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Southwest Airlines should be commended for ending its direct relationship with SeaWorld, but the compromise decision is simply a half step if the Southwest-branded tour arm continues to promote the controversial theme park.
Southwest and SeaWorld stated they will end their partnership after 26 years at the end of 2014 and three Southwest aircraft with SeaWorld-oriented livery will revert to Southwest livery, but the companies will maintain ties through Southwest Vacations, which is operated for Southwest by The Mark Travel Corp.
Southwest had been under fire for continuing to promote SeaWorld after the Blackfish film castigated the theme park company for its treatment of the whales it uses in shows.
In a January 8, 2014 blog post, Update on SeaWorld Partnership, Southwest stated its partnership with SeaWorld would continue for the time being, although it was listening to customers’ concerns and was discussing the issue with SeaWorld.
In the July 31, 2014 joint statement [see in full below], Southwest and SeaWorld state:
“The companies decided not to renew the contract based on shifting priorities. Southwest is spreading its wings with new international service, and increased focus on local market efforts. With an increasing international visitor base, SeaWorld is looking to focus on new and growing markets in Latin America and Asia, among others.”
However, Southwest Vacations, “the official vacation provider of Southwest Airlines,” which is operated by Mark Travel, will continue to promote SeaWorld and sell customers SeaWorld tickets.
“The companies will continue to work together through Southwest Vacations,” according to the joint statement.
In its update earlier in the year about the SeaWorld relationship, Southwest stated “If you’d like to know more about Southwest’s commitment to the triple bottom line of Performance, People, and Planet, please read our Southwest Airlines One Report at www.southwestonereport.com.”
That report doesn’t mention SeaWorld.
A Southwest spokesperson declined to elaborate on its joint statement with SeaWorld, and Mark Travel didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Here’s the joint statement issued July 31, 2014:
“Southwest and SeaWorld have mutually decided not to renew their partnership when the contract expires at the end of the year. Our promotional marketing relationship began in 1988 and was one of the first of its kind – focused on co-marketing opportunities between Southwest passengers and SeaWorld visitors.
“The companies decided not to renew the contract based on shifting priorities. Southwest is spreading its wings with new international service, and increased focus on local market efforts. With an increasing international visitor base, SeaWorld is looking to focus on new and growing markets in Latin America and Asia, among others.
“The companies will continue to work together through Southwest Vacations. Southwest’s three specialty airplanes will return to the company’s traditional livery.
“Southwest and SeaWorld have enjoyed their long relationship, and wish each other continued success.”