New rules regarding the interaction between tourists and animals announced by Britain’s travel body ABTA will impact many countries, especially elephant tourism in Thailand.

elephant travel thailand abta welfare guidelines animal
A chained elephant in Thailand. Photo: Twitter.

Earlier this month, similar guidelines were announced by the South African tourism body SATSA and AirBnB regarding especially the interactions of tourists with wild cats, such as cub-petting and walking with lions.

The new guidelines by ABTA, whose members include some 600 UK tour operators (and whose guidelines are apparently followed widely across Europe), are much stronger than those of 2013. Almost two-thirds of people interviewed by ABTA said they had concerns about the wider impacts of tourism and how animals were treated.

In the latest Animal Welfare Guidelines, unacceptable practises include “tourist contact or feeding of great apes, bears, crocodiles or alligators, elephants without a barrier, orca, sloths as well as contact, feeding and walking with wild cats.”

unacceptable to use elephants for rides, shows, bathing or any other form of tourist contact without a barrier

Thailand especially will be hit hard by the updated guidelines. According to a recent report in Skift, there are as many as 400 tourist elephant camps in Southeast Asia.

“The clear advice that it is unacceptable to use elephants for rides, shows, bathing or any other form of tourist contact without a barrier is a real breakthrough,” said Julie Middelkoop, Campaign Lead for World Animal Protection. “We are equally thrilled to see that other harmful tourist experiences such as selfies with sloths in the Amazon, feeding orangutans and walking with lions in southern Africa have the same listing.”

ABTA said in a statement that in coming up with the guidelines, it had worked together with industry experts, scientists, zoologist organisations, associations and non-governmental organisations from around the world. These include World Animal Protection, World Cetacean Alliance, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Humane Society International and Born Free Foundation.

“ABTA encourages travel companies to either not offer, or move away from, unacceptable practices,” the organisation said. “ABTA is very aware that no longer selling an attraction doesn’t mean animal welfare issues go away. Working with suppliers to transition away from unacceptable practices can take time.”

Middelkoop added, “We are delighted that ABTA has heard the consortium of animal protection NGOs working together on this issue…. Although still voluntary, this and the improved clarity of the guidelines will ensure greater uptake by travel companies.

ABTA is hosting a seminar on Animal Welfare in Tourism on 12 March 2020 in central London, where the guides will be discussed further. For more information visit or email