How we built a first-of-its-kind animal welfare policy


Animal Welfare marine mammals Booking.com

Wildlife always enriches the travel experience. Unfortunately, travel doesn't always enrich the experience for wildlife. Popular tourist attractions and activities featuring wildlife often mean some form of exploitation and or suffering for those animals. One of the most problematic of these attractions is wildlife entertainment, where animals are removed from their natural habitats or bred in captivity and forced to endure stressful situations, and often suffer cruelty and abuse at the same time. That's why in 2019, Booking.com set about building the industry's first-ever animal welfare policy for both accommodations and experiences. And we've just expanded it even further.


What is 'animal welfare'?

Turtle or tiger, animal welfare refers to the treatment of all non-human animals, in every type of setting, whether that's in captivity or in the wild. It not only covers their physical condition but their mental wellbeing as well. As a leader in travel, we believe it is our responsibility, and that of our industry, to help make sure this planet, its people, wildlife and habitats are able to thrive now and into the future.


Why it matters


At Booking.com, our mission is to make it easier for everyone to experience the world. We're also committed to preserving a world worth experiencing. We see animal welfare as a fundamental aspect of protecting and respecting the lives of other creatures. We also see it as an important part of maintaining a healthy travel and tourism industry. Our animal welfare standards shape who we do business with and what kind of experiences we offer to our customers.


Setting high standards


We're experts in travel, not animal welfare, so we partnered with some people who are. In 2018, we began working with World Animal Protection to evaluate how to better protect wildlife. Together, we built a set of standards for both our accommodation and attraction partners to follow. These standards were built on the Five Domains model, which promotes the positive welfare of animals, beyond just their basic needs.

Five Domains:

1. Nutrition beyond just sustenance, but also for wetting, tasting, and gastrointestinal comfort.

2. An environment that is comfortable, which enables movement for play, is free from distressing odour and noise and promotes relaxation through predictability.

3. Health through access to fitness, care and other factors which enable good health.

4. Behavioural interactions that rest upon the animal’s agency to interact with its environment, humans and other animals at will and according to its natural responses.

5. A positive mental state through the culmination of the previous four domains, which, if practised, should lead to the positive wellbeing of the animal with reduced negative states such as fear, frustration, hunger, pain or boredom.


With these as our foundation, we then set out to understand what activities and experiences were on offer in the travel space, where these freedoms and domains would be impacted, and which species are most vulnerable to exploitation. The resulting set of standards set a new benchmark for our industry. World Animal Protection ranked them some of the highest in the industry and they also became the first-of-their-kind to be focused on both accommodations and experiences.

Time to expand

As of the 1st October 2021, the policy was expanded to cover three more vulnerable species. This means our standards now protect: marine mammals (including dolphins, walruses, sea lions, whales and porpoises), elephants, bears, big cats (including lions, tigers, leopards and cheetahs), orangutans and other primates, sloths, birds of prey and reptiles. We will not work with partners that offer or promote any of the following activities:

  • Direct interaction with wild animals of certain species*

  • Animal performances, shows and circuses involving wild animals of certain species*

  • Animal fights of any kind (e.g. bear-baiting, crocodile/alligator wrestling, cockfights, bullfights)

  • Animal racing of any kind (e.g. horse racing, greyhound racing, ostrich racing, rodeos, elephant polo)

  • Trophy hunting and canned hunting

  • Wild animal rides (e.g. elephant riding, ostrich riding)

  • Visits to aquariums with captive whales and dolphins

  • Visits to facilities where wild animals are purposely bred to produce commercial products, including – but not limited to – crocodile farms, civet coffee farms, bear bile farms, turtle farms, tiger farms and snake farms

  • Visits to venues where visitors can purchase products sourced from wild animals (e.g. turtle shells, turtle meat, snakeskins, crocodile heads)

*certain species refers to the animals listed in the paragraph above.

What's next?

We're not done with our animal welfare standards. We will keep learning and monitoring, and as we understand more, we'll adapt and expand our policy further, if necessary. We'll also make sure our partners understand our guidelines and, hopefully, see more of them implement their own animal welfare standards.