Seventeen national tour guides graduated from Jordan’s first training program to certify them as highly specialized bird-watching guides and enables them to lead groups of international bird watchers on tours around Jordan’s important bird areas. Bird watching is a major component of wildlife tourism and is one of the most rapidly growing pastimes in the world. This is good news for sustainable tourism, as birding can play a significant part in the tourism industry by creating direct and indirect economic benefits for communities in developing countries.
However, Jordan has yet to capitalize on its full potential to attract the lucrative bird watching market despite it being uniquely situated on the bird migratory route along the Great Rift Valley and being home to some unique and globally endangered bird species. The good thing about bird watching, however, is that very little investment or major infrastructure is actually needed to develop bird-watching as a niche tourism product. What has been holding back Jordan’s growth in this area is the lack of trained and specialized guides to lead bird-watching groups once they are in Jordan. That is all set to change as the 17 newly graduated specialized bird watching guides have began to welcome dedicated bird watching groups to Jordan and are organizing new tours and itineraries to ensure an unforgettable bird watching experience in Jordan.
Nadia Alalul spent a year in South Africa training to become a certified nature guide before returning to Jordan. She said of the course: “The course was a fantastic experience. If I was to compare with the advanced bird training I received in South Africa I would say that they are on the same level. We had the opportunity to visit seven key sites across the kingdom with experts in this field. Jordan has much to offer in the way of bird watching and is an untapped market. This course has shown tour guides in Jordan what to expect, how to plan and execute a professional bird watching tour for enthusiast bird lovers, and so has raised the bar for such an experience across the board.”
Abdul Rahman Mustafa, a local tour guide who graduated from the training said: “About a year ago I heard from Baraka that they would be delivering this training course and I eagerly awaited it. I joined the program as I am a nature tour guide and I wanted to learn about bird watching. The practical experience was very useful for me personally as it changed the way I see birds and nature, and their connection to habitats.”
The Certified Bird Watching Training Course will create new guide jobs, while existing guides are benefitting from a new source of income through birding tours. Since the training program took place, one local tour operator in particular saw the potential to attract new business and hired a recently graduated guide to develop a bird watching itinerary to take advantage of this new opportunity. A local mega development project also hired two of the trained guides as short term consultants to conduct a study to monitor bird migration. The guides generated almost JD 3,000 in income through this work.
Baraka and RSCN plan to hold additional courses to continue training Jordan’s field guides to increase their knowledge about the birds of Jordan, and also how to make tourists’ experiences more enjoyable by learning basic storytelling and birding. The training initiative also contributes to conservation efforts, threats to birds and other activities related to Jordan’s birds.
“The training gave me many ideas which I suggested to the tour operators I work with, in order for them to include bird watching tours in their itineraries. I am proud to be a bird watching guide and show tourists the variety of birds in my country,” Abdul Rahman noted.Twelve lcoal tour operators now feature bird watching as one of their services, six of which offer bird watching itineraries in Jordan.
The USAID Economic Growth Through Sustainable Tourism Project supported the initiative, which was first training of its kind to take place in the region, and was implemented by the Baraka Consulting for Sustainable Tourism Development under BirdLife International’s Migratory Soaring Birds project and in cooperation with the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature and the Ministry of Tourism. As a result of the program’s successes in Jordan, Baraka Consulting and Birdlife International are planning to replicate the program in other destinations including Palestine and/or Lebanon, Ecaudor and Uganda.