Where do Kiwi travel operators stand on elephants in Thailand?

Where do Kiwi travel operators stand on elephants in Thailand?
Photo credit: Getty/ file

New Zealand travellers have been asked to avoid elephant riding, due to the horrifying abuse the animals face.

It's the dark side of what some still see as a fun tourist activity; still popular with tourists in destinations like Thailand.

However thousands of elephants are living miserable lives while servicing tourists, and there are calls for elephant rides to be stamped out entirely. 

A recent YouGov Galaxy poll found that 89 percent of Kiwis feel that travel companies should avoid selling or promoting tourism activities that cause wild animals to suffer.

So where do New Zealand's major travel companies stand on this issue? Newshub contacted five major outlets, and while there was one minor slip up, we were assured by all of them that they don't offer or endorse elephant rides.

House of Travel supplied a copy of the elephant-friendly pledge it signed with World Animal Protection, through which it "commits not to sell, offer, or promote venues or activities involving elephant rides and shows".

They say they commit to offering elephant experiences with "a high standard of elephant welfare and conservation, with responsible viewing of elephants in wild or semi-wild habitats."

It also has a commitment to proactively communicate elephant-friendly tourism to clients.

First Travel group manager Paul Smith said: "We certainly do not support, condone or offer elephant riding tours."

He said the company is in full support of not offering any form of animal tourism where animals are subject to cruelty and abuse, and work actively with animal welfare group World Animal Protection NZ.

Flight Centre NZ product general manager Sean Berenson said: "In relation to elephant riding, our policy is to not promote this activity on our websites or in our brochures. If a human error is made, we seek to remove the image as soon as we become aware of it."

Mr Berenson said the company operates under a Responsible Travel Charter.

"Our doors have always been open to World Animal Protection. WAP is fully aware of our position and as recently as May of this year it acknowledged the positive work the Flight Centre Travel Group has done in this space," he said.

"The Flight Centre Travel Group is committed to promoting and selling travel that respects human rights, the environment, animal welfare and social equality. To ensure this happens, we audit thousands of suppliers and tour operators to identify any issues."

Hello World travel branded group manager Kim Grafton said the company is currently developing a full animal welfare policy.

"This includes formalising a full policy document, communicating our expectations, and reviewing our third party supplier products and services in addition to reviewing consultant behaviours and processes to ensure that hello world's position of not condoning, supporting or promoting tours to wildlife parks in Asia (including Bali) or India, where animal welfare is compromised, is well understood and consistently adhered to."

She said this was communicated to its stores in May. However when Newsub phoned one of its Auckland stores, a travel agent said it would be possible to book an elephant ride.

"I am disappointed to hear a staff member in an Auckland store would advise they are able to sell a product of this nature," Ms Grafton said.

STA Travel did not respond to a request for comment.

Have you booked an elephant ride through a New Zealand company? Get in touch at digital@newshub.co.nz.