By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas is being “put on the map” for bird tourism, and is poised to tap into a multi-billion dollar niche market through the arrival of its first nine advanced bird guides.
The Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and the National Audubon Society, launched the bird-based tourism initiative last week with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Matthew Jeffery, director of the National Audubon Society, said: “I think that the Bahamas has natural resources that are underutilised; it’s the birds. They are worth something economically. The Bahamas is being put on the map for bird tourism. It was not there initially.”
Bird-watching is a fast-growing, high-value outdoor activity. The bird-based tourism initiative has been training tour guides from several islands over the past two years, with the goal of creating sustainable jobs that help to protect Bahamian bio-diversity and natural habitats.
So far, 58 Bahamians have trained as bird field guides through the programme, with nine having attained advanced qualifications. They can lead specialised tours to any island in the Bahamas. The initiative has also developed marketing and business support materials for the tour guides.
Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Tourism, said the industry could become a lucrative component of the overall tourism product.
“Sun, sand and sea is what people come for, but there is stiff competition with that. We have to offer more,” Mr Thompson added:
“We concentrate so much on Nassau/Paradise Island that we leave so much of this country out of what we are doing. It’s important that we promote all of the islands of the Bahamas.”
Mr Thompson said the Family Islands are more readily accessible through the revamped booking engine on Bahamas.com, so it was important that high quality and service standards were maintained.