protection” and other industry members, we have launched the pilot project “Building an Elephant Friendly Future”. Local providers should experience that their commitment is worth it for them and is rewarded and accepted by both tourists and customers.
One example is the ChangChill Elephant Camp in Thailand. There, they have succeeded in combining species-appropriate husbandry with the interest of visitors in elephants. Direct contact such as elephant riding, feeding or bathing was banned for the welfare of animals. Instead, visitors can now observe the elephant at their leisure from a platform or fill snack bars where the pachyderms could help themselves. This is how animal welfare in tourism can succeed and sustainability pays off for all sides in the end.
The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary Project on Lipsi Island in Greece is dedicated to the protection of marine mammals. Dolphins, seals and turtles previously kept in captivity become acquainted with species-appropriate habitats for the first time in this new and unique marine sanctuary. Injured or stranded animals from the wild receive medical assistance.
Given that a return to the wild is often no longer possible, the animals can spend their “retirement” in the natural surroundings of a demarcated sanctuary on the island coast. The target of the project, funded by the DER Touristik Foundation since 2019, is not only to protect and conserve marine mammals, but also to raise awareness of animal welfare, for example through educational programmes for the local population and tourists.
A best practice example for responsible whale watching is the “Whales the Gentle Way” excursion offered by DER Touristik in the waters surrounding Tenerife and La Gomera. Since January 2021, the coastal waters have been a certified whale heritage site, where pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins and 21 other species of marine mammals enjoy being observed. Led by knowledgeable guides, guests discover astonishing facts about the animals and their habitat. To avoid disturbing the animals as much as possible, the boats are particularly quiet, are powered in an environmentally friendly way and are equipped with the latest technology. This includes cameras in the roof and in the hull of the boats as well as so-called hydrophones with which the whales can be heard. Safety, comfort and environmentally friendly care for guests on board round off the excursion.