The so-called genteel pastime of birdwatching, or birding can also be…. big business. In fact in academia it has its own term: avitourism.
The benefits of avitourism is relatively familiar to Northern Hemisphere recreationists, especially USA, German and UK residents. There are thousands of tourists from the northern hemisphere travelling the world annually with the sole aim of seeing as many new birds as possible in all sorts of exotic locations. Australia has a high number of species found nowhere else (this is known as endemism).
Australian birding is slow to takeoff
The pastime of birding and subsequent avitourism activites have been slow to gain momentum and reach full potential among Australian punters. The reasons for this are complex and difficult to pin down, but suffice to say it may be the youthfulness of our nation in terms of white history or it maybe Australians are blasé about the number and the species variety of birds.
What is known is that birdwatching tourists tend to be well educated and many are relatively affluent. Those from overseas and visiting Australia are often highly motivated and well prepared.
Nonetheless, recent years have seen a growth in participation in birding in Australia. The interest might be due to a growing ‘grey nomad’ population and the benefit of social media and technological advancements.
Another factor might be the tough times being experienced by the Aussie dollar making a more appealing option for both domestic and international holiday planners. Essentially, it becomes too expensive for Aussies to travel overseas, and international tourists are enticed by better exchange rates. It may pain some sectors of the economy but a poor Aussie dollar does great things for our tourism industry.
Despite this, there are still opportunities for the economic benefits that flow from a vibrant birdwatching industry to be experienced among local communities and businesses.
Research has found that birdwatching tourists are valuable to local economies, with trip expenditures (accommodation, food, guiding etc.) often exceeding those of general nature-based tourists. Some individual birdwatching sites in Britain and Europe generate anywhere between $US 170,000 –$US 3.5 Million per year. Estimates for a site in Mexico are as high as $US 8.7 Million per year.
Although these are overseas examples, this does demonstrate the potential contribution intact bird habitats can have for local economies as a result of bird-based tourism. For sites in Australia, this represents a huge economic opportunity that is currently under-developed and thus under-valued by key industry stakeholders and government agencies.
Birding in Moreton Bay
A prime example of an undervalued birdwatching opportunity is the mainland shorelines of Moreton Bay. “Home” to migratory shorebirds in the Austral summer.
These sites are key opportunities to engage domestic and international tourists alike so long as the marketing, infrastructure and general political support are present. A real threat to the birds is ignorance, lack of awareness, with many people assuming that all wader birds and migratory birds share the same food or can share the same place.
In fact the feeding needs of these birds are much more complex and different feeding niches are filled by different species and many species are territorial (including some of the migratory birds that visit Moreton Bay).
If we compromise these areas for short term gain, we lose the ability for the avitourism industry to provide long term economic benefit to local communities in an environmentally passive manner.
Birding in Redland City
The Redland Tourism Strategy and Action Plan, makes only one reference to birds, on page 42 in the SWOT analysis for tourism in the Redlands:
excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife (including marine mammals, fish, turtles, birdlife and marsupials)
Clearly, there is scope for a more thorough examination of avitourism as a contributor to a sustainable tourism industry in Redlands.
Rochelle Steven, PhD
BirdLife Southern Queensland
Photos by Chris Walker