Leading the Pack
Thomas Cook Group, a premier leisure travel group operating in seventeen (17) countries with yearly sales in the billions, is a world class leader in sustainable business practices. Included in their sustainability policies is a commitment to the welfare of animals used in tourist attractions and also those impacted by tourism. Ms. Humane Advisor recently talked to Nancy Brock, Sustainable Business Manager for Thomas Cook, to learn why animal welfare is important to a company whose business is selling dream vacations and holidays to exotic destinations.
“Thomas Cook UK was the first major tour operator to have a published animal welfare policy,” Brock explained. “We backed this up by training over 50 members of staff to conduct animal welfare audits on excursions featuring animals. At Neilson (a Thomas Cook business unit) we developed a Feral Cat Policy to try to address the issue of stray cats over-running the hotel restaurants we operate in Greece and Turkey – to the delight of some customers and the horror of others!”
Ms. Brock admits to being an animal lover and feels that it has helped her to better understand customer needs. “Yes, I have always been an animal lover and we always had a cat or two about the place. Over the last 10 years or so we have added a few chickens to the mix, some new, some retired factory girls. Then, when I became involved in sustainability, it became increasingly clear that animals play a big part in our customer’s tourism experiences, whether as part of an organized excursion or just out and about on the streets. In the same way our customers look to us to check their hotel accommodation safety, similarly they expect us to check that the animals in our excursions are being looked after properly. They also look to us to address issues such as stray animals as we are their main point of contact with the destination they are visiting.”
Animal Welfare Programs Make Business Sense
Thomas Cook’s responsible tourism activities for animals represent a sizeable commitment of resources by a travel company, supporting Ms. Humane Advisor’s position that there is a business case for the humane treatment of animals, Ms. Brock agreed.
“We receive many letters, emails and Facebook postings from customers whose holiday memories have been tainted by the sight of street animals being treated cruelly or neglectfully. While good animal welfare may not enhance the reputation of a destination as it is taken for granted to some extent, evidence of poor animal welfare may damage it so if we can work with destinations to try and address some of these issues, our customers will avoid unhappy experiences and the reputation of the destination is less likely to be harmed.”
To that end, Ms. Brock said that recently Thomas Cook has participated fully in the development of the ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) Global Standards Guidance Manuals for Animal Welfare. “These tools aim to raise awareness and standards of animal welfare in tourism around the world, addressing topics such as captive animal attractions, captive dolphin attractions, working animals (horses, huskies, camels, etc), elephants, wildlife watching and unacceptable practices,” she added.
ABTA’s Manuals for Animal Welfare are available at: http://abta.com/about-abta/raising-standards/animal-welfare.
Helping Animals Helps People
Thomas Cook also understands that their efforts to help animals positively impact the communities they service. Asked if the tourism industry should care about helping animals when there are so many humans in need, Ms. Brock said yes. “We can do both! And sometimes helping the animals helps the people who own them, especially in cases like the caleche drivers in Egypt and Tunisia where their horse or donkey is their sole livelihood. Working with them to look after their animals better can mean extending the working lives of the animals while giving their customers a happier experience that they will tell their friends about,” she said.
Just Say No to the Animal Paparazzi
Animals can also exploited at tourist destinations by being used as photographic props and as part of hotel attractions and shows.
According to Ms. Brock, Thomas Cook is keenly aware of these practices and actively discourages them. “Each year we write to all our hotels asking them not to allow animals to be used in their entertainment programmes or touted on their premises as photographic props as many of these animals are poorly treated and have very sad lives. One hotel in Mexico not only put a stop to this activity but started putting signage up around their grounds explaining to customers why this is to be discouraged and giving educational information about the wild animals to be found there (and not to feed them inappropriate food!) Another mini-hotel chain in the Canaries also banned animals from their entertainment programme as a result of the letters.”
Regularly hearing customer or staff stories about animals being misused or poorly treated can be disheartening so Ms. Humane Advisor wondered how Ms. Brock handles the reports she receives about animals. “It can be a challenge and I sometimes shed a tear at the plight of this animal or that story. But so many of our lovely destination staff are passionate about animal welfare and are out there doing what they can, how can I fail to be uplifted?” Brock answered.
Getting Bigger and Better
2013 was a banner year for Thomas Cook as a business, with new strategies in place to grow their brand and their revenues. Things are also looking up for their animal welfare programs reported Ms. Brock.
“The animal welfare story so far has mostly been around UK activity but the next steps are to look at a Group approach to animal welfare. Thomas Cook UK has sister Thomas Cooks in Germany, Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, France…..and some of them are starting to look at how they can get to grips with better animal welfare in destinations. Quite a big project but somebody has to do it!!” Brock said.
With the vision, talent, and commitment of Thomas Cook staff like Nancy Brock, Ms. Humane Advisor thinks that this exciting new project for animals is certain to improve the lives of animals at travel destinations around the world.
Nancy, thank you for taking the time to talk to us and for all your hard work for animals! This paw’s for you!
Thomas Cook Group: http://www.thomascookgroup.com/
Thomas Cook Sustainable Tourism: http://www.thomascook.com/sustainable-tourism/looking-after-wildlife/
Thomas Cook Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thomascook
Thomas Cook Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThomasCookUK
ARK (Animal Rescue Kefalonia): http://www.animalrescuekefalonia.com/