Bird watching has overtaken fishing as the number one hobby in the word, latest statistics have shown. Add to that, the fact that Avi-tourism, or the tourism business focused mainly on birds, globally contributes US$80 billion.
Given the above evidence, promotion of Avi-tourism in Botswana can therefore be one of the best ways to diversify Botswana’s economy. This came to light in an interview with Birdlife Botswana’s Director, Dr Kabelo Senyatso.
He said the question of how much in funds can be used to kick-start an Avi-tourism business is a very difficult one because of the challenges that go with it. Though he could not disclose how much he estimated such funds to be, he said it could not be too much as long as one has obtained a guidance license which is tested for and given freely.
He said training for such licenses is advertised in local media and tests for these are done four times per year. Free as they are to obtain, they need experience by the applicant to pass and ultimately obtain them. One should be able to focus and understand beyond just birds to get the license. The licenses differ. There are those that are called ‘special licenses’ designed especially for those who can neither read nor write.
Then there are those that are for trained guides. These are tested for in about five stages. Among these the applicants are tested on ecology and natural science. The tests are done by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
“One should pass test in order that one gets Guide License. If one gets less than 50% then one is considered a failure. From 50% to 75% one has passed but at these marks they would be Assistant Guides. This means they would not be permitted to assist a tourist on their own, without assistance of experienced guide. This is because the government does not want a situation where the tourism sector’s name is dragged in the mud,” explained Dr. Senyatso.
He said a guide should be someone who is really knowledgeable in birds and their environment as bird tourists know what they want. They enquire first with Birdlife to ensure they would find the species they are looking for.
He said it is for this reason why Birdlife, as the bird population experts in the country, encourage the Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to embark on the business. The advantage of this is that the CBOs will spend in training the guides while Birdlife Botswana will absorb the costs of marketing the projects. They will encourage even the private sector but at a reasonable cost.
Asked how long it would take for an operator to start reaping profits from this kind of project, Dr Senyatso said it could take two to three years depending on the marketing of the business.
As for the challenges found in the business, Dr Senyatso said top of all is the fact that experience is needed, not only for the birds but even general ecology and laws governing natural use of the environment in order that people can obtain licenses. Another challenge is when the birds, for whatever reason relocate, and then the operator loses edge.
“To tackle this, there is need for operators to diversify their species of birds. Other challenges are just the same as those for other forms of tourism business,” he said.
The interesting point about avi-tourism is that it is not a must that the operators have lodges. Birds are in the wilderness and tourist have to follow them there.
He could not specify how long he thought it would take for Botswana CBOs to embark on the business, saying that there is need for network of sites.
Already there are sites in areas like Otse where a confident guide and attractive species exist. There are isolated such sites all over the country and the sooner a ‘birding route’ is established the sooner the business will be fully operational in the country. All that is needed is for the CBOs to create effective networks so that a tourist who comes can be guided through network to various points of the country where species in demands are found.
Birdlife Botswana has trained some people, attached others in hotels and has taken others for bench marking in Kwazulu Natal where the best of this business is operational the whole continent.