“…birders will go everywhere. What’s more, birders are the first ones to go.”
Which tourist segment is most likely the first to return to a destination after a natural disaster or attack? Dragan Simic, a celebrated birder, shares his views on Sri Lanka’s potential for birding communities and his own lessons learnt from his home country. This short post from him provides good insight which tour operators in Sri Lanka can use to formulate special Bird Watching Packages to be pushed among an often ignored traveler segment.
Troubled Waters at the Tear Drop Island
By Dragan Simic
I came from a troublesome country, so troublesome that it no longer exists. Now, it has become – countries. To spare you guessing, I am from Yugoslavia. Or was from Yugoslavia, since it is a deceased country. Whatever.
The news on the troubles back then was quick to make the rounds across the world, over and over again. But once things calmed down, once we started to hope to attract tourist attention, there was no news reports indicating that things were now peaceful and safe. Good news is often not considered worthy of publishing.
The tourists were slow to explore the new destination. Talking to an UK friend on potential to attract birders, he said: “I see no problem. Provided that no one will be shooting at them, birders will go everywhere. What’s more, birders are the first ones to go.”
And it sure is true. I don’t know if you ever heard of Phoebe Snetsinger? She was a birding legend and the first person ever to cross the magical threshold of finding and observing 8000 bird species over her lifetime. That meant traveling the world far and wide, the further away from beaten tracks the better.
To illustrate the point, she was taking part in a commercial bird tour in the Philippines with a well known UK operator. There she was to discover an odd accommodation choice: for a few nights, they were sleeping inside a prison! Accommodated in one of the outer buildings, they were given a few inmates to clean and cook (presumably people who were in there for minor crimes). And the agency failed to announce in their brochure: “The next two days we will be staying in a charming local prison…”. What was the logic behind this? With a spread of human population and consequent change of natural habitats into arable fields, the only good habitats remaining were to be found in the prison buffer zone. That is where the birds were.
Were the birders outraged and did they mutineer and ask for their money back? No, they came to find the birds and if the birds were jailed, so should the birders be. The idea behind was to be as close to the birds as possible, so at the crack of dawn they could start birding, instead of wasting time during the day, when the birds are at their most active, on a long drive from the nearest decent hotel.
Now, the moral of the story isn’t about if we shouldn’t care for the quality of accommodation, those people would stay anywhere. Birders, too, like comfortable beds and tasty meals, but have their priorities. If there are good birds, they will come. And beside good birding guides, diverse accommodation, sound infrastructure and experienced tourism professionals, Sri Lanka also has 441 bird species, including 33 endemics that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Being a birder myself, I believe I am talking for the entire ‘tribe’ when I say that not a single birder had second thoughts about coming to Sri Lanka after the attacks. I sure didn’t.
Dragan Simic is obsessively passionate about two things – birding and travelling in search of birds, and that has taken him from his native Balkans to the far shores of Europe and the Mediterranean, southern Africa, India and Central America. His 10,000 Birds blog posts (http://www.10000birds.com/author/dragan) were Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards. Birder by passion and environmental scientist by education, he is an ecotourism consultant, a field researcher and a bird blogger who always thinks that birding must be better behind that next bend in the road, and that the best bird ever is – the next lifer. He tweets as @albicilla66