British Airways is the latest U.K. travel company — and the second in the past month — to announce it will no longer promote attractions that feature captive animals, which includes SeaWorld Orlando.
In a press release, the company said as part of an “animal welfare strategy” with wildlife organization Born Free, it will no longer sell tickets or offer tours to those attractions, effective immediately.
“Our customers tell us they have concerns about wild animals being kept in captivity, and increasingly see animal performances in particular as outdated,” said British Airways Holidays’ managing director Claire Bentley.
Virgin Holidays and travel agency Thomas Cook have made similar moves. Numerous other travel providers have severed their relationship with SeaWorld, including United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, AAA Northeast and Air Canada.
It’s not clear whether any of these moves have had a material impact on SeaWorld Orlando’s business. The park’s parent company has reported gains in attendance and revenue for six straight quarters. Just this week, it reported that 9.8 million guests have passed through the gates at its parks through the first half of 2019.
The British Airways decision was quickly praised by animal rights groups like the Animal Welfare Institute.
“A growing number of tourism-related businesses clearly see the future,” said Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for AWI. “They realize that their customer base no longer wants to see intelligent dolphins and whales performing circus tricks. Now it’s time for the marine theme parks to get the message.”
SeaWorld and its allies, however, reacted by criticizing groups like AWI and PETA.
“When radical animal rights activists mislead and manipulate the truth to the detriment of our planet’s critically endangered animals, you have to question their motives,” SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Gus Antorcha said in a statement. “Pressuring companies and trying to shame them into cutting ties with independently accredited zoos and aquariums works against the vital research and conservation work to protect these animals.”
In a letter to British Airways encouraging them to reverse course, Madelon Willemsen, CEO of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said that the airline’s position “has been informed by an animal rights perspective rather than by an evidence-based assessment of animal welfare standards.”
“All zoo and aquarium association members not only adhere to legislation but go above and beyond through their own code of conduct and have strong programmes of animal welfare assessments, guidelines and policies in place,” Willemsen wrote. “We believe therefore that there should not be a blanket ban, but a robust way of identifying the appropriate organisations for your clients to visit.”
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