Silver award: Lotus Travel
Responsible tourism really becomes a 'movement' when small tour operators like Lotus Travel start to take on the world of animal protection. Running trips to Vietnam, India, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan, many of which have serious animal welfare issues when it comes to tourism, Lotus decided to start a movement of ethical change. No more eastern promises from people on the ground regarding animal protection anymore. But real change.
A year ago Lotus Travel, which on the face of it looks like a traditional tour operator running tours to the Far East, made a decision to implement a seriously thought out animal protection policy. Divided into two sections, one is aimed at converting partners in their holiday destinations to change their ways and the other is aimed at converting tourists to do the same. After they learned about the unethical practices involved in taming wild animals used to perform for tourists they removed, for example, elephant rides, dolphin shows or cultural festivals that include animals performing from their trips.
Lotus believes that by removing a demand for such animal abuse is the quickest way to stop animals being captured in the wild for these purposes. They also give their customers detailed guidelines advising them not to pet, ride on or be photographed with animals which are often captured in the wild for these purposes, nor buy souvenirs made from animal products.
Lotus Travel doesn't stop with its own tours and tourists and is working in partnership with leading international charity World Animal Protection to spread the word among all relevant Swedish tour operators to put in place similar animal protection policies, knowing that when a whole country starts to say 'no more', governments turning a blind eye to animal cruelty in their countries will finally start to police and stop it.
Silver award: The Donkey Sanctuary
The late Dr Svendsen, who founded the pioneering Donkey Sanctuary in 1969, had one motto for the charity's work: "In everything we do, donkeys will always come first, second and third". This should have also included "and everywhere we go", although at the time, Dr Svendsen may not have predicted the charity's future international prowess. And why the tourism connection? Because donkeys are used as human taxis in many tourist destinations, and often they are maltreated in the extreme.
Not only is The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, a top visitor attraction in itself, it also advocates for donkeys and mules to be valued as animals and to live free from suffering around the world. It is The Donkey Sanctuary's Take STEPS campaign that is being celebrated here, which works to improve the welfare of donkeys used in tourism, to carry people or their bags. In particular, the campaign focuses on the Greek island of Santorini where there are up to 350 donkeys and mules working as tourist taxis, with animal welfare practices sinking to an all-time low in many cases. The Donkey Sanctuary presented a list of urgent improvements to the Mayor of Santorini and other Greek authorities, gathering 20,000 signatures in a petition to put a stop to the likes of donkeys having to carry huge weights, being denied access to shade, water and rest, being forced to wear inadequate saddles and so on. The petition was accepted by the Ministry of Tourism in Athens, which agreed to write an official letter to the Ministry of Agriculture requesting further regulation of welfare conditions for working equines.
But The Donkey Sanctuary also works closely with tour operators going to these destinations, such as cruise companies that bring high volumes of tourists, most of whom are unaware of the issues. Using a Take Steps leaflet to heighten awareness about the problem, The Donkey Sanctuary is emphasising that it is all of our responsibility to put a stop to this cruelty. Because by choosing to ride on them for a bit of fun on holiday, we are all party to the crime.