Today, travel and accommodations brand Airbnb unveiled “Airbnb Animal Experiences,” a new program designed to help connect travelers to animals through more than 1,000 different experiences crafted using the company’s new stringent animal-welfare standards. Made in partnership with animal-rights organization World Animal Protection (WAP), the underpinning policy of Airbnb’s new “experience” offerings excludes companies that exploit wild animals for entertainment, such as SeaWorld, wild animal circuses, roadside tourist attractions that profit from animal shows, and more. “We believe all animals should be respected for their intrinsic value and role in the global ecosystem, so experiences that violate these guidelines or otherwise threaten the welfare and/or conservation of animals will be removed from Airbnb,” the new company policy states. 

Airbnb will hold hosts of experiences accountable for ensuring that animals are free from hunger or thirst; discomfort; pain, injury, or disease; fear and distress; and are allowed to express normal behavior—otherwise known as “The Five Freedoms,” the guiding principles of animal welfare. Airbnb will also crack down on companies that call themselves “sanctuaries” but continue to profit from animal exploitation. The new policy strictly prohibits experience providers to promote animal sporting events (such as horse and dog racing, cockfighting and bullfighting, and trophy hunting); elephant rides; big cat interactions; unnatural performances (such as dolphin shows, bears riding bikes, tigers on display at restaurants, and animal amusement parks); and all marine parks. “It is unnatural and detrimental for marine mammals like dolphins, whales, sea lions, and polar bears to be kept in captivity for entertainment purposes,” Airbnb states in its new policy. Additionally, Airbnb bans promoting the purchase of wildlife products such as ivory, shark fin soup, and civet coffee. Airbnb’s policy also prohibits animals to be used as props for photos, encourages hosts and guests to respect all wild animals regardless of size, and bans negative-training (such as punishment through prodding, chaining, and drugging). 

Instead of exploitative practices, the new Airbnb Animal Experiences will offer a compassionate way to connect to animals, including through hiking with rescue dogs, cuddling cows, caring for rescued horses, and helping animals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. “With technology taking up so much of our lives, it’s easy to feel disconnected from nature and animals,” Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO and co-founder, said. “Maybe this is why social media is dominated by animal memes. Life is better with animals, but for many busy people, looking at them through a screen is the closest they can get. With Airbnb Animal Experiences, locals and travelers are just a few clicks away from being alongside them in the real world.” Airbnb also partnered with media brand The Dodo to create inspiration animal content based on the new experiences it offers.

All approved experiences on the Airbnb platform will feature a WAP badge to assure travelers that hosts are in compliance with the new standards. “Airbnb’s commitment to making animal welfare a top priority is evident in the new policy created with World Animal Protection. It moves us closer to a future that will not only educates travelers on the importance of cruelty-free animal tourism but will also encourage other companies to follow suit,” WAP Executive Director Alesia Soltanpanah told VegNews. “We want to see an end to wild animals being used in entertainment—they deserve a life worth living. Many people are not yet aware that an experience they view as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can mean a lifetime of suffering for the animals involved. If you can hug, ride, touch, or take a photo with a wild animal, it is very likely there is cruelty involved.”

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