Birding takes wing for both guests and hotels
Birding takes wing for both guests and hotels
19 AUGUST 2019 8:38 AM

The increased interest in birdwatching, and the obsessive lengths some enthusiasts go to see rare birds, means opportunity for hotels, but they need to be as flexible and fast-moving as the creatures guests hope to see.

GLOBAL REPORT—Birdwatching—or simply birding in the parlance of enthusiasts—is a fastest-growing hobbies that hoteliers can take full advantage if they are willing to be flexible and sympathetic to requirements, according to sources.

The source markets for birding tends to be from the United Kingdom, United States and The Netherlands, but birders can be found in most countries, and the interested and obsessed will travel, especially to see endemic species, which are birds that are only found in one country.

Some birders wish only to see birds in their own countries, but there is a growing number of birders who wish to see birds around the globe. Both types will travel to see species so far unseen to them, and the further they need to go, the more likelihood hotels will come into the equation.

Birding-tour firms specialize in small group travel, which comes at a price. But birders favor immediacy to birding sites and hotel service geared around their pastime over a luxury stay.

Pete Morris, deputy manager at birding-travel firm Birdquest, said the most important aspect is that birders require a hotel that is sympathetic to their needs.

“These often include a good early breakfast, even at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., decent packed meals if required, a little flexibility over times and to be fairly quiet in case we need to sleep early before that early start,” Morris said. “Other than that, the location near to the birding site. Surprisingly, great (hotel) grounds for birds is seldom high on my list, as we’re always out.”

A 2017 report from the Center for the Promotion of Imports, an agency of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in Europe, “Many birdwatchers look for birder-friendly facilities. Prime birdwatching times are often around dawn and dusk. To accommodate this situation, (hotels) should offer early-morning breakfast and flexibility in arrival and meal times.”

The report added that “for the more committed birdwatchers, birds have priority over comfort. … Weather and other circumstances are not that important to them.”

Ben Wielenga, a researcher at the European Tourism Futures Institute and lecturer in the Educational Programme of Tourism Management—both affiliated with NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands—said birdwatching tourism is a growing niche market, with birdwatchers from Europe a key source market.

“Maybe the increasing popularity of birdwatching tourism goes along with the healthy lifestyle concept,” Wielenga said. “People feel more and more mental pressure nowadays and therefore quest for activities to relieve, such as birdwatching … and birdwatchers are increasingly traveling to long-haul destinations.”

Wielenga listed the main criteria for attracting birders:

  • number of species;
  • number of endemic or near-endemic species;
  • number of threatened or near-threatened species;
  • number of birding and important birding areas; and
  • number of clearly defined birding routes.

“The majority of the approximately 10,000 birds worldwide occur in South America, Asia and Africa, so destinations that develop birding tourism are mostly located in one of these continents,” Wielenga said. “However, there would be potential for birdwatching tourism in other regions of the world, as well.”

He added birdwatching guests also prioritize safety, knowledgeable guides and birder-friendly accommodation.

Birding spend not cheap
A 2016 report from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said birders spent 96 days of the year observing birds and wildlife and spent $11.6 billion on trips, with food and lodging accounting for 52% of that spend.

The report added lodgings accounted for 19% ($2.3 billion) of the total.

Colombia—with 1,920 bird species, approximately 20% of the world’s total, and 73 endemics—is one country that is benefiting tremendously from the boom in birding spend. Its jungles and wild places were cut off from tourism for more than 40 years due to geopolitical unrest, but now new species are being found quite regularly, with the Tapaculo de Tatamá (Scytalopus alvarezlopezi) one of the latest to be discovered in 2017.

Guillermo Gómez Fernández, owner of seven-villa ecolodge El Cantil in Niquí, Colombia, said that because birds often are most active in the very early morning and in the hour before dusk, hotels need to be flexible and ready to serve guests when the birds are hiding from the heat.

He added birders often need to walk or travel to specific sites before dawn so as to be in place and quiet for when birds are known to arrive to feed.

Other notable hotels of differing price points catering to birders include the Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown on Spey, Scotland, close to the Cairngorms National Park; Lighthouse Inn at Aransas Bay, Texas, an area famed for the wintering, endangered Whooping crane; Blue Magpie Lodge adjacent to the Sinharaja Rainforest in Sri Lanka; and the Gyrola Birding Hotel Boutique & Spa, in La Mesa, Colombia.

Morris said that two perfect birding hotels in his experience are the Hotel Garza Canela in Mexico and Rancho Naturalista in Costa Rica.

Birds trump beds
Mauricio López Tovar, GM at Gyrola, said the hotel was created around birds.

“This kind of hotel has to have a hotspot or a large number of species nearby in order to be attractive for birders,” López said.

He added there is a requirement for staff to keep the same hours as birders, which likely means very busy early mornings, early breakfasts and activities at the hotel in non-birding hours.

Astrid Bedoya, El Cantil’s director of reservations, said extra steps also include training local guides and having them research local birding areas.

“We organize special morning hours in the restaurant and regularly report interesting species to our guests when birds are spotted outside of the peak birding hours,” Bedoya said.

She added that an increasing number of birdwatchers are visiting Colombia and her property, and easier walking trails have been built to accommodate older birders.

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