Avitourism, or avian tourism, is travel and tourism that focuses on and highlights local birding opportunities. Avitourism is one of the fastest growing types of environmental tourism (ecotourism). This type of travel takes advantage of birding-related events, and many tourist destinations promote birding festivals, hotspots, trails, preserves, parks, and other locations to encourage birders to visit an area. Local endangered or endemic bird species can also be a highlight of avitourism.
Types of Birding Travel
Avitourism can take many different forms. In general, any time a birder travels for the explicit purpose of seeing birds -- whether they are seeking new lifers or revisiting birds they have seen before -- they are engaging in avian tourism. The most popular ways to be an avitourist include:
- Attending a birding festival or similar wildlife- or nature-oriented special event
- Participating in an organized, guided birding tour of one or several destinations
- Joining a birding-oriented cruise or nature tour from a popular cruise line
- Visiting an aviary, nature center, zoo or similar facility to see captive birds
- Creating a big year journey or deliberately visiting refuges, parks, or other birding hotspots
The entire trip does not need to be dedicated to birds or birding for avitourism to be involved, though many birders do plan extensive travel around seeing birds. Similarly, overnight accommodations or traveling long distances is not required - avitourism can also include local day trips or simple park visits where birding is popular.
Benefits of Avitourism
Many tourism agencies are only just learning how profitable avitourism can be. Local wildlife does not need the same economic or artificial support as other types of tourist attractions, and only minimal intervention and investment is often necessary to create a good birding destination. When visiting that destination, birders may spend hundreds of dollars or more in travel costs, accommodations, dining and other incidental expenses. Birding travel also draws attention to local avifauna and other wildlife, which can be beneficial for raising conservation issues and promoting a more sustainable culture and environmental appreciation.
To further promote avitourism, many lesser-known destinations that have a bountiful resource in their local birds are arranging birding tours with local guides and eco-lodges. These types of specialized travel opportunities can encourage birding travel and more in-depth experiences. As more birders visit an area, other parts of its travel potential - attractions ideal for non-birders - can also be promoted and the tourism industry can benefit in multiple ways.
Top Birding Travel Destinations
Excellent birding travel destinations can be found all over the world, but some destinations are consistently popular among birders, particularly when rare, endemic or endangered birds may be seen. Areas with great bird diversity and unspoiled natural zones are always popular destinations. Some of the top places in the world for avitourism include:
- Antarctica and similar sub-Antarctic zones where penguins and other birds are prevalent
- Galapagos Islands, for penguins, tropical birds and other unusual wildlife
- Peru and Ecuador for outstanding South American bird diversity
- Florida, particularly the Everglades region for tropical species, as well as coastal birds
- South Texas, where Mexican endemic birds and rare vagrants are more likely
- Australia, where a wide variety of unusual birds are found, including cassowaries
- Central America, particularly Panama and Costa Rica, for stunning tropical diversity
- Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica and Cuba, for specialty local endemic species
- Hawaii, for many endangered bird species as well as local specialties
- Indonesia and Papua New Guinea for the coveted birds-of-paradise
- Kruger National Park in South Africa for birds as well as iconic African mammals
Areas where bird fallouts are common or where migration corridors merge are also great birding destinations. Some birders also plan trips with specific birds in mind, such as choosing a destination specifically to see penguins, flamingos or hummingbirds, or even an individual species such as a southern cassowary or common ostrich.
With more than 10,000 bird species in the world, there is a birding hotspot available for any birder to visit, no matter which new bird they hope to see or what type of birding tourist they want to be.