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Why Thomas Cook is currently responsible for the growth of the marine park industry but Virgin isn't

Thomas Cook and other tour companies have played a vital role in the growth and popularity of the global captive marine industry since its beginning. Large tour companies like Thomas Cook, advertise and promote marine parks to millions of customers annually, generating enormous profits for their companies in commission by tickets sold. Without the endorsement of tour companies the industry would not be a fraction of the size it is today.

In recent years, awareness of the suffering caused by captivity (1) is abundant and tour companies are being urged not to promote animal marine parks (2). In spite of the overwhelming recommendations and studies, Thomas Cook and other tour companies still continue to sell tickets to shows and continue to support and promote the popularity of this industry

Tour companies receive large revenues from ticket sales to marine parks. No doubt to immediately stop selling tickets would put tour companies in financial difficulty and would be economically unviable. However, their economic dependency does not justify their continued endorsement of a cruel and outdated practice. There comes a point when governments and companies alike must recognise when their practices are abusive and implement a phase out strategy. A phase out strategy allows companies time to readjust their business models whilst gradually severing ties with the abusive practice. One tour company has taken this concept on board – Virgin.

In 2016 Virgin committed to not working with any new dolphinaria which open. Although Virgin still carry on working with existing marine parks their commitment not to do business with new parks means they have capped the number of tickets they sell. It also means they will not be responsible for the growth of the industry in new areas.

To put this in perspective we can take the current case of Morocco that is hoping to open its first dolphinarium in the tourist hotspot of Agadir. The plan is to ship in an orca, four bottlenose dolphins and a sea lion captured and bought from Russia(3). Morocco has never had captive marine animals before and is also not a country known for having great animal welfare policies. At a time when other parts of the world are banning dolphinaria, Morocco is opening up a new market. No doubt, tour companies are ready to do what they always do; jump into the new market and start punting tickets to the dolphin shows, only this time, Virgin won’t be joining them.

Commendably, Virgin has put its hands up and said ‘enough is enough’.

Virgin’s commitment to their new policy has already been seen earlier this year when a new hotel dolphinarium opened in Cancun (4). True to their word Virgin are not promoting it

In St Lucia in the Caribbean local people are working hard to resist the opening of a dolphinarium on their island (5). Again, this Island, like Morocco, does not have captive dolphins; St Lucia would be another new market for the tourist industry. Virgin came forward and said it would not be working with the park if it opens.

By capping the number of tickets they sell and not supporting new marine parks, Virgin will not be complicit in the continued growth of the industry in new markets. Virgin has taken the first step in a genuine phase out strategy. This leads us to ask the question, when will Thomas Cook do the same?

Dolphin Freedom UK recently wrote to David Ville, head of Sustainability at Thomas Cook. We asked David to follow Virgin’s lead and commit to not working with any new dolphinaria. We await David’s response.

Thomas Cook claim to care about animal welfare. If Thomas Cook genuinely cares, they will step up to the mark and follow Virgin’s lead. No new dolphinaria.

If Virgin can do it, all tour companies can do it


  1. (1) A Case Against Captivity, Naomi A. Rose, E.C.M. Parsons, and Richard Farinato, 4th edition 2009

  2. (2) A petition urging Thomas Cook to #DropTheDolphins is currently active with over 171,000 signatures. The hashtag aimed at Thomas Cook #DropTheDolphins has trended at number 10 in the UK.

In one year over 5 million people have reached out to Thomas Cook calling on them to stop promoting cruel dolphin swims

  1. (3) The self-imposed animal welfare standards UK tour companies sign up to do not have an animal welfare policy that condemns dolphin capture.

  2. (4) The hotel chain Dreams currently has two dolphinariums inside two of their hotels in Mexico


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