Nicola Billens

Travel is the best education most people will ever get. On any given trip a traveller will absorb lessons about different cultures, geography, history and politics – whether they intend to or not.

And education is what will make this world a better place. Unfortunately travellers often unwittingly contribute negatively to the very things they came to learn about and experience. Most travellers have an excuse, they simply just aren’t aware of what’s really going on. Everything is ‘foreign’ and often things get swept aside as cultural differences.

Thailand is a perfect example of this. The activities on offer seem so appealing at first glance. Who wouldn’t want to ride on elephants in Chiang Mai or visit the unique looking long-neck Karen (Padung) seen in National Geographic magazines? And what’s so bad about dancing all night at a full moon party?

But all of these have devastating effects in some way.

To be tame enough for people to ride on them, baby elephants are stolen from their mothers and have to endure a cruel ‘breaking the spirit’ process.


The long-neck Karen are refugees displaced due to civil war in Myanmar and are forced to live in tourist villages like human zoos without any legal status in Thailand.

long neck1

Image: Reuben Teo

And the rubbish left over after a Full Moon party by revellers leaves behind a big mess for the locals and the environment.


Image: Nate Clarke

But Travel Agents  have the power to help change the above situations and many more around the globe. It’s simply a matter of creating awareness of what’s really going on by informing clients when creating itineraries.

Here are three things Travel Agents have the power to do:

1 – Discourage wildlife tourism where wild animals are in the captivity of humans. In particular avoid selling elephant rides or shows, tiger or lion petting and dolphin/orca shows.

2 – Use ethical suppliers and demand accountability from them to ensure that proceeds from travel go back to the communities in a positive way. Particularly support suppliers that help women from disadvantaged regions.

3 – Encourage travellers to act responsibly and leave no trace.

In addition, wholesalers, OTAs and travel agency consortia should use their buying power to force better standards around the globe, and refuse to profit from animal cruelty, human suffering or environmental degradation.

It’s a simple supply and demand situation and Agents can help decrease the demand and discourage the supply of ongoing poor practices. In turn, by encouraging and rewarding good practices, these will flourish, and communities, wildlife and the environment will also benefit.

Let’s use the power of travel to change the world for the better.

To educate yourself about the cruelty behind animals in tourism visit the following links: World Animal Protection or watch The Cove or Blackfish

What activities have you done in your travels that you would now discourage other travellers from doing?