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Matthew Barker
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Itinerant marketer doing fun things with content creators, publishers and travel brands.
Itinerant marketer doing fun things with content creators, publishers and travel brands.

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Join us this Tuesday:
An examination of some of the issues around activities involving captive marine animals. What are some of the questions to ask and critical details to know when making an informed decision about whether or not to take part?

PARTICIPANTS (in alphabetical order):

* Margaux Dodds – Director & Co-founder, Marine Connection (http://www.marineconnection.org/)

* +Diana Edelman – PR and Social Media, +Save Elephant Foundation; Freelance Travel Writer (http://http://www.dtravelsround.com/)

* Alison Hood – Rescue & Care Director, +Born Free Foundation

* +Michael Huxley – Founder/Editor, +Bemused Backpacker

* Chris Pitt – Campaigns & Communications Manager, +CarefortheWildInt (Care for the Wild International)

* Moderated by +Ethan Gelber, Co-founder, +Outbounding.org; Founder, +The Travel Word  

We also reached out to representatives from BlogWorld & New Media Expo (which operates TBEX) and Delphinus (a swim-with-dolphins company in Mexico), but received no reply. For more information about why we contacted these parties, see the IMPORTANT BACKGROUND directly below.

ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED

* Responsible/sustainable travel – What are some of the general practices that travelers interested in responsible/sustainable travel should consider?

* Wildlife and tourism – What travelers should know? Safaris, nature walks, whale and dolphin watches, scuba diving, turtle beach watches and more - these are activities that involve observing animals in the wild. Orphaned/injured/aged animal parks, trained-animal parks, zoos and aquariums - these bring people and animals together in a different way. What is OK? What isn't? 

* Taking a stand – Travelers usually make decisions in the absence of complete information, or even knowing that there is more information to be had. One way to work against this is for more people who do have more complete knowledge to take a stand – for or against – a behavior. But how far should anyone go? And what are the ramifications when faced with opposition?

IMPORTANT BACKGROUND

These days, even knee-jerk naysayers can hardly deny the increase in fair discussion about ethical practices in life and business. A vocal minority may disagree about, for example, humanity's role in climate change, but the dialogue about how the way in which we all live impacts the planet has become significant… and productive.

This is certainly true in travel and tourism, a sector now notable for the rise of responsible and sustainable practices. More and more hotels, tour operators and more are now keeping an eye on how they affect the environments, cultures and economies of which they are a part. In parallel, a growing number of consumers is actively seeking experiences that simultaneously showcase and preserve our earth's kaleidoscopic diversity.

But positive and constructive change is slow, especially in the tourism "industry" (a word that betrays the scope of change required). Information about how to support positive developments – the best questions to ask and the most effective actions to take – can be hard to find. And even when information is available, a clear way forward sometimes isn't clear. This is true for both well-intentioned tourism professionals and everyday travelers.

Case and point is a recent decision by +TBEX: Travel Blog Exchange, "the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators, and social media savvy travel industry professionals," to include in its upcoming convention in Cancun, Mexico, the option to take part in activities that involve trained, captive dolphins.

This prompted outrage from many corners. Vocal opposition to inclusion of these activities – offered by +Delphinus Swim with Dolphins – turned into an online row that has resulted in blog posts against TBEX's decision (see http://bemusedbackpacker.com/2014/07/09/why-i-wont-be-attending-tbex-cancun/), TBEX's defense of its decision (see http://tbexcon.com/us/2014/07/08/tbex-mission-programming-ethics/), a petition against TBEX's decision (see https://www.change.org/petitions/the-organizers-of-tbex-stop-the-inclusion-of-dolphin-tours – with 1,878 supporters at the time of writing) and even a call to boycott TBEX (see http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/help-end-unethical-tourism/). 

As concisely reported by WildlifeExtra.com (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/writers-boycott.html), the TBEX kerfuffle involves two traditional stances: 

On the one hand, as expressed by Rick Calvert, CEO & Co-Founder BlogWorld & New Media Expo, which operates TBEX, "We think our audience is/should be sophisticated enough to make the decision of taking one of these tours and then writing objectively about their experience for themselves."

On the other hand, "We have been told by tour operators that all issues like this should be a matter of free choice," said Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild International, which runs a RIGHT-tourism campaign for animal-friendly tourism (http://www.right-tourism.org/). "They, like TBEX, say it should be up to the tourist to decide if they want to take part in an activity, it shouldn’t be the tour operator’s responsibility to ban them. There is truth in that. But… many people take part in these activities without knowing the truth about them – we can’t count the number of people who have come to us and said that they have been somewhere, like a bull fight, or the Tiger Temple in Thailand, and said they, 'wish they’d known'."

Generally speaking, the debate about whether or not to support different forms of wildlife tourism often hinges on how much information everyday travelers have easy access to. Those with little knowledge tend to partake more actively and indiscriminately. The more information one has, the more careful and selective one's choices of activities and operators tend to be. This is now reflected in decisions by a major tour operators to shun certain types of wildlife tourism (see "STA Travel ends 'unethical' animal trips" - http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/16/sta-travel-ends-unethical-animal-trips-elephants-seaworld). 

So what should travelers know to help them make better decisions?That's why we're hosting this Hangout. We want people to have all the facts and opinions.

And we did our best to bring together some of the players so that we can dig a little deeper. Unfortunately, while we have good representation on one side of the issue, on the other side, we reached out to TBEX, Delphinus and others, but none responded. Given this, we will briefly address the stance TBEX has taken around its convention in Cancun, but our intention is to focus on the underpinning issues as described in the ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED above, not to further fuel the debate around the TBEX specifics, including whether a boycott is the right approach to take.

(cc: +Matthew Barker +Sonja Holverson)

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