We’ve developed a new business model to help make elephant tourist attractions in Thailand safer for elephants, by shifting away from cruel and unnatural entertainment practices
We recently brought together some of the world’s leading travel agencies and elephant camps in Thailand, to discuss how tourists no longer want to see harmful elephant rides and shows — and how local businesses can reflect this new demand.
At the Bangkok conference our Proving Demand Working Group, backed by nearly 190 global travel agency brands, demonstrated how tourists increasingly want to visit ethical elephant attractions. This initiative is supported by Deborah Meaden, a successful entrepreneur, respected business voice and star of UK TV show, Dragon’s Den.
Many tourists from around the globe visit Thailand to see elephants. But increasingly these travellers understand the lifetime of psychological and physical trauma elephant rides and shows can cause.
There’s also a great deal of pain involved in training these wild animals, which follows the distress in early years of being forcibly removed from mothers. Our recent surveys show that many tourists want to see elephants in their natural habitat, not as part of a harmful attraction.
The business of helping elephants
A crucial part of encouraging safer attractions is making sure elephant venue owners know that treating elephants more kindly, and meeting their welfare needs, makes financial sense.
We want Thai venues to allow tourists to see elephants just being elephants, without being forced to do tricks and rides. Letting elephants express their natural behaviour in their natural environment saves these intelligent animals from a high level of trauma.
We’ve partnered with major travel agencies across the world. Many of them explained that their customers no longer want to buy tickets for entertainment attractions which are harmful to elephants.
Together, with companies like TUI Care Foundation, Intrepid, EXO Travel, DER Touristik and The Travel Corporation, we’ve created a new business model for Thai elephant attractions.
This business model needs to be flexible enough to work for a range of elephant camps with different characteristics. That’s why we developed a digital business planning tool which can adapt to take into account a camp’s specific characteristics.
Elephant camps can use the online application to help them meet the growing demand for safer elephant attractions. After inserting a simple set of data, businesses can access a rough five-year budget projection which includes how much investment they will need to make, how much an elephant-friendly operation will cost to run, and when it will start to be profitable for them.
The business model is backed by international entrepreneur Deborah Meaden of UK television’s Dragon’s Den.
Ending exploitation together
Thailand’s rapidly expanding tourism industry involves around 2,198 elephants, with many kept and used in ways that cause great suffering. For the past five years, we have been campaigning for their protection, and have seen some tremendous success.
Last year, after 558,000 of you signed our petition, the world’s largest travel site — TripAdvisor — stopped selling tickets to cruel wildlife tourist attractions.
In 2014, we found that 53% of people surveyed felt that riding an elephant was unacceptable. By 2017, there was a 9% increase in the number of people who thought this.
This shows a shift in attitude in regards to elephant tourism, with more and more people wanting to see elephants in their natural habitat — not forced to interact with humans.
Elephants that are forced into rides and shows have been subject to cruel training since they were very young. Severe pain is often inflicted on such elephants.
This can include stabbing, starving and confining the elephant to establish dominance. This has a severe effect on the wellbeing of elephants and can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
That’s why it’s so important to establish safe practices that meet elephants’ complex needs.
And with tourists increasingly demanding elephant-friendly attractions, we’re sure it’s something venue owners will want to get on board with. We will keep working closely with the travel industry and elephant venues – watch this space to find out how elephants’ lives will be transformed.