From recreation to niche tourism: The transformation of birdwatching in South Africa
Birdwatching is a subsector of wildlife tourism that focuses explicitly on looking at bird populations. Over the past decade there has emerged a growing international literature about the role of birdwatching as a recreational activity and increasingly as a niche form of tourism. Recognition of the potential opportunities surrounding birding tourism has occurred not least in the setting of contemporary South Africa. Using documentary material and interview sources this paper critically analyses the transition of birdwatching in South Africa from recreational pursuit into a commercialised form of niche tourism. The study tracks the historical development of bird watching tourism and identifies the growth levers that stimulated it to its current importance. A longitudinal analysis of birdwatching in South Africa discloses its early origins as a recreational pastime which was given further impetus by a search for scientific knowledge about local birds. Since the late 1990s under the leadership of BirdLife South Africa, a new direction was established for the activity of birdwatching to be recognised as having potential to combine development and conservation objectives. Collaboration between BirdLife South Africa and national government witnessed the final transition of birdwatching in South Africa from recreational pursuit into niche form of tourism.
Keywords: Recreation; niche tourism; South Africa; birdwatching; avitourism.
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