I visited SeaWorld Orlando two years ago and was fortunate enough to meet the head of animal welfare for both the Florida and California attractions.

She talked passionately about SeaWorld’s marine conservation work and argued impressively against its critics. Of course, that was just one side of the story, and those who don’t agree present equally robust cases. To them, keeping animals such as orcas in captivity to perform for our entertainment is simply cruel and so they feel Thomas Cook’s decision this week to stop selling tickets next year to SeaWorld is a step in the right direction.

They know that a brand as big as Cook taking a stance could have a meaningful impact. But others have labelled it “misguided”, insisting it will do nothing to improve the welfare of animals at SeaWorld.

Clearly, animal welfare must be a priority for all travel firms, but the biggest question to my mind is where do you draw the line? If SeaWorld is unacceptable, what about other aquariums and animal attractions around the world?

And it’s not just animals in captivity. At the weekend, cruise operator Hapag-Lloyd Cruises was criticised after it shot dead a polar bear that attacked one of its guards.

This prompted questions about growth in the expedition cruising market, and yet expansion is inevitable with all the new ships on order.

Abta’s code of conduct on animal welfare, and tour operators increasingly taking an enlightened stance on issues such as elephant riding, mean things are improving.

But with public distaste about any apparent exploitation of animals appearing to be hardening, the travel sector is likely to find itself under greater scrutiny.

Comment from Travel Weekly, August 2 edition