As of early 2022, Expedia Group will no longer sell holidays that involve the performance by or interactions with dolphins and other cetaceans.
This spells bad news for Village Roadshow Theme Parks (VRTP) who operate Sea World, a renowned Gold Coast theme park which features daily Dolphin presentations, and other parks within Australia which feature the cetaceans.
The change is likely influenced by a continued movement to remove Cetaceans from captivity which gained a significant following after the release of the 2013 BAFTA-nominated documentary 'Blackfish' which focused on Orca's at the United State's 'SeaWorld' parks. Whilst 'Sea World' on the Gold Coast has no connection with the U.S based theme parks, it has not been spared from criticism, and the park has been a target of multiple protests by groups such as 'Justice for Captives'.
Under this new policy change Sea World and associated third parties will no longer be able to sell admission to the theme park on Expedia's platform without significant changes to both their animal performances and experiences. This will also force Village Roadshow Theme Park to remove their 3-day and 14-day passes from the platform, as well as their Sea World Resort packages which include admission to the theme park.
The policy also quietly mentions interactions with other wildlife beyond cetaceans.
We will not allow intentional physical contact with wild and exotic animals, which include but are not limited to dolphins, whales, cetaceans, elephants, big cats, bears, reptiles, and primates
Back in 2019 Dreamworld offered 'Tiger Cub Experiences' which allowed guests to interact with the park's new baby tigers. Currently Dreamworld does not sell admission to the theme park on Expedia.com.au, but doing similar experiences in the future would prevent them from doing so.
According to SimilarWeb, a platform which provides web analytics services and offers its users information on their clients' and competitors' web traffic and performance, Expedia.com ranks as the 2nd most popular Travel and Tourism worldwide and 6th for Australia alone. Outside of Expedia.com & Expedia.com.au, the group also manages WotIf, Trivago and Hotels.com. Whilst Expedia has a limited market share within Australia, their international recognition is likely to cause a ripple through the travel and tourism sector which could lead to more corporations adopting a similar policy.
Unfortunately this change fails to recognise Sea World's Research and Rescue Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to funding and promoting independent marine research projects, alongside the continued efforts that the theme park has gone too to ensure the welfare of their captive animals.
Sea World's animal welfare is accredited by the 'Zoo Aquarium Association' (ZAA) Australia which is managed by leaders in conversation, zoology and science, as well as being a member of the 'World Association of Zoos and Aquariums'. However these same associations are partners in Expedia's new animals welfare policy which explicitly forbids the performance of cetaceans.
We prohibit activities that feature interactions with or performances by dolphins, whales, and other cetaceans. Seaside sanctuaries that provide captive animals with a permanent seaside living environment are allowed if they are accredited and do not feature interactions or performances.
We have reached out to the ZAA to comment on whether this partnership with Expedia will affect the accreditation zoos and aquariums moving forward and will update the article if they respond.
Where does this leave Sea World? The removal of admission and multi-day, multi-park passes is not likely to cause too much concern for the theme park, but not being able to bundle the park in with their resort could be a major blow to its value for customers. Currently on Expedia.com.au the Sea World Resort offers multiple packages bundling all four Village Roadshow Theme Parks in with their rooms. Under the new rules from Expedia this will no longer be allowed come 2022, and if other corporations follow suit then it would likely spell bad news for the resort.
This decision from Expedia could be a major catalyst for change in the theme park which is currently celebrating 50 years of operation. Dolphins are a significant and iconic part of Sea World's history dating all the way back to 1971, but with the construction of their brand new precinct 'New Atlantis', it's clear that Sea World has ambitious plans to expand the theme park side of the oceanarium. With it's limited space along The Spit, VRTP will need to make the important decision in the near future as to whether it expands their animal offerings or theme park attractions, and considering the way that the tourism market is moving, their choice may have already been made for them.