When Lacey Kohlmoos was 22-years-old, she backpacked around the world by herself for nearly a year. For every country she visited, she had a Lonely Planet guide in her pack to help find her way.
When she recently discovered that Lonely Planet was promoting elephant rides in their guide books and website, she launched a petition on Care2 urging Lonely Planet to stop promoting this type of tourist attraction. "A lot of people don't know about the cruel training techniques used to turn wild elephants into tourist attractions," says Lacey.
As of today over 150,000 people have signed her Care2 petition calling on Lonely Planet to stop promoting elephant rides in their guidebooks and online. Lacey received an email response from the company's PR & Communications Manager. Lonely Planet has since posted a statement saying that they do not condone elephant rides. They also took down all posts promoting elephant rides from their website and promised Lacey that they are currently taking internal steps to make sure that all content promoting elephant rides that is not in line with their cruelty-free policy is taken down going forward.
"There are so many cruelty-free ways to enjoy the world; Lonely Planet does not need to include attractions that hurt animals. And as the largest travel guide book publisher in the world, it should lead the way in responsible tourism, " says Lacey.
We took some time to connect with Lacey and learn more.
What inspired you to launch the petition?
I was first introduced to Lonely Planet travel guides when I studied abroad in New Zealand during college. Since then I have used them for all of my adventures - my 10-month solo round the world trip after college, my three-month trip to India and Nepal with my then boyfriend now husband, and my most recent road trip around Iceland with my husband and seven-month-old baby.
I love Lonely Planet, but I also love elephants. When I found out that they had posts on their website and entries in their books promoting elephant rides, I was really upset. It is well-documented that these types of attractions are cruel, and even though Lonely Planet had disclaimers at the bottom of the entries saying as much, I felt that wasn't enough. A selfie on an elephant ride would be too much for many people to resist. So I wrote a Care2 petition demanding that Lonely Planet stop promoting these types of attractions. I hoped that the public outcry would get a response from the company, which prides itself in promoting sustainable, responsible tourism.
How did the response back from Lonely Planet make you feel?
Lonely Planet reached out to me about my petition before I even had the chance to send it to them. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from them so soon, but what really thrilled me was their willingness to discuss my concerns via email over the course of a couple weeks. They proved to me that not only does Lonely Planet value good customer service, they are also committed to cruelty-free tourism. By the end of our discussions, they had posted online a statement explicitly saying that they do not condone elephant rides, they took down from their site the elephant rides entries that I had flagged, and they promised to do an internal review to make sure that all content promoting elephant rides that is not in line with their cruelty-free policy is taken down. They will only include information regarding such activities when they are an unavoidable part of the experience of a destination; and always with information clearly stating why elephant rides should be avoided. The whole interaction with Lonely Planet made me feel powerful and proud that I stood up against cruelty to elephants.
Words to encourage other women to use their voice to speak up about causes?
I have been an activist for nearly a decade, both as a volunteer and as a professional. Activism is hard work - I would say it's about 90% frustration, but it's also 10% elation. There is nothing better than knowing that you spoke out, stood up, and fought to make a positive, meaningful, and lasting change in the world. So if you see something or experience something that just isn't right, do something about it. And even when things get tough, don't get discouraged. Keep on fighting, because it will be worth it in the end. Women are the world's change-makers.
What inspired you to be an activist?
The reason that I decided to become an activist was because I was inspired by the incredible work of the women I met while traveling, living, and working overseas. I lived in a tiny town in Costa Rica for year teaching English to elementary school kids. While I was there, I saw how the women of the town fought to shape their community to make it a better place for themselves and their families. They were able to accomplish so much with almost no resources and, in many cases, without a lot of formal education. I saw the same thing while working with a grassroots women's organization in Marcala, Honduras and volunteering with the Tibetan Women's Association in McLeod Ganj, India. Traveling and meeting amazing women around the world taught me that I too have the power to make a difference.
Do you still need more signatures? What can we do to help?
We have closed the Lonely Planet petition as a success, but I just started a similar petition targeting Fodor's to take down their information about elephant rides. Fodor's does not mention anywhere that elephant rides and shows are cruel. In fact, their posts even claim that the elephants enjoy doing tricks for tourists. So we definitely need more signatures demanding that they change their ways.
Lacey is an inspiration and we are so grateful for her activism and willingness to use her voice for good in the world!