ECO NEWS: Cancun Cancels TBEX Dolphin Tours

A pod of dolphins swimming near our boat in Moorea, Tahiti

A pod of dolphins swimming near our boat in Moorea, Tahiti

Cancun Cancels TBEX Dolphin Tours

 

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, right from the get-go: Dolphin tours are bad for dolphins.

 

Organizations such as the Humane Society and World Animal Protection have long condemned captive Swimming With Dolphins programs for their inhumane treatment. As depicted in The Cove, these dolphins are captured in the most horrific cull you can imagine, with those that don’t pass muster immediately slaughtered. 

 

Of the dolphins that do survive, 53% die within the first three months of captivity (causes include chemicals in the water, human infection and stress-related illnesses). Food deprivation is often used to train dolphins to perform tricks, and long-term captivity has been proven to have devastating effects on the mental, physical and emotional well-being of all cetacean species. 

 

Like a lot of travelers, we didn’t fully understand how bad captive cetacean facilities were until a few years ago. I took my daughter to swim with dolphins in the Bahamas in 2006, then Mary and I swam with them in an open-water setting in Curacao in 2009 (just before The Cove was released). But in the years since, we’ve done our best to educate and inform our readers on the subject, including interviewing Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite about the problems with captive cetacean facilities last year.

 

Dolphin_face

One of the open water dolphins at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium

 

CAUGHT IN A CONTROVERSY OVER DOLPHIN TOURS

Last week several travel bloggers took me to task in the Business of Blogging Facebook group I created, suggesting I was “betraying my brand” for agreeing to speak at TBEX– the world’s leading conference for travel bloggers– in Athens, Greece later this year.

 

The reason for their criticism? Because the forthcoming TBEX Conference in Cancun was offering bloggers an opportunity to take Dolphin Tours at a tourist attraction called Delphinus. They felt that I, as a leading eco-conscious blogger, should immediately refuse to appear at TBEX on principle.

 

What bothered me was not the fact that these people essentially called me out in a public forum, or questioned my stance on captive cetacean programs. No, the troubling issue was that they leapt to assumptions about me and my brand without any effort whatsoever to gather facts on the situation before passing judgment. And, given the professional context of the discussion (i.e. a forum about Business), that’s just bad form.

 

They made these assumptions with zero knowledge of the work we were doing behind the scenes to actually fix the problem (more on this below). And the fact that they did so without doing any sort of basic journalistic research only served to underscore the reason I agreed to speak at TBEX several months ago, long before the Dolphin Tours were even announced…

 

Dolphins Jumping in Pine Island Sound off Sanibel Island, Florida

Dolphins Jumping in Pine Island Sound off Sanibel Island, Florida

 

THE TBEX BOYCOTT

The call to boycott TBEX because of the Delphinus Dolphin Tours began on July 14, when a leading travel blogger wrote a post called “Help Stop the Promotion of Unethical Tourism.” Like many bloggers, he was upset by TBEX exec Rick Calvert’s disappointing response to blogger concerns over the tours. He listed many of the same reasons we’ve included above for why dolphin tours are bad, and called for all travel bloggers to boycott TBEX until the tours were removed from the schedule.

 

While I wholeheartedly agree with the central concept that Dolphin Tours are bad, I raised an eyebrow over the source of the controversy. To quote travel writer Pam Mandel, Boycotting TBEX feels like an attention-grabbing dramatic move.”

 

But having one of the world’s most high-profile bloggers write about the issue attracted a lot more attention. Our friend (and fellow EcoAdventure Media member) Ethan Gelber helped launch a great discussion about the TBEX dolphin tours and ethical tourism practices on his Outbounding site; environmentally conscious bloggers such as Mike Huxley added their well-reasoned voices to the debate; and even British newspaper The Guardian recently covered the controversy.

 

If nothing else, the TBEX boycott helped initiate a broader conversation on sustainable travel issues– a mission we’ve dedicated the last four years of our lives to. So why didn’t we join the call to action on the boycott? Because we recognized that the boycott did absolutely nothing to solve the real problem, and we were extremely busy behind the scenes pursuing other actions that we believed might be more effective. 

 

Dolphins leaping in Cancun, Mexico

Dolphins leaping in Cancun, Mexico

 

HOW THE TBEX DOLPHIN TOURS GOT CANCELLED

The first thing we did when investigating the controversy was to consider the business decisions behind it. In my experience, if you track the flow of money, you can usually find the source of most problems.

 

After doing some digging, I learned that the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau has control over which tours are offered to visiting bloggers. The people behind TBEX can voice their concerns privately to their hosts, but to throw them under the bus publicly would guarantee problems with securing host cities for future conferences. In short, it would be a terrible business decision, especially when– let’s be honest here– the percentage of bloggers who truly care about sustainable travel issues is a small (albeit vocal) minority.

 

As for Cancun, their reasons for wanting bloggers to visit Delphinus is obvious. Dolphin tours are a HUGE tourism draw, generating billions of dollars in revenue every year. Companies like Delphinus pay a hefty sum to the CVB in exchange for their marketing and promotional services. So of course Cancun wants bloggers to visit Delphinus, swim with dolphins, and then write glowing stories about how wonderful the experience is.

 

But how might the Cancun CVB feel about a group of high-profile, eco-conscious bloggers banding together, writing well-researched stories about the reasons attractions like Delphinus are bad for dolphins, inter-linking their stories for SEO impact, and publishing them during TBEX to create a negative publicity campaign?

 

I’ve worked with Cancun on several high-profile stories recently, for outlets like Volaris Airlines and Yahoo Travel. How would they feel if they knew that I would lead such a campaign, and enlist dozens of bloggers we’re working with to join in? This was the question I posed to my contacts at the Cancun CVB, suggesting that going forward with the dolphin tours could prove VERY bad for business. In short, to counter an industry driven by profit, I focused my argument on the money, not morality. 

 

At the same time, I emphasized great ecotourism attractions such as the Cancun Underwater Museum and Rio Secreto, suggesting they could offer blogger tours there instead. We emailed back and forth a few times over the past few weeks, and today I received their official response from PR rep Paula Gomez, excerpted below:

 

It has been disheartening that some people have put so much energy into just one of the MANY wonderful activities we are offering bloggers as part of the pre- and post-TBEX experiences. We truly hoped that each writer would visit the destination, experience the offerings themselves and report freely on what they’ve seen here… Because this is but a small fragment of a comprehensive tourism offering, we want to move on from this topic so we can focus on the agenda at hand, which is to put on a conference where bloggers and industry professionals can share ideas and best practices and, while they are at it, get a first-hand look at Cancun’s offerings. To do so, we have stopped offering these dolphin experiences as part of any pre- or post-TBEX experience.

 

So there it is. It’s not an apology, or an admission that dolphin tours are bad. But it is an end to the official dolphin tours at TBEX.

 

Dolphins in the Gulf of Chiriquí, Panama

Dolphins Swimming By the Bow of Our Boat, Panama

 

WHY WE OPPOSED THE TBEX BOYCOTT

As mentioned earlier, we never got behind the TBEX boycott because we didn’t believe it was an effective means through which to convince the responsible party (in this case the Cancun CVB) to cancel the dolphin tours. We believe that business-related problems can be solved a lot more efficiently through diplomacy: You can’t negotiate if you’re unwilling to sit at the table.

 

But there’s an even bigger reason why we believe the TBEX boycott was a bad idea from the start. Whether we’re talking about sustainable tourism or the blogging industry, we firmly believe that education and information are crucial to progress. That’s the reason we wanted to speak at TBEX Athens in the first place: Bloggers need to gain a better understanding of how to operate professionally within the business world.

 

Our industry is currently at a crossroads. Bloggers want to be treated like professionals and have an opportunity to make a decent living, but our average income is nowhere close to measuring up to our supposed influence. For the most part, travel brands aren’t sure what to make of us, with unprofessional behavior among bloggers widely considered to be the rule rather than the exception.

 

Check out a few responses we’ve already received from our survey of PR/Marketing reps in the travel industry:

“I hesitate to work with ‘everyday’ bloggers, who are in it for themselves vs. their followers.”

“[We want to see] professionalism above everything else, not behaving like spoilt princesses/princes who are ‘entitled.’ Behave as regular media professionals do.”

“Some bloggers are only looking for a freebie, especially those that are new to the blogosphere. It’s hard to trust all bloggers when others have given them a bad rap in the past.”

“I’m hesitant around bloggers who have huge asks (i.e. please pay for airfare, lodging, admission and meals for myself, my husband and my 4 children… and also my in-laws.”

 

If we as a community want to be taken seriously, we need to take responsibility for strengthening our community. And TBEX is among the very few outlets through which bloggers of all experience levels can get the education they need in order to succeed. I don’t personally care whether TBEX speaks for my beliefs on a sociopolitical level. I want them to work towards improving the blogging industry on a professional level.

 

As was announced today on the TBEX blog, we’ll be appearing at TBEX Cancun, interviewing Keynote Speaker Dr. Martha Honey of the Center for Responsible Travel. If there’s any positive side to the whole Dolphin Tour debacle, it’s that the Ecotourism issues we’ve been writing about so passionately on our site for the past four years will now be taking center stage at the biggest blogging conference in the world. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a big step in the right direction.  –Bret Love

 

UPDATE: It has been brought to our attention that the section regarding our dealings with the Cancun CVB made it sound as if we had somehow bullied them into canceling the dolphin tours by making threats. On the contrary, our negotiations have been EXTREMELY respectful. In the interest of full disclosure, here is the direct quote from my initial email to Cancun: 

“As you may know, hundreds of travel bloggers are planning on boycotting the conference to protest the tours. Media is already beginning to take an interest in this story. Other activists, myself included, are working to educate bloggers on why captive cetacean facilities are bad for dolphins and whales, in the hopes that the bloggers who do attend those tours will write journalistic exposes about them.With our site, Green Global Travel, we have been working hard the last 4 years to turn the tide towards more responsible, ethical ecotourism practices. The success of the movie Blackfish is starting to sway public opinion on the subject of captive cetacean facilities. I’m afraid that there will likely be a LOT of negative press coming out of Cancun if these tours go forward, which neither TBEX nor Cancun Tourism wants.

I’d like to humbly request that your department reconsider offering these tours at TBEX Cancun. Instead, why not send these bloggers to snorkel the incredible Cancun Underwater Museum, and highlight some of the great things Cancun is doing in the name of environmental conservation?”

 

 

If you enjoyed our post on the Cancellation of Cancun’s TBEX Dolphin Tours, you might also like: 

Blogging, The Green Travel Industry & The Future of GGT

Green Travel Tips: The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel

Easy Ecotourism: 10 Simple Steps to More Sustainable Travel

GO GREEN TIP #101: How To Choose A Responsible Scuba Diving Operator

GO GREEN TIP #96: How To Choose a Green Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. While I won’t be able to attend TBEX Cancun this year, I am happy to hear that the dolphin tours have been canceled. I have participated and written about dolphin tours in captivity and the open ocean. Through education, I have learned how bad captive cetacean facilities are for dolphins and whales. The same holds true for elephant rides in Thailand. Through education we can spread our message, promoting responsible eco-tourism.
    Nancy D. Brown recently posted..5 Best Places to See Wild HorsesMy Profile

      • Bret and Mary,
        I loved swimming with dolphins in Hawaii’s Pacific Ocean. It was the dolphin’s decision if he/she wanted to swim with me or steer clear. Loved dipping my head underwater and hearing the pod clicking with one another!

        Re: Aleah’s comment on horseback riding in touristy areas. I specialize in equine travel. With the exception of some third world countries, most stables/ranches take very good care of their horses. Well cared for horses make happy vacation memories for paying guests.
        Nancy D. Brown recently posted..Inspirational Travel BlogsMy Profile

        • Nancy, I know what you mean: I swam with dolphins in the wild in Panama a few years back, and though I only saw a few members of the pod the sounds in the water were like nothing I’ve ever heard. I’ll never forget that moment.

    • I have to ask Nancy. You said you have participated in and written about Dolphin tours yourself. Why would you applaud any effort to deny other travel writers the access to do the same?

  2. I think eco-friendly travel is important, but to be honest, I’m not highly educated in this part of tourism. In years past I would have jumped at the chance of swimming with dolphins just because I wouldn’t have known the disturbing facts behind it. I’m glad you dealt with this issue in such a classy way. A lot of people just don’t know about these issues and I think it is so important to approach business dealings in a professional way.
    Katherine Belarmino recently posted..Two Epic Hikes Along Kauai’s Na Pali CoastMy Profile

    • Katherine, you’re not alone: As I mentioned in the post, I Swam with dolphins twice before I came to understand why captive cetacean facilities were bad. We don’t judge anybody for not yet knowing, we just want to help them learn that there are better ways and inspire them to explore sustainable ecotourism offerings.

  3. Okay, chiming in here. I am the big name blogger you allude to and started the campaign you went out of the way to not mention.

    First, I have no axe to grind with TBEX. Rick and I are friends. I saw him recently. It was civil and my stance on this has nothing to do with him or TBEX. He asked me to speak and declined b/c of the tours. No axe to grind.

    Second, any dolphin tours mentioned on the site were simply missed when I scrubbed them from my site earlier in the year. With 1,500 pages, I thought I got them all. I didn’t. It was a simple mistake.

    Third, by the ebook release, you mean the travel hacking update? My editorial calendar is planned months in advance and really, you are looking for something that isn’t there. In no part, do I mention my book or are they tied together.

    Fourth, I do talk about sustainable travel and I am huge into dolphins but since we aren’t friends, you wouldn’t know that. I don’t care about animals to promote myself. I care about them b/c it’s the right thing to do so I don’t make a show about it but when the subject does come up on my blog, I do write about it. I don’t care if you think it’s “odd”. If you dropped the hard on you had for me and spent five minutes talking to me, you know I care about the environment a lot. Fun fact: I volunteered for the Sierra Club for years after college, running their energy efficiency outreach program.

    I see the tours are removed from TBEX’s site and I’ve left a message with Rick to ask about them to confirm if they are cancelled. Rick nor anyone else has mentioned it to me or anyone else involved in the campaign. IF the CVB did cancel the tours, that’s great. I’m glad they finally removed them.

    That’s a huge win for eco-tourism. And I’m not going to let our personal feelings for each other (which is mostly your feelings toward me) get in the way of saying if these tours were cancelled, that’s super awesome and is cause to celebrate.

      • I think it would be fair to respond publicly. You have made the following statement as fact:

        “The blogger has a well-known axe to grind with TBEX, had several pro-dolphin tour posts on his site, and has never expressed much of an interest in sustainable tourism practices in the past”

        Which is quite a criticism to level at someone with what appears to be no real evidence. You talk of us behaving like “regular media professionals”, which I would have thought included doing the research, perhaps approaching said “well known blogger”, and producing a balanced piece, instead of alluding to big name bloggers and then rumour mongering.

        That whole section could have been left out of this piece and it would have been a far better read, as Dalene says below, it’s not relevant, and it reduces the message to seem like a blogger squabble instead of focusing on the core result, which I’m sure everyone agrees is a good thing.
        Laurence recently posted..In photos: DubaiMy Profile

        • Everyone is welcome to their opinion, Laurence. I’ve been disrespected by the person in question multiple times, both on my site and elsewhere, in the past. So approaching him is not high on my list of interests. The statements I made ARE researched facts, not rumors. I stand by my journalistic assessment of the situation.

          • This has nothing to do with opinion. As far as I am concerned, professionalism involves putting your personal feelings and opinions aside, and looking for the facts.

            By stating that you refuse to engage with the source, and by instead relying on opinion and rumor (I am yet to see actual stated facts, with references, happy to be proven wrong), you are merely engaging in the behavior that you are accusing Matt of. You can call it a journalistic assessment, it doesn’t make it so.

            This post loses credibility because of this petty argument, and an attempt to win some imaginary personal battle that has no relevance to the subject at hand, and the overall result is a discredit to the blogging community as a whole, which is trying to be taken more seriously, but will never be if it is mired in these stupid squabbles.

          • Laurence, I know a thing or two about professional journalism. I’ve supported my family via that career for 21 years now.

            Journalism is not just facts: it’s also insight and, yes, opinion. But I did do my research. Like any journalist, I have the right to protect my sources, and I choose to do so.

            I have a right to my opinion, and I have a right to express it on my website. You have a right not to like it.

      • Also I would like to add:

        Don’t trivialize others. Thanks for using your connection to the Cancun CVB to get us across the finish line but all of us “saying something” about it (me, Diana, Outbounding, Mike, the people who emailed, etc) helped bring this issue to the forefront, create a discussion and environment where you could go to the CVB and say “Hey, this is a big issue.” It wasn’t you out there all alone in the wilderness.

        I wish you had put your personal feelings aside so we could have worked together (I had the people from OPS, The Cove, and Whales.org behind me who could have led a hand) but regardless, we accomplished our mutual goal and neither one of us could have done it without the other.

        • There’s a difference between trivializing and disagreeing with someone’s path. To me, boycotting TBEX because of something that wasn’t their decision is like boycotting a shopping mall because you don’t agree with Chick-Fil-A’s policies on homosexuality. I’m not trivializing your stance, but thoroughly disagree with how you chose to handle it. I found it unprofessional.

    • Just to chime in. I consider Matt a friend as well. We had a strong disagreement on this issue. When I saw his Facebook post I called him to discuss it. Matt thinks calling on people to boycott TBEX because we refused to remove the tours is an effective and responsible way to promote sustainable travel.

      He thinks holding any dolphin in captivity for any reason is abhorrent.

      I respect his views and his opinions.

      I tried to explain to him then and later in a face to face meeting that TBEX is not a consumer event. It is a trade event for TRAVEL WRITERS, not tourists. Some of our attendees are in fact main stream journalists and editors of major magazines and newspapers around the world.

      We believe it is our job to provide access and education to travel writers. It is not our job to politicize our conference and advocate any group’s political agenda. It is unethical for us to impose our political beliefs on our attendees.

      Writers should write. Journalists should investigate and report the facts as they find them. Bloggers should disclose potential conflicts of interest or prejudicial opinions.

      I personally cannot understand the mindset of any journalist or writer who doesn’t understand that position.

      Brett, Nancy and Matt have all stated in this thread that they have personally experienced dolphin tours and that they all came to their position after having done so.

      How can it be wrong for other travel bloggers and writers to have the choice to do the same thing?

      The common objection seems to be other bloggers are too stupid and will be so enthralled by their magical experience they will not be able to see for themselves what is humane, or cruel.

      Apparently only writers who have already seen this for themselves have the skill and objectivity to do so.

      Are there bloggers who will say good things about anyone who gives them a free trip or pays them the right amount of money?

      Of course there are.

      That is not what TBEX is about, that is antithetical to what we stand for. Our entire mission is to educate the bloggers and writers who attend our event will be better than bloggers who don’t. They will learn about ethics from professional writers, journalists and bloggers while they are there. We talk about it at every single event.

      People have accused us of putting money ahead of principal when in fact it is exactly the opposite.

      Now I’ve left a much longer comment that I intended.
      rick calvert recently posted..My Profile

      • “Our entire mission is to educate the bloggers and writers who attend our event will be better than bloggers who don’t. They will learn about ethics from professional writers, journalists and bloggers while they are there. We talk about it at every single event.”

        This is why I support TBEX, even when the organization makes decisions I don’t necessarily agree with. And, as I said in my piece, it’s why we opposed the TBEX boycott all along and sought other avenues to conflict resolution.

    • I was coming here to say much the same thing- Matt has been talking more and more about sustainable travelling as his blog went on. It’s not the main focus of his blog of course ($50/day is), but he mentions it and does care about it. Like every traveller should. As for the book, yes, it was an update, not a whole new book.

      I can see how the facts changed a bit could look bad, but I believe it was a misunderstanding. Good news is, less dolphins will be harmed. I’m glad both of you worked really hard to get it to go away.

  4. While I won’t be able to attend TBEX, I’m glad to hear that these tours have been cancelled! I am an animal activist and I have learned that sometimes the best approach is the diplomatic one…sometimes, the best way of reaching an agreement is through reason and listening to each other. I’m really glad that you are helping to educate people about eco-tourism, and I would love to learn more myself because this is something I’m so interested in as it coincides with my personal beliefs!
    Lauren recently posted..Chez Victor, Gourmet Burgers in Quebec CityMy Profile

  5. Great to hear Bret. I have no dog in this fight as I was never attending TBEX to begin with because of the late scheduling coming after all my vacation days were allocated for the year. I’m new to learning about and understanding swim with dolphin issues. I plan to learn more. I just wanted to say I appreciate the voice of journalists in this blogging landscape. There seems to be such a minority of us. Congrats on your speaking engagements. I hope you and everyone who sits in on your session get some good stuff out of it. I do wish I could be there.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Scheduling Family Travel Around SchoolMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Lance. One of our goals– and one of the comments we keep seeing from the PR/Marketing reps we’re interviewing for our TBEX Athens session–- is to address the need for bloggers to learn more about journalism skills. I think learning those skills will be crucial for the next stage in blogger growth and development.

  6. Bret, MANY thanks for seeing this through, this is definitely cause to celebrate. But at whatever odds you are with Matt, it has to be acknowledged that he brought a huge amount of attention to this issue which I am sure helped your case. It’s fair to give him that due, rather than call him out on his approach. (I can’t, for the life of me, see why that was necessary to this article.)

    What hasn’t changed is that TBEX’s response on this whole issue has been vastly disappointing. As “industry leaders” they should have acted more responsibly. This effort should have come from them, or not even have been required in the first place. And yes, this likely means a boycott from us in the future.
    Dalene recently posted..Someone is WatchingMy Profile

    • I acknowledged the role he played in launching the boycott, and the fact that “having one of the world’s most high-profile bloggers write about the issue attracted a lot more attention.” As for why calling him out on his approach was necessary, it’s because the approach was wrong (TBEX had no say in the dolphin tour decision, contractually speaking) and only forced Rick to dig his heels in deeper.

      I agree with you that the effort should not have been required in the first place, but that’s a whole different subject of TBEX negotiating deals with host cities in which TBEX has more control. But I still believe boycotting the ONLY industry organization currently dedicated solely to offering educational opportunities for bloggers is a bad idea.

      If we want to elevate our industry, we need MORE opportunities for education and professional advancement, not less.

      • Matt mobilized thousands and brought the issue to bear across the industry. You pulled some strings behind the scene and came out a solo-acting hero. I am not disputing the outcome – we should all be grateful – but your pontification of what is right and what is wrong is a little much.

        We do indeed need more educational opportunities across the industry, but first we need a leadership that can be trusted to do so responsibly. I’ll wait for that.

        • Dalene, I respect your opinion and value your input.

          In this case, I was called out both publicly and privately by numerous bloggers (including Matt) simply because I chose not to make a public statement until I found out whether my strategy would work. I credited the boycott twice in my story for drawing attention to the issue. I consulted with Ethan, Mike Huxley and a few other people behind the scenes, and I mentioned them accordingly in my piece. Because I had a 2-year personal relationship with Cancun, I chose to negotiate with them alone in hopes of negotiating a deal. It wasn’t a matter of heroism, but strategy.

          I agree with you that we need a leadership that can be trusted to lead responsibly, 100%. But I don’t think waiting is the answer. I think we as a community need to step up and assume that responsibility, and that (for me at least) means working within the system to try to change it. I see TBEX as damaged, but not so broken it can’t be fixed if people are willing to put in the work. But I’d love to see other options for blogger education and professional development come to the fore as well.

  7. It’s been a tricky issue in which neither Franca and I have publicly spoken about as we feel that boycotting one activity is just a short fix to a bigger and longer problem – animal exploitation.

    We feel that it’s far too easy a bandwagon for people to jump on and point fingers at one particular company to get the result they wish, before then returning to visiting zoos, riding camels and other such animal activities. A highly hypocritical, and most likely, outcome.

    Here’s hoping that this continues to raise the issue of responsible and sustainable mindful travel over the long term, and not just for one weekend whilst a conference is in town.
    Dale recently posted..Don’t Miss Madrid’s Design Market at El MataderoMy Profile

  8. First things first, this is great news. In the end of the day we all wanted the same thing, to get the tours off the agenda. More importantly, this debate has highlighted these tours and ethical travel in general. As most of us travel around this beautiful world a lot, we know how fragile it is and how much it needs our help.

    Lets forget our personal differences and celebrate the fact that the tour has been cancelled.

    Peace to all bloggers I say.
    Paul Farrugia recently posted..Eco Friendly Finland | Country of the thousand lakesMy Profile

  9. As one of the bloggers who “called you out” the other night, surely you have to acknowledge how the information you were to speak at TBEX looked because there was no way we could know what you were doing “behind the scenes,” was there? I was familiar with your blog (have read it frequently because its ethos is dear to me), so if that is what you mean by research, then it didn’t give me the appropriate clues. Sadly, at 67, I have seen so many people in some form of public life discard or appear to discard their principles, and I say that in full appreciation of the fact that business and politics are both a matter of compromise.

    For my part, I wasn’t even aware of Matt’s campaign, other than very vaguely. I certainly wasn’t aware that there was a petition. I cancelled my registration with TBEX for Athens as a personal statement, and when they returned my money in full I made a point of mentioning it on Facebook, to give them credit for that. From my distant perspective it seems that both you and Matt deserve kudos (though I would no way attempt to apportion it!). Afterall, aren’t Blackfish and The Cove calling on us to boycott cetacean shows? It’s the time old tradition of bartering. We sometimes have to come from the extremes of our beliefs in order to achieve a result which is acceptable to both sides.

    However and why ever the end result was achieved I am absolutely thrilled, and sincerely congratuate you, becaue this is no mean feat, I know. You are totally and utterly correct in saying that achieving sustainable travel (not to mention general respect for the environment) won’t be done by being extreme (even today I have a problem in taking PETA seriously because of their extremist behavior at the beginning).

    Based, as I am, in the Canary Islands, with a front row seat to observe the influence that the owners of these cetacean shows have over politics and the media, I can, I promise you, truly appreciate what you’ve done.
    Linda recently posted..Home for NowMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment, Linda, and your insights. There was no way you could know what I was doing behind the scenes, but we always hope those who know our brand will have faith in our trying to do the right thing.

      • Definitely won’t make that mistake again. You guys have done a great job, and done it very professionally. Much kudos. I trust there will be video of your interview.

  10. I have a few questions.

    Is threatening CVBs and other tourism organizations with negative coverage if things are not to your liking a recommended tactic? Do you think using this tactic has any impact on how bloggers are perceived?

    Since the dolphin tours still exist, they’re just not part of the TBEX agenda any more, don’t they still warrant that well researched SEO optimized coverage? Or was a gag order part of this deal — you take them off, we won’t say anything at all about them, good or bad?

    Given that Cancun is an ecological minefield on many levels, will you also apply this line of thinking to ensure that all the other tours offered meet green standards?

    • If it were up to me, bloggers would spend time researching places like Delphinus, learning how dolphins are captured/trained/impacted by long-term captivity, asking questions of its management and staff, and writing stories about them the way a journalist would.

      There is another, non-dolphin-swimming tour being offered to Delphinus, so once my Cancun travel is sorted out (I just found out I was going yesterday afternoon) I plan to try to organize a group of bloggers to do just that.

      So yes, I think they absolutely still warrant well-researched SEO optimized coverage. And clearly there was no gag order on my end, since I specifically mention Delphinus multiple times in this post. I did not discuss these matters with TBEX, so I have no clue what they agreed to.

      As for Cancun being an ecological minefield, I think a LOT of tourism hotspots are. We do our best to cover myriad aspects of all the destinations we visit, positive and negative, but I’m currently unaware of other tours being offered at TBEX that deserve the level of attention captive cetacean programs do. Did you have something in mind?

      To your question of whether I believe bloggers (and other travel writers) should work together to address sociopolitical issues and attempt to effect change, the answer is yes. I believe in the positive “power of the pen.” It’s the manner and tone in which such negotiations are handled that divides the professional from the unprofessional.

  11. I came to this post through Matt’s site with a complete unbiased opinion, looking forward to reading about how the tours got canceled. Instead I was left with disappointment. Disappointment in the fact that this piece could have been just about the dolphins but instead it was filled with a whole lot of “I” instead of “we” and not so subtlety taking digs at another blogger. And yes, I read his post. He doesn’t spend nearly as much time talking about you as you do him.
    Unfortunately, I feel like my attention has been pulled from the issue at hand and is focused to ya’ll personal beefs with each other. Which is wrong.
    I feel like I’m watching a fight between two high school girls.
    Don’t worry guys, you’re both pretty.
    Melissa recently posted..Cost of 5.5 Months Of TravelMy Profile

    • It’s true that Matt and I have personal issues with one another in the past, but we are currently working on finding a mutually agreeable way to work together going forward. I appreciate your input and apologize if I let my personal opinions get in the way of my reporting the facts.

  12. Well said Bret. I wasn’t against the TBEX boycott – for me TBEX still adds valuable to myself as a professional and blogger. I also believe people should never come to assumptions or judgement without knowing all sides of the story – I’m sorry you were called out.

    I do question the cancellation of the dolphin tours – I’m happy they are cancelled for TBEX but that is the problem, they are only cancelled as a TBEX blog tour.

    The PR rep said it precisely “We have stopped offering these dolphin experiences as part of any pre- or post-TBEX experience”

    Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like the CVB will cancel their dolphin tour offerings in their entire tourism strategy. It’s sad dolphin tours will continue in Mexico and other parts of the world. Too bad this “boycott discussion” the last couple of months didn’t do much more, although I hope the discussion has educated more people about dolphin captivity.
    Cristina recently posted..White Water Rafting in Costa RicaMy Profile

    • I agree with you, Cristina. For me, the enemy isn’t TBEX, but captive cetacean programs in general. That being said, it’s a global multi-billion dollar a year industry, and it’s going to take a LOT of education and information to help change it. This is just a minor victory, but it’s a start.

  13. I appreciate the clarification on the terms, but I’m not sure my questions were answered. I’m going to focus on my primary question in reply. A concerted effort of exposure — as took place in the lead up to this flap — is different than this:

    “But how might the Cancun CVB feel about a group of high-profile, eco-conscious bloggers banding together, writing well-researched stories about the reasons attractions like Delphinus are bad for dolphins, inter-linking their stories for SEO impact, and publishing them during TBEX to create a negative publicity campaign?

    I’ve worked with Cancun on several high-profile stories recently, for outlets like Volaris Airlines and Yahoo Travel. How would they feel if they knew that I would lead such a campaign, and enlist dozens of bloggers we’re working with to join in? This was the question I posed to my contacts at the Cancun CVB, suggesting that going forward with the dolphin tours could prove VERY bad for business. In short, to counter an industry driven by profit, I focused my argument on the money, not morality. ”

    This is a threat, as opposed to an independent action. It doesn’t appear to be illegal — I did some reading — but “My buddies and I are going to trash this attraction if you don’t do this thing” is, well, that doesn’t sit well with me.

    I ran this by a friend in PR for a second POV and he said, “I would blacklist those people, pronto. They’re bullies.” That’s why I’m asking if this tactic is recommended. I’ll be continuing to share this and ask the same question of people I know, journalists and PR alike, while I think in through.

    • Pam, I take issue with your comment that this was a “My buddies and I are going to trash this attraction if you don’t do this thing”-type bullying approach. I approached Cancun VERY respectfully, and the tone of conversation remains respectful now, as we work towards getting the other Delphinus tour cancelled. Feel free to judge for yourself– the relevant portion of my initial email to them is copied below:

      “As you may know, hundreds of travel bloggers are planning on boycotting the conference to protest the tours. Media is already beginning to take an interest in this story. Other activists, myself included, are working to educate bloggers on why captive cetacean facilities are bad for dolphins and whales, in the hopes that the bloggers who do attend those tours will write journalistic exposes about them.

      With our site, Green Global Travel, we have been working hard the last 4 years to turn the tide towards more responsible, ethical ecotourism practices. The success of the movie Blackfish is starting to sway public opinion on the subject of captive cetacean facilities. I’m afraid that there will likely be a LOT of negative press coming out of Cancun if these tours go forward, which neither TBEX nor Cancun Tourism wants.

      I’d like to humbly request that your department reconsider offering these tours at TBEX Cancun. Instead, why not send these bloggers to snorkel the incredible Cancun Underwater Museum, and highlight some of the great things Cancun is doing in the name of environmental conservation?”

      I hope you will forward this to your PR friend and ask if he would call this bullying. I certainly wouldn’t.

      • I stand corrected. This language is totally different than the language in the post above. If I’d been presented with this up front, I would never have suggested this was a bullying tactic. This is a reasonable and well worded request.

  14. I’m really sorry that I won’t be attending the conference in Cancun, because I would be very interested to hear Dr. Martha Honey speak on this issue.

    As someone who grew up in a country which much like Cancun depends on tourism for their survival, I was saddened to see that one issue (or I might have missed) not really being discussed was what alternatives are their for those who depend on these activities as income to feed (barely) their families.

    I am not saying that I support this form of attractions or condone animal abuse or whatever else, what I am saying is that with the cancelations of the tours (glad it worked out), there are now people left without the opportunity to make the money they need to live. I would love to hear, in addition to the discussion of a battle won on this front, what alternative has been presented to the CVB and those directly affected by the loss of business to help them profit from the invasion of travel bloggers that will be taking over their community. I love dolphins, but hate the thought of a family going hungry or loosing their jobs or opportunity to work just as much. Looking forward to hearing what else we can do, as travel influencers/media/voices to affect change in a way that respects our environment but also offers solutions to those who have come to depend on many of the practices we are offended by as their form of living. Thanks.
    Carol Cain recently posted..Two Days in Copenhagen with KidsMy Profile

    • Hi Carol, we did suggest several eco-friendly tourism attractions to Cancun that we thought would be great alternatives for bloggers to visit/support, all of which we’ve visited before.

      These include the Cancun Underwater Museum (which uses underwater sculptures to create artificial reefs that relieve pressure on the MesoAmerican Reef System), Rio Secreto (a family-owned underground river/cave attraction), the Mayan ruins at Coba, and the sustainably-managed Mayan Jungle Experience offered by Alltournative. We later learned that all but one of these are among the tours already being offered to TBEX Cancun bloggers.

      They’re also adding a new eco-friendly attraction, Sea Walls, which my contact described thusly: “Sea Walls, a brand new mural project in Isla Mujeres, was created by several artists as part of the PangeaSeed initiative. PangeaSeed is an international organization that raises public awareness for the conservation of sharks and other marine species. Cancun’s installation is the organization’s largest project to date. The project’s goal is to educate and raise awareness of conservation efforts within the local and international community. The murals also highlight the benefits of ecotourism in the region, and the importance of sustainability of natural resources, the ocean and its species.”

      We’ll have a post coming soon describing all of these attractions in more detail.

      • Thank you! I know that, in time, if demand increases in these other areas, it will serve as a job creation in the future for those affected by changes due to the lack consumer interests with others, and that’s a good thing. I appreciate you sharing the search for alternate options, but I guess my question wasn’t really so much for you…or even for TBEX. It was for the boycotters. I want to know, what alternatives they brought to the table to make up for the loss of income that will afflict the workers come October. I ask this because I feel that while it is very admirable to take a stance on behalf of our environment and all living things, we can’t forget that among those living things there are people, men, women, and children, who can’t just up and get a job when a massive cancelation (as I am sure this was) causes for them to not be needed on a particular day of potential work.

        I want this and future conversations to include those stories and the potential harm on those people, sometimes entire communities, otherwise the stance comes off looking privileged and elitist. I don’t want to come off as uncaring for the animals, ..what I am asking, of our very passionate, vocal, and concerned community is that, in the future, before we take a stance to make a change that could financial affect the livelihood of workers, we simultaneously bring to the table solutions so that these people can still make a living in the end.

        • Thanks for your wisdom and insight, Carol. This was one of the issues I took with the boycott: You can’t bring anything to the table because you’re not even willing to sit down and discuss things. I made a point when I reached out to Cancun about canceling the tours to suggest more eco-friendly alternatives, because I think positive change is crucial to development.

  15. While I’m not outspoken about this issue, I’m really glad it got cancelled and hope this is just the first. I’ve never been on a tour with dolphins, nor have gone whale watching (which is a popular thing to do here in the Philippines) or elephant riding or even horseback riding in touristy places. As much as I love cats, I also didn’t go to tiger temples. I just don’t like seeing animals in those conditions and even though this advocacy is still unexpressed, I hope to make it clearer to my readers soon. Whether it’s your camp or Matt’s that brought about this change doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the results and for that I’m glad.
    Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com recently posted..Finding Solace in JaipurMy Profile

    • Thanks, Aleah. I think the best thing to come out of this whole debacle is the fact that bloggers are starting to talk about these issues. The more bloggers who start writing about environmental concerns, the more readers we can influence to start making thoughtful, responsible travel choices.

  16. I’m glad to see the dolphin tours have been removed, although I was never in favor of a TBEX boycott in the first place, for a variety of reasons. I also don’t really think there were hundreds of bloggers who were going to boycott because of the dolphin tours – many likely weren’t planning on going anyway due to other issues, like the lateness in the announcement or the fact they just didn’t care for Cancun as a destination.

    Like Laurence and Dalene, I am struggling to understand why you needed to question Matt’s motives openly in this post. It could have been left out and you could’ve reached the exact same conclusions. And while you acknowledge that he drew attention to the issue, I felt like you were trying too hard to push the idea that your method worked and his didn’t.

    In reality, if he had not started the movement for the boycott, I don’t think anything you could have said to the CVB would have swayed them. The fact that there was already a public uproar, led by Matt, served as evidence that the CVB may get more bad publicity if the tours continued to be available. For as much as you accuse Matt of trying to organize the boycott as a publicity grab, I’m not sure this post is much different.
    Katie recently posted..Deciding When It Is Not Safe to TravelMy Profile

    • Why I questioned his motives openly? Better I should talk about people behind their back? I chose to be open because I believe boycotting the #1 source for blogger education is bad for the Business of Blogging, which desperately needs more opportunities for education and professional development.

  17. Cancun just sent us an official statement. I hope you don’t mind me leaving it here in the comments Brett.

    Also I should have said it before in my earlier comments. I thought your blog post was well done and well balanced with your point of view as well as the facts. We also appreciate you speaking in Cancun and your support of our event. Thank you.

    Official Statement from Cancun:

    https://www.facebook.com/TravelBloggersExchange/posts/10152648244364255

    • No problem sharing it here, Rick. We’re delighted to support any event/organization focused on blogger education and development, and are happy to be involved in both TBEX conferences this year. We’re pleased that Cancun cancelled the Dolphin Tours, and we’re looking forward to a great discussion about Sustainable Travel/Ecotourism issues in Cancun.

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    • Thanks, Micki. I believe that it is only by behaving like consummate professionals that the travel industry will come to treat bloggers with the respect we believe we deserve. I’m just trying to lead by example.

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  20. Bret, I’ve not followed this closely and just got an eye full reading this. I’d like to think that there is a way that’s healthy for both man and animals to interact as I believe the benefits can be worth it. I’ve learned a lot from reading your blog and others since entering into this travel blogging world and from a perspective that is unique from traditional journalism. Seems that if everyone can join hands a lot can be accomplished. Keep up the good works!
    Penny Sadler recently posted..5 More Great Places For Jazz in DallasMy Profile

    • I agree, Penny: A lot more can be accomplished by working together than by drawing lines in the sand. That’s why we wanted to try to solve the issue diplomatically in the first place.

    • Thanks, Lex! We obviously agree, and hoping to help educate as many travelers as possible on the benefits of doing so more consciously and responsibly, both to the environment and the traveler!

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