TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand against animal exploitation by no longer selling bookings to attractions where travelers can make physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.
The policy, six months in the making, was formed with input from tourism, animal welfare and conservation groups including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but many of the millions of travelers who post reviews to the company’s website have been concerned about animal welfare for years, company spokesman Brian Hoyt said.
The company, based in Needham, Massachusetts, also will start providing links on its site to take users to educational research on animal welfare and conservation.
“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president.
But the president of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums said she was “disappointed” TripAdvisor never consulted her Virginia-based organization, whose members include branches of the SeaWorld and Six Flags theme parks and dozens of other marine life parks, aquariums and zoos internationally.
“It’s an unjust demonization of the interactive programs that are at the heart of modern zoo and aquarium programs,” president Kathleen Dezio said. “They give guests the magic, memorable experiences that make them want to care about these animals and protect them in the wild.”
The TripAdvisor policy, announced Tuesday, is in line with increasing public sentiment against the exploitation of wild animals to entertain people. SeaWorld this year announced it would stop using killer whales for theatrical performances, while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year stopped using elephants.
TripAdvisor will cease booking some attractions immediately, but the policy, which may affect hundreds of businesses, takes full effect early next year.
In announcing the policy, which also applies to the affiliated Viator booking website, TripAdvisor specifically mentioned elephant rides, swim-with-the-dolphins programs and tiger petting.
Several U.S. businesses that offer such attractions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The policy does not apply to horseback rides and children’s petting areas with domesticated animals. It also exempts attractions such as aquarium touch pools where there are educational benefits and visitors are professionally supervised.
TripAdvisor won’t bar user reviews of tourist attractions, even those it stops booking. The company has long banned reviews of businesses that use animals for blood sport, including bullfights.
A San Francisco-based travel analyst, Henry Harteveldt, said because TripAdvisor is so widely used the wildlife attractions could see a noticeable hit to their business.
However, if TripAdvisor merely stops selling the tickets but continues listing the attractions, he said, the effect won’t be long-lasting. He said those attractions may just go through other booking websites to sell tickets.
TripAdvisor said if a wildlife attraction changes its business model it would consider selling tickets again.
Congress is defending your right to Yelp.
Legislation in Congress would ensure that customers who want to post negative reviews on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor can do so without legal repercussions. That’s in response to some businesses that have made customers sign non-disparagement clauses and then sued if a bad review showed up.
Supporters say the legislation is needed to ensure freedom of speech in a growing online economy.
“A lot of Americans, particularly in my generation, use those reviews,” says 35-year-old Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass. “You look at good reviews and you look at bad reviews and both of those are very important.”
In one case, a Dallas couple was sued by a pet-sitting company for up to $1 million after giving the company a one-star review on Yelp and complaining that their fish had been overfed. The case was dismissed last month.
The bipartisan legislation, which the House passed last week, was sponsored by Kennedy and Republican Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey. Kennedy, who represents Needham, Mass.-based TripAdvisor, says fair reviews are important to build the strength of the so-called “sharing economy” that allows consumers to exchange products, services and ideas.
Laurent Crenshaw, director of Public Policy for San Francisco-based Yelp, says the company has been trying to advocate for better protection for its users, including efforts to avert negative reviews with non-disparagement clauses.
“Unfortunately, some have decided to try to intimidate and silence negative speech,” says Crenshaw. He says the bill “will give consumers all across the country clarity that they are protected from these types of clauses.”
A Senate version of the legislation passed last year, and it is similar but not identical to the House bill, so the two will have to be reconciled before it heads to the president’s desk. Both bills would ban business contracts for goods or services that don’t allow negative or truthful reviews and give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement over the issue.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he hopes that they can move soon on the bill.
“We’re close to ending unfair gag clauses that can intimidate consumers away from telling the truth about their purchase experiences,” Thune said.
Ellen Schrantz of the Internet Association, a trade group that represents companies like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon, says it’s impossible to know how many people have been penalized by businesses for negative reviews after unknowingly signing contracts that banned them. She says reviews are necessary so average businesses can connect and grow.
“Without protecting that you’re not only looking at free speech issues, but massive economic issues,” she said.
In a related matter in California, Yelp is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling that asked the company to remove some negative reviews of a law firm, saying it could set a precedent for the removal of other negative reviews and leave consumers with a skewed assessment of restaurants and other businesses. The firm has said the reviews are defamatory.
While the non-disparagement clauses are still legal, Yelp is trying to let users know about them. The company is now tagging some companies’ Yelp pages with a warning: “This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers. As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”
The Skyway Drive-In Theatre in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, rates No. 1 with moviegoers on TripAdvisor.
The world’s largest travel site took on July 30 announced the 10 top drive-in movie theaters in the United States based on its “popularity index.” That index uses reviews — the quality, quantity and recency — from TripAdvisor users for the rankings.
“Drive-in movie theaters can often evoke a nostalgic feeling for years gone by,” aid TripAdvisor spokeswoman Brooke Ferencsik. “For those looking to visit these classic American attractions, the TripAdvisor community has identified 10 fantastic drive-in movie theaters that offer affordable admission and a unique viewing experience that is sure to provide fun for families of all ages.”
And the ratings are:
1. Skyway Drive-In Theatre, Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Since 1950, this family-owned theater has welcomed motorized moviegoers with vintage cartoon previews and a snack bar that serves up foot-long hot dogs, candies and novelty ice cream treats. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “This fun, family oriented drive-in theatre has it all! Grassy play area, swings, great sound and picture!” Admission for double feature showings is $8 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-11.
2. Swan Drive In, Blue Ridge, Georgia. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, visitors to this 1950s theater can munch on decadent fare from the concession stand, including deep fried Oreos and funnel cake, while enjoying first-run flicks. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “It really doesn’t matter what movie is playing… just GO! Be sure to visit the snack bar for a great burger, real corn dogs, and all the stuff you remember at the Drive-In!” Admission for double feature showings is $7 for adults and $4 for children ages 4-11.
3. Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre, Lubbock, Texas. Opened in 2003, this modern theater boasts three screens, offering auto-bound audiences more viewing options than most vintage drive-ins. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “The kiddos loved the playground area, especially the merry go round! Grandma loved the nostalgic feel of an ‘oldies’-style drive in. My husband loved the food at the ’50s cafe, and I loved the cost, which was quite a bit more affordable than a sit-in movie theater.” Admission for double feature showings is $7 for adults and $5 for children ages 4-11.
4. Highway 21 Drive-In Theater, Beaufort, South Carolina. On Port Royal Island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, this drive-in operates year-round. Purchased by a couple in 2003, the theater has been brought into the 21st century with the addition of digital players and a second screen. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “With extremely reasonable ticket prices and wallet saving concession prices, the Highway 21 Drive-In really offers a family friendly environment to enjoy a movie.” Admission for double feature showings is $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 5-12.
5. Coyote Drive-In, Fort Worth, Texas. With Fort Worth’s skyline as the backdrop, patrons can take in a show in the comfort of their vehicle at this Texan theater. Hungry moviegoers can head to the Coyote Canteen for snacks, craft beer and wine, and on weekends enjoy live music before the screening. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “The atmosphere at Coyote is really nice with a great view of the Ft. Worth skyline making it even cooler.” Admission for double feature showings is $8 for adults and $6 for children ages 4-10.
6. Saco Drive-In Theater, Saco, Maine. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer, this southern Maine attraction is the second oldest U.S. drive-in that is still in operation. Before the show starts, children can enjoy on-site laser tag or play in the bounce house, while adults can head to the patio for al fresco refreshments. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “Completely isolated by a wall of mature pines, this place makes for great movie watching.” Admission for double feature showings is $15 for cars of three or less people, $20 for four or more.
7. Hull’s Drive-In, Lexington, Virginia. Known as America’s first community-owned, non-profit drive-in, residents of Lexington saved this theater from closure in 1999. In addition to movies, the theater also hosts various events including concert showings, festivals, flea markets and more. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “In the summer evenings drive in, pull out lawn chairs or sit in your car with the speakers hanging on the window while you watch the movie a la 1955.” Admission for double feature showings is $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 5-11.
8. Starlite Drive-In, Wichita, Kansas. In Kansas’ largest city, budget-minded moviegoers can find a bargain at this 40-year-old drive in, which often screens three movies for the price of a single admission. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “Great popcorn, digital projection, your choice of in-car radio sound or the old speaker on the pole, and the ability to set out your lawn chairs and enjoy a good movie under the stars, make this place a real treasure.” Admission for double or triple feature showings is $9 for adults and $2 for children ages 5-11.
9. Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Built in 1957, this Cape Cod drive-in is the essence of retro. Complete with a mini-golf course an a snack bar that offers classic fare including cheeseburgers and milkshakes, customers can enjoy old-fashioned fun and food before sitting down for the main event. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “From the entrance booth to the genuine 1950s sound system, the place evokes a long gone era. Drive in, buy your popcorn, sit back and enjoy.” Admission for a double feature showing is $9 for adults and $6 for children ages 4-11.
10. Sunset Drive-In Theatre, San Luis Obispo, California. Operating year-round since 1950, this vintage drive-in located on California’s Central Coast features more than 500 parking spots for film fans to enjoy the show. A TripAdvisor reviewer said, “I’ve been coming to this movie theater since I was a kid, and now I take my kids!! It is way cheaper than taking them to the movie theater and the seating is better!” Admission for a single or double feature showing is $8 for adults and $3 for children ages 5-11.
FYI…The Skyway Drive-In is located at 3475 Highway 42, Fish Creek, Wisconsin 54212. Halfway between Fish Creek and Ephraim. Directly across from Peninsula State Park. Now playing: “Planes: Fire & Rescue” and “Maleficent.”
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