Cruelty-Free Tourism

05/18/2015 09:32 am ET | Updated May 18, 2016

I believe that one of the best ways to help the plight of animals around the world is for a tourism boycott to cities, states and countries where animals are treated cruelly. The movie Blackfish changed the way the world views killer whales in captivity and also led to a significance drop in attendance at SeaWorld, which in turn had an impact on its stock price. This is a great example of how tourists can vote with their economic muscle against animal cruelty.

Should consumers know before they visit Newfoundland that Canada funds the largest slaughter of marine animals in the world as part of the Canadian seal hunt? That Florida has the largest number of greyhound tracks and often euthanizes dogs that can no longer compete? That visiting Branson brings tourism dollars into Missouri, the nation's leader in puppy mills? Or that Maine supports killing black bears for sport?

Often tourists unwittingly support cruelty to animals. Riding on elephants is viewed as a great tourist attraction in some Asian countries. What participants don't realize is that these poor animals are tortured into submission and are in pain when carrying riders. When dolphins are snatched from the sea, their family pods are destroyed. Should we really be supporting swimming with dolphins in Mexico?

Certain zoos and aquariums tout their conservation efforts. But in reality studying animals in captivity doesn't justify keeping them in a confined space. Beluga whales, for example, can travel thousands of miles in the wild. Trapping them in a small tank results in aggressive behavior and shortens their life expectancy. Increasingly, moms planning a family vacation have seen Blackfish and are sensitized to the plight of killer whales and look for other attractions that their children will enjoy.

For many years, I have rented a villa with my family in St. Martin. When I first went there, I was horrified at the number of stray dogs, a common occurrence in the Caribbean. So I contacted the tourism minister, not as an animal welfare activist, but as a person contributing to the local economy. Since that time the shelter in St. Martin has received more money from the government to increase its services implemented for stray dogs including a successful spay and neuter program. They even arranged to have tourists adopt St. Martin puppies and what are known on the island as "Coconut" dogs and bring them back to a new home in the United States.

The cruise ship industry is a major contributor to the economy in the Caribbean. If they told Caribbean nations that their customers don't want to see packs of stray dogs when they visit a port, the problem would be solved immediately.

So what can the average person do to end animal cruelty? The first thing is to report instances of cruelty immediately to the local authorities while you are on vacation. Let the hotel and your travel agent know what upset you whether it was stray dogs or elephants in chains. Take video footage and uploaded it to YouTube so that others will be aware of what is going on at that destination. Don't include roadside zoos and aquariums on your itinerary.

Before you book a vacation, Google the location and find out if there are any cases of animal neglect or abuse. If there are, send an email to the tourist board stating why you chose to spend your vacation money elsewhere.

Unfortunately cities, states and countries aren't going to change the way animals are treated out of the goodness of their hearts. It will only be when there is an economic impact such as a loss of valuable tourism dollars that change will come about.

It is my hope that one day there will be a cruelty free logo that tourist boards can post on their websites and use in ads so that consumers can make an educated decision and plan a cruelty free family vacation. Until that time, we need to be aware of issues facing animals around the world and carefully choose where we spend our vacation.