GIVEN that avitourism, also known as bird watching, is one of the fastest growing attractions within the global tourism industry, the South Rupununi Conservation Society (SRCS) will be partnering with the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) and other stakeholders to help design and pilot an accreditation programme for bird guides in Guyana.
According to Neal Millar, Programme Coordinator of the SRCS, it is estimated that US$9.3 billion is spent on the global industry annually and the number of people engaging in avitourism has been increasing year-on-year.
As Guyana is considered to be a global birding hotspot and home to over 800 species of birds, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists, Millar said that it is anticipated that this figure will continue to increase over the coming years as the country further advances its status as a leading tourism destination.
“To start the process for creating the Accreditation, SRCS facilitated an initial workshop with relevant stakeholders including GTA, Leon Programme Moore Nature Experience, Ron Allicock Bird Tours and Visit Rupununi,” Millar said.
At the workshop, suggestions were given for how the programme should be designed and what the process to be accredited should involve.
“The framework for the programme will continue to be shared with other key stakeholders and refined until a final version that is supported by all stakeholders is approved by the GTA. It is hoped that this will be achieved by the end of July,” he said.
Millar said that the idea was created through conversations with rangers who work on wildlife research and monitoring projects throughout the South Rupununi.
“They stressed that they have a lot of knowledge and are passionate about birds but have no formal qualification that they can use to seek further employment. We therefore thought this Accreditation Programme could give them something to work towards and could fill this gap,” he related.
Over the years, tour guides have benefitted from multiple trainings that have been offered by the GTA to help bolster their skills to meet the international standard of tour guiding.
Additionally, the GTA has helped to regulate the sector by creating a tour guide licensing system to ensure that the individuals leading national and international tourists around Guyana are qualified and approved to do so.
While the tour guide licensing system is essential and beneficial, Millar said that it does not distinguish bird guides from other tour guides who do not specialise in bird guiding.
“Bird guides currently are unable to receive the recognition that they merit for their bird guiding skills and abilities. Also, tourists find it difficult to identify bird guides who meet the standard they require for their trips or to find high quality bird guides who do not have a good online presence,” Millar explained.
The aim of the Accreditation Programme is to provide local, national and international accreditation for bird guides in Guyana to help them to be formally recognised for their skills and abilities.
“There are numerous proposed benefits of creating an Accreditation Programme for bird guides in Guyana. The first is that it will help to identify and recognise the experienced, skilled and qualified bird guides in Guyana,” Millar said.
They are hopeful that the programme will attract more bird watchers to Guyana and improve their confidence knowing that their bird guides have been accredited.
Moreover, he said that there are many people interested in tourism and bird guiding that do not have the qualifications to pursue a traditional degree or diploma; however, this programme will give individuals the opportunity to receive accreditation without needing a secondary level education or higher education.
Millar related that while there are not many examples of a bird guide accreditation programme across the world, the creation of a programme in Guyana would help to demonstrate global leadership in formal tour guide certification and highlight Guyana’s burgeoning tourism industry.
Further, Kamrul Baksh, Director of the GTA, noted that Guyana continues to exemplify tourism leadership in the region, this time through a formal accreditation programme for bird guides.
“Raising the profile of the tourism product requires higher standardisation of service delivery and this programme will create a system that develops and maintains a high-quality experience for travellers,” Baksh said.