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Exploring the potential for avitourism in Sri Lanka as a lucrative ecotourism niche market -a working paper

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Abstract

This working paper explores the potential of avitourism which is a niche market of nature based tourism. Avitourism is tourism based on bird watching. Numerous studies conducted in many countries reveal that this segment of tourism is rapidly expanding. Research on this paper was conducted in this context to explore the potential Sri Lanka has. Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority (SLTDA) in its strategic plan for 2017-2020 has identified avitourism as a target for development. Sri Lanka has 70 internationally recognized important bird and biodiversity areas (IBAs). The research revealed that number of tourists visiting these destinations for the purpose of birdwatching are limited. While a vast number of tourists visit the island, they come here for sun, beach, sand, culture and wildlife tourism. As such there is untapped potential to develop this niche market due to abundance of rare birdlife in the country. The study revealed that international birding tour organizers to Sri Lanka and even local bird tourism organizers do not take their visitors to the majority of the internationally designated birdlife areas. As such the potential to expand this niche is very high. Sri Lanka tourism development authorities must undertake carefully targeted promotions to create awareness in the international markets and also educate the hotel trade, the local tour organizers and tour guides about the potential to develop this lucrative niche.
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Exploring the potential for avitourism in Sri Lanka as a lucrative ecotourism niche market a working paper
Exploring the potential for avitourism in Sri Lanka as a lucrative
ecotourism niche market a working paper
Terence Kahapola Arachchi. Dean / Faculty of Management, Horizon Campus
ABSTRACT
This working paper explores the potential of avitourism which is a niche market of nature based
tourism. Avitourism is tourism based on bird watching. Numerous studies conducted in many
countries reveal that this segment of tourism is rapidly expanding. Research on this paper was
conducted in this context to explore the potential Sri Lanka has. Sri Lanka Tourist Development
Authority (SLTDA) in its strategic plan for 2017-2020 has identified avitourism as a target for
development. Sri Lanka has 70 internationally recognized important bird and biodiversity areas
(IBAs). The research revealed that number of tourists visiting these destinations for the purpose
of birdwatching are limited. While a vast number of tourists visit the island, they come here for
sun, beach, sand, culture and wildlife tourism. As such there is untapped potential to develop this
niche market due to abundance of rare birdlife in the country.
The study revealed that international birding tour organizers to Sri Lanka and even local bird
tourism organizers do not take their visitors to the majority of the internationally designated
birdlife areas. As such the potential to expand this niche is very high. Sri Lanka tourism
development authorities must undertake carefully targeted promotions to create awareness in
the international markets and also educate the hotel trade, the local tour organizers and tour
guides about the potential to develop this lucrative niche.
KEY WORDS: Avitourism, birding, bird watching, nature based tourism, ecotourism
INTRODUCTION
1.1 Definition of Avitourism
Avitourism, or avian tourism, is a new word and not found in major dictionaries of the world such
as the Oxford Dictionary or Merriam Webster. Maytnz (2017)1 defines Avitourism as travel and
tourism that focuses on and highlights both local and overseas birding/bird watching
opportunities. According to US Fish and Wildlife Service4, avitourism is one of the fastest growing
types of nature based tourism, or ecotourism. This type of travel takes advantage of birding-
related events. Many tourist destinations promote birding festivals, hotspots, trails, preserves,
parks and other locations to encourage birders to visit an area.
1.2 Avitourism and its relationship to nature based tourism and ecotourism
Arnegger, J., Woltering, M., & Job, H. (2010)2 describes the components of nature based tourism
as illustrated in the diagram 01
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Diagram 01: Components of nature based tourism
Avitourism is birding or bird watching as the main purpose of travel. Botanical tourism is visiting
botanical gardens, national parks and forest reserves for the purpose of observing flora. Wildlife
tourism is traveling to destinations with the purpose of viewing land animals. Marine tourism is
travel with the purpose of watching marine life such as whales and dolphins as well as diving
and snorkeling. Hiking and trekking is travel for the purpose of walking or trekking in various
nature trails and natural habitats. All these are components of nature based travel.
However, not all nature based travel can be considered as ecotourism. The International
Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as; "Responsible travel to natural areas that
conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990)3 As such,
for any nature based tourist activity to be considered as ecotourism, it has to have a minimal
impact to the environment, support conservation efforts and support the local economy of the
area as well.
1.3 Potential of Avitourism International highlights
There are many studies done on the potential of avitourism. Most of these studies have been
focused on the USA, Europe, South Africa and Australia. According to a market study published
by USA based research organization, Center for Responsible Travel (CREST)4 in 2015, avitourism
is the fastest growing segment of ecotourism and nature tourism in the United States. The report
highlighted the potential in the United States for avitourism through the following facts and
figures.
i. The USDA Forest Service’s National Survey found that bird viewing and photography is
the most steadily growing [recreational] activity in the United States, growing 287% from
1982 to 2009.
ii. Nearly 20 million people took birding trips away from home. On average they spent 14
days away from home observing birds.
iii. In the UK, bird watching has become the number one hobby according to a 2013 survey,
making the UK, along with the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Sweden, important
European bird tourism providers to developing countries.
iv. 3 million international trips (worldwide) are taken each year for the main purpose of bird
watching.
A study done in South Africa by Biggs, D., Turpie, J., Fabricius, C., & Spenceley, A. (2011)5 on the
positive impact avitourism to the local economies found that the average monthly income earned
Nature Based
Tourism
Avitourism Botanical
Tourism
Wildlife
Tourism
Marine
Tourism
Hiking,
Trekking
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by local bird guides increased from USD 114 to USD 362 after avitourism promotional efforts.
They also found that avitourism can simultaneously contribute to community development and
biodiversity conservation.
Another study done by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry on the opportunities for
avitourism6 in South Africa has following highlights which shows the dedication of the avitourists
and the potential for South Africa as an avitourist destination.
i. South African avitourists spend approximately 38 days a year birding, two-thirds of which
include overnight trips. Fanatical birders devote 50% more time than this to their hobby.
ii. International avitourists tend to be more fanatical (i.e. devote a higher proportion of their
overall leisure time to birding and spend more money on tours and equipment).
iii. Almost half (49%) of international respondents indicated that they undertook short trips
to Africa, of which 77% were within Southern Africa.
iv. International avitourists visiting South Africa spend 90% of their overall day trips on
birding and approximately 80% of total birding days on overnight trips.
v. International avitourists expressed a high degree of preference for specialist birding tour
operators, and are less inclined to use travel agencies and general tour operators to
organise their trips.
vi. The total size of South Africa’s current avitourism market is between 21 000 and 40 000
avitourists annually
vii. Brazil, Australia and Thailand are among South Africa’s main avitourism competitors
1.4 Profile, characteristics and types of avitourists
Steven, R., Morrison, C., Arthur, J. M., & Castley, J. G. (2015)9 and Steven, R., Morrison, C., & Castley,
J. G. (2014)10 have identified the following characteristics of an avitourist. Avitourists are willing
to travel great distances to see bird species they may not have seen before or have the
opportunity to see regularly near their place of residence. Avitourists often acquire information
about desired species, destinations and tours prior to travel, including via; magazines, birding
forums, online blogs and tour company websites. While some avitourists travel independently,
many engage the services of a commercial company, which often ensures visits to sites with high
species richness or maximizes their likelihood of seeing particular species.
The report, Market Analysis of Bird-Based Tourismpublished by The Center for Responsible
Travel (CREST)4 gives the following profile of a birder or avitourist. Avitourists are; highly
educated middle aged or older (40-70 years) people with above average income that corresponds
to their level of education and experience. They tend to travel alone, with a partner or in small
groups. 56% of the avitourist population in the United States are women.
A market information report published by the government of The Netherlands11 identifies
different segments of avitourists. The three segments of avitourists are; Twitchers, Enthusiasts,
and Casuals.
The Twitchers are the hardcore Birders. They are highly dedicated and prefer to associate with
small groups who are equally skilled at birding. They spend a lot of money on advanced
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equipment and are willing to travel long distances to see rare birds. They are competitive and
strive to increase their “life list”. A life list of species is explained as a cumulative record of the
bird species an individual birder successfully identifies.12 Twitchers are used to hard life, willing
to walk long miles in jungles and do not seek comforts while travelling or waiting to see birds.
They are not interested in any other eco tourist activity. In terms of numbers, the twitchers or
hardcore birders are predominantly male and form about 10% of the overall avitourist population.
Enthusiasts are a more relaxed group of avitourists. They are not competitive and would be happy
to observe any and all types of birds. They are comfortable in large groups and readily mix with
low skilled birders or beginners. They spend a fair amount of money of birding equipment like
cameras, binoculars, clothing and other paraphilia. They enjoy nature and unlike twitchers,
enthusiasts enjoy nature trail walking, trekking, biking and kayaking apart from birdwatching.
Enthusiasts like creature comforts and are willing spend to make their stay comfortable. However,
they too tend to desire a diverse life list of bird species. This group forms about 60% of the
avitourist population.
Finally, Casual Birders/Occasional Ecotourists typically make up the highest proportion of visitors
to nature destinations. Satisfaction for this group comes mainly from the superficial interaction
with nature and the sense of discovery associated with it. This group prefers visiting areas
accessible by road and viewing colorful and emblematic species with less effort and more
comfort. As a percentage of avitourists, casual birders form about 30% of avitourists.
2. METHODOLOGY
In order to investigate the potential for avitourism in Sri Lanka, following information were
deemed required. [1] The availability and diversity of birdlife in Sri Lanka and the natural
endowments Sri Lanka has in this regard. [2] Information related to the status of the avitourism
and its nature in Sri Lanka. [3] Qualitative and quantitative data about number of visitors who
are avitourists and information related to; where do they go? with who do they organize their
tours? needed to be collected.
Due to the non-availability of funding and limited availability of time due to fixed work
commitments, the study was confined to secondary (desk) research using freely available online
sources. Where applicable, these sources were fact-checked to ensure reliability of data.
Sri Lanka birdlife data and birding locations: This information was obtained from “Birdlife
International”, the world’s foremost authority on birdlife to which the leading birdlife research
organization in Sri Lanka, The Field Ornithology Group in Sri Lanka (FOGSL) is affiliated.
Status of avitourism in Sri Lanka: The information related to this aspect were obtained from the
following sources i) Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Strategic Plan 2017-2020 ii)
Information on the websites of leading birdwatching tour organizers iii) Sri Lanka birding trip
reports published by serious birdwatchers who had visited Sri Lanka and made their trip reports
available online.
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Qualitative and quantitative data about number of visitors who are avitourists and information
related to their activities: Main sources of this information was the online travel portal
TripAdvisor® which publishes verified visitor comments on their travel locations and activities.
Analysis conducted on data: The techniques were limited to basic sorting of data to match
location(s) of travel to bird watching activities and searching of comments using the TripAdvisor
® search tool to identify visitor comments that discussed birding related activities while they
were travelling in Sri Lanka. Those comments were quantified as a percentage of total comments
to identify the percentage of travelers who commented about their activities in each location
referred to birding as an activity. This would give the researcher the attractiveness of each site
as a birding site.
3. RESULTS
3.1 Sri Lanka’s avifauna endowment
Compared to the current leaders in avitourism such as the USA, Brazil, Australia and South Africa,
Sri Lanka is a very small country. However, despite its small size, Sri Lanka has tremendous
potential to develop this rapidly emerging ecotourism niche. The main natural endowment that
a country needs to succeed in avitourism is the availability of a wide variety of bird species or
avifauna.
BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organizations that strives to conserve
birds, their habitats and global biodiversity and working with partnerships in over 120 countries
has formally recognized that Sri Lanka has 70 Important Birding and Bio Diversity Areas (IBA)
located within the 65,610 square km of this island7.
Global IBA Criteria14 which classifies different bird groups based on how threatened they are,
identifies four groups namely A1, A2, A3 and A4. Birds classified as A1 are a globally threatened
species. A2 group represent restricted-range species or endemic bird species. A3 group are
biome-restricted species meaning they can be seen only on certain very specific biomes or
habitats. A4 group are congregations or very large groups of a species in one location.
When analyzing BirdLife international’s online Sri Lanka IBA database13 it was seen that;
i. 376 different types of birds can be observed in Sri Lanka and out of this 28 bird species
are endemic to Sri Lanka and another 16 species are categorized as globally threatened7.
ii. 47 out of 70 IBA regions identified by BirdLife in Sri Lanka has A1 bird species or globally
threatened species.
iii. 53 out of 70 IBA regions identified by BirdLife in Sri Lanka has A2 bird species or
restricted-range species / endemic bird species that cannot be seen anywhere else.
iv. 45 out of 70 IBA regions identified by BirdLife in Sri Lanka has A3 group are biome-
restricted species that can be seen only on certain very specific biomes or habitats.
v. 26 out of 70 IBA regions identified by BirdLife in Sri Lanka has A4 group or important bird
congregations such as mass breeding sites.
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These statistics show the potential for avitourism in Sri Lanka. Avitourists can observer birds that
are extremely rare or endemic and cannot be seen in any other country. Table 01 shows all
Birdlife IBA sites in Sri Lanka.
Table 01
BirdLife identified Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka
Size (ha)
Agrapatana-Bopaththalawa
6933
Amaipaddukkai
500
Amanawala
514
Ampara
1375
Anaiwilundawa complex
1397
Anuradhapura
3501
Araly South-Punalai
550
Ayagama
214
Bambarabotuwa
5440
Bellanwila-Attidiya
372
Beraliya-Akurassa
1646
Beraliya-Kudagala
2572
Bodhinagala
200
Bundala complex
7686
Delgoda / Kudumiriya / Kobahadukanda
4033
Dellawa / Diyadawa
4684
Delmella
1413
Delwela / Panilkanda / Walankanda
2861
Dikoya
5099
Dotalugala / Rassagala
2325
Giants Tank
2500
Gilimale-Eratna
4879
Hakgala / Meepilimana
1195
Haputale
141
Haycock / Habarakada
572
Horton plains / Ohiya / Pattipola-Ambewela
6409
Jaffna Lagoon
14912
Kalugala
4288
Kandapola-Seethaeliya / Pedro
9471
Kantale Tank
3750
Karawita
1212
Kayts Island-Mandathive
900
Kithulgala
263
Knuckles Range (Knuckles IBA)
30000
Kombala-Kottawa
1625
Kumbuk Wewa
400
Labugama
2150
Madura Oya
10000
Malambure
930
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Minneriya / Girithale / Kaudulla
12993
Morapitiya-Runakanda
6733
Morningside and Handapan Ella Plains (Sinharaja IBA)
20051
Mulatiyana
3149
Mundel Lake
3600
Muturajawela
6232
Nakiyadeniya / Kanneliya / Dediyagala
12050
Namunukula
279
Neugalkanda
376
Nuwara Eliya
57
Padaviya
2700
Peak Wilderness Sanctuary
28044
Periyakadawela
200
Periyakalapuwa mouth
800
Pimburettewa Tank
2100
Polonnaruwa
1522
Rammalkanda
1407
Rugam Tank
1600
Seguwantive mudflats
625
Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala
20202
Sigiriya
5099
Tangamalai
132
Udawalawa
30821
Udawattakele
103
Usgala Siyambalanduwa
700
Waratalgoda
1890
Wasgomuwa
31649
Welihena
297
Wirawila Tank
900
Yagirala
2390
Yala
47053
Table 1: BirdLife IBA Sites in Sri Lanka
Out of this 70 Important Bird and Biodiversity areas, some are already well known and frequently
visited tourist areas. Examples are Anuradhapura, Bundala, Hakgala, Horton Plains, Kithulgala,
Knuckles Range, Minneriya/Girithale/Kaudulla, Nuwara Eliya and Yala which includes Kumana
Bird Sanctuary.
3.2 Current status of Sri Lanka’s avitourism
While reliable data is very hard to come by, Sri Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-20208 has
identified avitourism as an important niche market segment to be promoted. According to the
details made available in the plan, the reason to identify avitourism as an important focus area
is the data obtained from annual Survey of Departing Foreign Tourists (2015). According to the
data gathered in this survey, as quoted in the SLTDA strategic plan, there is a growing number
of overseas visitors who have stated in the survey that the purpose of their visit was primarily
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bird watching. The report also cites data obtained from desk research (details of data sources
were not cited in the strategic plan).
3.3 Avitourism operators in Sri Lanka
A google search, with the term “Bird watching Sri Lanka” turned out 314,000 hits. Out of this, the
first 8 pages of results, or 80 results are directly related to commercial birdwatching / avitourism
operators operating from various locations of the country. Some were dedicated birdwatching /
avitourism operators, but the large majority were simply highlighting birdwatching as way of
attracting guests to their hotels or tour operations.
Of the dedicated bird watching tour organizers or wild-life tour organizers who offers bird
watching packages seemed to take this segment seriously based on the desk research done on
them by analyzing their websites. Some offered testimonials from satisfied foreign avitourists
who visited the birding sites on the island through them.
Some of these sites offered comprehensive list of birds that can be observed in Sri Lanka and
whether they are endemic, resident or migratory. They also offered downloadable bird tally lists
or species lists that could be printed and taken on a bird watching tour to note down bird
sightings.
Based on this information, following sites were identified as popular destinations of avitourists
visiting Sri Lanka and obtaining services of these tour organizers.
i. Sinharaja
ii. Kithulgala
iii. Udawatte Kele Sanctuary
iv. Adams Peak
v. Horton Plains National Park
vi. Minneriya
vii. Sigiriya
viii. Hakgala Botanical Gardens
ix. Bundala National Park
x. Anawilundawa
xi. Muthurajawela
xii. Wasgamuwa
xiii. Yala / Kumana National Park
xiv. Belihul Oya
xv. Kalpitiya
xvi. Wilpattu National Park
xvii. Udawalawe National Park
xviii. Thalangama Wetland
xix. Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary
Number of tour operators that offer dedicated birding tours and posted sample itineraries and
what type of birds that could be seen were very small compared to thousands of tour operators
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in Sri Lanka. However, dedicated bird tour organizers seemed well organized and staffed by
knowledgeable and certified tour guides.
3.4 Identification of avitourism hotspots in Sri Lanka based on TripAdvisor® visitor comment
search and analysis.
A search was conducted on TripAdvisor® conducted a visitor comments on the 70 IBA areas
identified by BirdLife. This exercise was conducted to understand the most popular birding areas
in Sri Lanka as per TripAdvisor® comments and also compare those with sites listed on dedicated
bird watching tour organizers and with the sites mentioned in the trip reports. Each entry in the
BirdLife Sri Lanka IBA list was searched on TripAdvisor search tool to see the following.
[1] Whether it would result in any “hits”. A hit or a search result would mean that there
have been TripAdvisor members who have visited this location and left a comment about
their experience. This showed whether the site was popular with tourists (more
comments about the site and activities done there) or not.
[2] Whether the member(s) who left the comment is Sri Lankan or an overseas visitor.
This would show that the IBA location is known locally or internally among tourists and
birders.
[3] Whether comment contained any reference to birds seen. This would confirm that the
visitor was in the location with an interest in birding and birdlife and thus an avitourist
belonging to one of the three categories of avitourists namely twitchers, enthusiasts or
casuals.
In situations where the IBA was located in an unpopulated wilderness area, a plantation,
government land or is part of strict nature reserve and failed to return any TripAdvisor hits, the
nearest town was identified and the TripAdvisor search was performed on the town. The logic is
that the IBA would be accessible from the nearest town and eco-tourists /avitourists would be
residing in the vicinity of the town.
For an example, the first entry in the BirdLife Sri Lanka list of IBAs “Agrapatana-Bopaththalawa
is partly in the tea plantation country and partly in the wilderness area of the north-western end
of the Horton Plains National Park. As such the TripAdvisor search did not return any hits.
Therefore, the nearest town “Talawakelle” which is 20Km from this IBA was searched on
TripAdvisor and the relevant avitourist results were attributed to this IBA.
The results of this exercise was tabulated in a spreadsheet and showed how many IBA sites in
Sri Lanka are known among local and foreign avitourists.
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3.5 Avitourism in IBA sites in Sri Lanka as per TripAdvisor® data
Chart 1: Popular birding watching destinations The chart shows only destinations with hits
Based on this analysis, it was found that out of 70 IBAs in Sri Lanka only 23 site reviews had any
comments related to bird sightings, bird watching or birding. (Table 2, Chart 1 & 2). Which means
that 57 others sites did not seem to have any visitors interested in birding based on the comments
which did not have any reference to bird watching.
However, well known IBAs like Bundala, Sinharaja, Thangamalai Tank, Giants Tank (Yodha Wewa)
had a very large percentage of birding references. Even then numbers of comments were small.
An example is Bundala which recorded the highest percentage of birding references out of total
comments (90%) had only 210 total visitor comments. Muthurajawela wetland which had the
second highest percentage of birding references (72%) had only 163 total visitor comments
signifying the very small number of total visitor to those sites.
On the other hand there were number of sites which scored hundreds or in some cases thousands
of visitor comments (Table 2) but did not have any significant number of references to any birding
related activity. For an example Sigiriya had recorded the highest number of visitor comments
(5349). Yet there were only 30 comments that had any reference to birding.
0.00
10.00
20.00
30.00
40.00
50.00
60.00
70.00
80.00
90.00
100.00
Percentage of TripAdvisor reviews which contained reference
to birds, bird sightings or bird watching.
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Table 02
BirdLife Sri Lanka IBA Site
Number of
TripAdvisor
reviews
attributed to
the IBA
Any reviews
relating to
birding /
birds
observed at
the IBA
Sigiriya
5349
30
Yala excluding Kumana
3138
109
Nuwara Eliya
2428
101
Horton plains / Ohiya / Pattipola-Ambewela
1920
180
Udawalawa
1762
133
Polonnaruwa
1454
7
Minneriya / Girithale / Kaudulla
1309
451
Haputale
1269
0
Anuradhapura
780
0
Kithulgala
608
37
Morningside and Handapan Ella Plains (Sinharaja IBA)
258
110
Udawattakele
222
72
Bundala complex
210
190
Knuckles Range (Knuckles IBA)
204
22
Muturajawela
163
118
Jaffna Lagoon
128
8
Nakiyadeniya / Kanneliya / Dediyagala
51
11
Wasgomuwa
35
14
Tangamalai
21
14
Madura Oya
19
4
Giants Tank
17
8
Table 2: Visitor comments and references to birding
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Chart 02
Chart 2: Number of TripAdvisor® birding reference hits on each destination on the list of IBA sites
0.00 10.0020.0030.0040.00 50.0060.0070.00 80.0090.00100.00
Bundala complex
Tangamalai
Morningside and Handapan Ella Plains (Sinharaja IBA)
Minneriya / Girithale / Kaudulla
Nakiyadeniya / Kanneliya / Dediyagala
Knuckles Range (Knuckles IBA)
Horton plains / Ohiya / Pattipola-Ambewela
Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala
Jaffna Lagoon
Nuwara Eliya
Namunukula
Polonnaruwa
Kandapola-Seethaeliya / Pedro (Pidurutalagala)
Morapitiya-Runakanda (Southern end of Sinharaja…
Dikoya
Dellawa / Diyadawa
Delgoda / Kudumiriya / Kobahadukanda
Mundel Lake
Mulatiyana
Padaviya
Yagirala
Pimburettewa Tank
Beraliya-Akurassa
Rugam Tank
Rammalkanda
Ampara
Malambure
Wirawila Tank
Usgala Siyambalanduwa
Haycock / Habarakada
Amanawala
Kumbuk Wewa
Bellanwila-Attidiya
Ayagama
Periyakadawela
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3.6 An analysis of birdwatching trip reports which details trips undertaken by serious
birdwatchers from overseas in Sri Lanka
Trip reports from following sources were analyzed;
i. Sri Lanka Birding Trip Reports; Tour Reviews of Walk With Jith tours15
ii. Sri Lanka: Ceylon Sojourn16
iii. WingSpan Bird Trours17
iv. Birding Sri Lanka18
v. SurfBirds Birding Trip Reports19
Sri Lanka birding trip reports were reports of birding tours organized by the specialized birding
and wildlife tour organizer “Walk with Jith”. As per the information on the trip report website,
Walk with Jith is a Sri Lanka based organization with 10 years of experience. A record of 43 trip
reports spanning from 2005 to 2017 were found in this site. All 43 reports recorded that the
participants of the tours were foreign nationals visiting Sri Lanka for serious bird watching. The
maximum number of participants as per the trip reports in this archive were 14 people. The
durations of the trip varied wildly from 3 nights to 4 weeks or more certain trips. The bird
watching venues in the itineraries varied depending on the duration of the trip undertaken. Most
popular destinations visited by the birders in this report archive were; Thalangama wetland,
Kitulgala, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Kandy (Udawatte Kale), Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains, Yala,
Bundala, Udawalawe, Galle and Sinharaja.
Sri Lanka: Ceylon Sojourn is a trip report and trip booking webpage created by Maryland, USA
based bird and wildlife tour organizer Capturing Nature Tours LLC. This firm offers birding tours
to the topics under the brand name Tropical Birding Tours. They have six reports filed under Sri
Lanka starting from 2011 and the last report from 2016. The average group size was from 6 to
10 persons. Duration was about 7 to 14 days per tour. Their tour itinerary was a fixed route in
each trip where the first stop was Udawatte Kale sanctuary in Kandy. Next stop was Nuwara Eliya
and Horton Plains National Park. Then they would come down to Yala and Bundala in
Hambanthota. From Hambanthota their circuit took them to Udawalawe National Park and
Kithulgala being the final stop before returning to Colombo.
WingSpan Bird Trours is a Somerset, UK based birding tour organizer that concluded its first ever
birding trip organized to Sri Lanka in January 2016. Four people joined this 10 day tour with a
local guide. According to the introduction in the trip report, the trip was a great success and the
organisers were looking forward to organizing more trips to Sri Lanka. Kithulgala, Kandy, Nuwara
Eliya, Horton Plains, Yala, Bundala, Udawalawe and Sinhalraja were their main birding stops. The
trip report had records of 238 bird species observed during the tour.
Birding Sri Lanka is a Kelaniya, Sri Lanka based organizer of birding tours to international
clientele. The site had 8 trip reports filed as birding trip reports in Sri Lanka. However, none of
the links to the trip reports worked as of 2nd September 2017
SurfBirds is an online forum created by British and American birding enthusiasts. Site features
several hundred birding reports including 51 reports on Sri Lanka from the year 2000 to 2016. It
has birding guides, life lists and many links to birding tour operators including six operators
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organize birding tours to Sri Lanka. Kithulgala, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains, Yala, Bundala,
Udawalawe and Sinhalraja were their main birding stops.
4. DISCUSSION
We have gathered three sets of data that requires to be discussed in order to garner the potential
to develop avitourism in Sri Lanka. [1] Data about popular birding destinations from local bird
and wildlife tour organizers. [2] Results of birding trip reports analysis. [3] Data from TripAdvisor
comment analysis for birding references
4.1 Local tour operator popular birding destinations and trip report destinations comparison
Following table (table 03) shows the destinations listed by local birding and wildlife tour
organizers as most popular destinations and destinations reported in trip reports of tours
organized by professional, specialist birding tour operators. While both groups mainly cater to
the foreign visitor, the latter group operates from foreign countries and tours are organized in
those countries and conducted locally. When either the trip reports or local operator tour
itineraries did not mention or referred to a destination the comment -NO REFERENCE-“was
included.
Local Bird Tour Operator Destinations
International Bird Tour Operator
Destinations (As per trip reports)
Adams Peak
-NO REFERENCE-
Anawilundawa
-NO REFERENCE-
Belihul Oya
-NO REFERENCE-
Bundala National Park
Bundala National Park
-NO REFERENCE-
Galle
Hakgala Botanical Gardens
-NO REFERENCE-
Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains
-NO REFERENCE-
Polonnaruwa
Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary
-NO REFERENCE-
Kalpitiya
-NO REFERENCE-
-NO REFERENCE-
Kandy
Kithulgala
Kithulgala
Minneriya
-NO REFERENCE-
Muthurajawela
-NO REFERENCE-
-NO REFERENCE-
Nuwara Eliya
Sigiriya
Sigiriya
Sinharaja
Sinhalraja
Thalangama Wetland
Thalangama wetland
Udawalawe National Park
-NO REFERENCE-
Udawatte Kele Sanctuary
Udawatte Kale sanctuary
Wasgomuwa
-NO REFERENCE-
Wilpattu National Park
-NO REFERENCE-
Yala / Kumana National Park
Yala
Table 03
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The above comparison shows how limited in number, the destinations covered by overseas
specialized birding tour organizers. Apart from Thalangama wetlands in Colombo, all the other
destinations stated in international tour operator trip reports are seen in traditional tour
itineraries often followed by the vast majority of overseas visitors. This makes the destinations
crowded during peak seasons and crowds are bad for birding as most birds are shy and prefers to
stay hidden in the presence of large crowds.
In contrast local operators a had comparatively larger list of destinations they would take their
foreign bird lovers to and includes some less visited IBA sites such as Minneriya, Wasgamuwa,
Anawilundawa and Muthurajawela, This could be due to the fact that they, being local
organizations had better information on a larger number of locations regarding the availability
of birds and other facilities overseas clients would need. Information about birds (or wildlife)
being available to be seen and photographed is the most important (yet most unpredictable)
factor to the success of a birding or any other wildlife spotting tour. Superior knowledge about
the birding habits would allow these local operators to take their visitors to locations that their
foreign competitors could/would not. However, even with this advantage, their list of
destinations is limited to 19 while the country boasts 70 IBA sites.
4.2 Findings from TripAdvisor data analysis
Most popular birding sites (on the BirdLife list of IBAs) in Sri Lanka where comments left by
visitors on TripAdvisor® referred to birdwatching are;
Bundala complex 90.48%
Muturajawela 72.39%
Tangamalai 66.67%
Giants Tank 47.06%
Morningside and Handapan Ella Plains (Sinharaja IBA) 42.64%
Wasgamuwa 40.00%
Minneriya / Girithale / Kaudulla 34.45%
Udawattakele 32.43%
Nakiyadeniya / Kanneliya / Dediyagala 21.57%
Maduru Oya 21.05%
Knuckles Range (Knuckles IBA) 10.78%
Labugama 10.20%
Horton plains / Ohiya / Pattipola-Ambewela 9.38%
Udawalawa 7.55%
Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala 7.32%
Hakgala / Meepilimana 6.91%
Jaffna Lagoon 6.25%
Kithulgala 6.09%
Nuwara Eliya 4.16%
Yala 3.47%
Namunukula 0.90%
Sigiriya 0.56%
Polonnaruwa 0.48%
The above list shows some correlation with the sites selected by others (local operators and
foreign operators). Of course it is quite possible that some of the visitors who left above
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comments were part of tours organized by local or foreign birding tour organizers. However, it
also show that the that there are a significant number of foreign visitors observing birds at certain
IBA sites none of the professional tour organizers took their clients to. It may be that the visitors
relied on local guides and tours organized by local hotels in those areas who had superior local
knowledge about birding in those locations.
Thangamalai IBA (66%), Giants Tank/Yodha Wewa IBA (47%) Wasgamuwa IBA (40%) and
Minneriya / Girithale / Kaudulla (34%) are four such less visited sites where significant numbers
of visitors, (66%, 47%, 40% and 34% of visitors respectively) discussed birdlife they observed.
The higher percentages of bird view comments and that fact that these comments were in
reference to designated IBA sites would signify that these visitors came to these locations for the
specific purpose of birding.
Other IBA sites that recorded significant birding comments on TripAdvisor were Nakiyadeniya /
Kanneliya / Dediyagala with 21.57% of visitors making birding comments. Maduru Oya IBA
(21.05%), Knuckles Range IBA (10.78%) and Labugama (10.20%) are two more sites out of the
beaten path. Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala IBA which recorded 7.32% comments on birding
is another surprising find
Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala IBA is situated in the Gal Oya National Park is one of the least
visited national parks in the country. According to the Sri Lanka Tourist Development Board
statistical report 2012 (latest year available online), Gal Oya national park received just 332
foreign visitors. The numbers most certainly must have increased now as this was five years ago,
but compared to Yala National Park receiving 121,735 foreign visitors in 2012, share of Gal Oya
is significantly small. Maduru Oya IBA which is situated in Maduru Oya National Park receives
even less visitors. It received only 12 foreign visitors for the whole of 2012.
Considering these factors and with 21% Maduru Oya Trip Advisor comments mentioning bird
watching and Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala IBA (Gal Oya) getting 7% comments referring to
birding can be an encouraging sign that even though local and foreign birding tour organizers
are not making tours in these areas, visitors who most probably are dedicated birders seeking
less visited birding areas are choosing these destinations
Table 4 below shows TripAdvisor® findings compared with popular birding sites as per bird
watching tour organizers in Sri Lanka and birding sites identified in trip reports with reference to
trips organized by foreign tour operators.
Table 4
Local Bird Tour Operator
Destinations
International Bird Tour Operator
Destinations (As per trip reports)
BirdLife Sri Lanka IBA Site getting birding
hits on TripAdvisor
Adams Peak
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Anawilundawa
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Belihul Oya
-NO REFERENCE -
NOT AN IBA
Bundala National Park
Bundala National Park
Bundala complex
-NO REFERENCE -
Galle
NOT AN IBA
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Giants Tank
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Hakgala Botanical Gardens
-NO REFERENCE -
Hakgala / Meepilimana
Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains
Horton plains / Ohiya / Pattipola / Ambewela
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Jaffna Lagoon
Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary
-NO REFERENCE -
NOT AN IBA
Kalpitiya
-NO REFERENCE -
NOT AN IBA
-NO REFERENCE -
Kandy
NOT AN IBA
Kithulgala
Kithulgala
Kithulgala
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Knuckles Range (Knuckles IBA)
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Labugama
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Madura Oya
Minneriya
-NO REFERENCE -
Minneriya / Girithale / Kaudulla
Muthurajawela
-NO REFERENCE -
Muturajawela
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Nakiyadeniya / Kanneliya / Dediyagala
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Namunukula
-NO REFERENCE -
Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya
-NO REFERENCE -
Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Senanayake Samudraya / Nilgala
Sigiriya
Sigiriya
Sigiriya
Sinharaja
Sinharaja
Morningside and Handapan Ella Plains (Sinharaja IBA)
-NO REFERENCE -
-NO REFERENCE -
Tangamalai
Thalangama Wetland
Thalangama wetland
-NO REFERENCE -
Udawalawe National Park
-NO REFERENCE -
Udawalawa
Udawatte Kele Sanctuary
Udawatte Kale sanctuary
Udawatte Kale sanctuary
Wasgomuwa
-NO REFERENCE -
Wasgomuwa
Wilpattu National Park
-NO REFERENCE -
NOT AN IBA
Yala / Kumana National Park
Yala
Yala
Table 04
Table 4 data shows that there is some consistency between some IBA sites with high TripAdvisor
birding comments, local tour operator birding destinations and foreign tour operator
destinations. However, there are only 7 sites out of 70 IBAs that are common to all three data
sets.
There could be many reasons for this scenario.
a) Serious birding enthusiasts who organize their travel through these special bird tour
organizers may not be interested in placing their comments on sites like TripAdvisor.
b) Poor awareness among the birding enthusiasts of the world about these IBA birding sites
in Sri Lanka
c) Poor awareness among birding tour organizers (both local and foreign) to promote tours
to these sites
d) Poor marketing support given by Sri Lanka tourism authorities to promote these sites and
encourage visitors.
e) Poor tourist related infra-structure such as good hotels in many less visited IBA areas
An example supporting reasons a), b) and c) can be Nakiyadeniya / Kanneliya / Dediyagala IBA
site. This area is not only a BirdLife IBA site, but was also designated as a biosphere reserve in
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2004 by UNESCO. This is area is open for tourism though Kanneliya Forest Reserve which is
managed by the Department of Forest Conservation, Sri Lanka. Despite this recognition and basic
tourist infrastructure and hotels being available, the site is not popular among international
birders and tour organizers. This is probably due to a), b) and c) reasons mentioned above.
Same is true with Knuckles Range which is a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site. The area is
accessible through Knuckles conservation forest managed by the Department of Forest
Conservation. There are a number hotels, lodges and camping sites in the area as per TripAdvisor
and other online hotel booking sites. However, probably due to a). b) and c) reasons the area is
not popular with birders.
4.3 Conclusions
The main conclusions which can be drawn from this brief analysis are;
1. There is tremendous un-tapped potential for Sri Lanka to be marketed to serious as well
as casual birders
The 70 IBA sites and other birding sites frequented by local birding tour guides offers a diverse
range of habitats for bird lovers from overseas to explore. Avitourists can observe birds in
steaming tropical jungles of Sinharaja and Kanneliya, salt marshes of Bundala, temperate grass-
lands and cloud forests of Horton Plains and many more diverse habitats, all within such a small
area.
2. There are 70 IBA sites and other national parks and sites where diverse birdlife can be
observed
There is so much choice when it comes to undisturbed, less visited locations for serious bird
lovers to engage their favorite pass-time.
3. Congestion observed in major national parks can be reduced by diverting and dispersing
visitors to these untapped sites.
Overcrowding of sites such as Yala can be reduced by redirecting bird loving visitors to less
visited national parks such as Madhuru Oya, Gal Oya and Udawalawe national parks.
4. Revisiting Sri Lanka can be encouraged by highlighting these unexplored sites and
marketing them carefully to visitors who came once to visit again and explore different
sites
Sri Lanka can be marketed as a destination where one visits is not enough to see it all, especially
for avitourists. With 376 difference bird species to observe and photograph, one visit may surely
not enough for many visitors.
5. Avitourism is an avenue to address some pressing issues facing Sri Lankan tourism
industry.
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Strategic Plan8 identifies following problems
with the present status of the industry.
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Exploring the potential for avitourism in Sri Lanka as a lucrative ecotourism niche market a working paper
a) Sri Lanka’s tourism product and market mix lack diversity concentrates on certain well
beaten paths such as sun, sea, sand, cultural and wildlife tourism leading to overcrowding
of popular destinations
b) Sri Lanka needs to work on to disperse visitors more widely around the island
Avitourism offers a major avenue through both above objectives can be achieved. Main focus
should be on enthusiast and casual avitourist who prefer comfortable stay and engage in a
number of nature related activities such as trekking, hiking, rafting and birdwatching. This is
more profitable as these segments will visit many sites and spend more compared to dedicated
birders who tend to live frugally on their birding visits and only interested in birding.
4.4 Recommendations
Sri Lanka tourism authorities should take following steps
i. Designate avitourism as an important niche market for Sri Lanka
This is important for all stakeholders in the tourist industry to start taking the potential of
avitourism seriously.
ii. Conduct awareness campaigns targeting hotels, local tour operators, safari operators
and tour guides about attracting avitourists and catering to their needs
Building awareness among local stakeholders such as tour operators, tour guides and hotels is
important for them to understand the potential of avitourism, types of avitourists and specific
needs of each group of avitourists that they may have to cater to.
iii. In conjunction with local birding research organizations such as FOGSL and Ceylon
Bird Club, organize training programs for local bird guides.
Training bird guides is important as they will be the major stakeholder in ensuring avitourist
satisfaction while ensuring that birding will be done in a sustainable manner with principles of
eco-tourism practiced on each tour. When tour guides and bird spotters truly understand the
concept of eco-tourism and the importance of sustainability, they will practice those principles.
iv. Conduct carefully targeted promotional campaigns in international markets to create
awareness about tremendous birding opportunities available in the country.
Segmenting the avitourist market and carefully targeting suitable segments is very important to
attract the right kind of high-spending avitourists to the country.
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Discover Avitourism and Be an Avitourist! Retrieved
  • M Mayntz
MAYNTZ, M. (2017, April 4). Discover Avitourism and Be an Avitourist! Retrieved August 28, 2017, from https://www.thespruce.com/glossary-definition-avitourism-385168
What Birds Count on a Life List?
  • M Mayntz
MAYNTZ, M. (2017, February 22). What Birds Count on a Life List? Retrieved August 28, 2017, from https://www.thespruce.com/what-birds-count-on-a-life-list-386704
WingSpan Bird Tours: Trip Reports
  • Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka: Ceylon Sojourn. (n.d.). Retrieved September 02, 2017, from http://www.tropicalbirding.com/asia-tours/srilanka/ 17. WingSpan Bird Tours: Trip Reports. (n.d.). Retrieved September 02, 2017, from http://www.wingspanbirdtours.com/trip-reports/sri-lanka-2016