Something special happened last week on the island of Grenada…something that happens but once every two years. What I am referring to is the gathering of over 200 individuals from 37 countries to discuss bird conservation issues in the Caribbean at the 19th regional meeting of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB).
The meeting provided an unparalleled opportunity for sharing of information and dialogue about the science, management, education, and community outreach and engagement needed to conserve Caribbean birds and their habitats.
We took this opportunity to share with our colleagues the advancements we have made on the Caribbean Birding Trail (CBT) project, and discuss where we are at in branding the CBT and developing the CBT Experience. Key aspects of the Caribbean Birding Trail Experience are that it is authentic, transformational, sustainable, and benefits local communities.
Aiding us in the brand development of the CBT is Skip Glenn, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Skip was with us in Grenada as a plenary speaker and co-facilitator of the CBT workshop. Through his plenary talk titled Bird Branding 101: Basics of Building your Brand in a Noisy Jungle he helped conference participants understand the core principles of branding used by successful individuals and companies to protect them from competitors, foster rich relationships, and build presence in the markets they wish to serve.
In the Caribbean Birding Trail workshop, Skip walked participants through what it means to develop a Unique Value Proposition for one’s organization. This included crafting a “Meaningful Difference” statement, an exercise that got everyone thinking about what their institution or their work is contributing to conservation.
The regional meeting also provided us with the ability to follow up in person with the participants of our Grenada guide training program, held on June 17-21, and to give them an opportunity to further hone their skills as a bird guide. The agenda for every regional meeting includes a day of field trips for participants to explore the host island. As one would expect at such a conference, many of the delegates have a keen interest in birds. Therefore, the itineraries were crafted to include the top birdwatching spots on the island. So what better way to initiate these newly trained bird guides than by having them lead these field trips!?
To prepare them for this unique challenge, we conducted a one-day field training on July 26 to give them additional practice in leading bird-focused tour groups. We also teamed them up with a “birding mentor” on their tour, to alleviate the pressure of having to know all the birds, plus as a means for them to continue learning. These mentors were individuals attending the conference that we knew to be excellent birders with guiding skills.
The feedback from the tours thus far has been extremely positive. As the group looked for the unique birds of Grenada, the guides shared stories about their island and themselves to the trip participants and were able to create for them a sense of place. From many, particularly the guides, we heard that a rewarding aspect of the trips was the information exchange that took place–the guides learned just as much from the mentors and the participants as the participants did from the guides. And is that not truly the beauty and transformational power of travel? Travel that fosters immersion into culture, an exchange of ideas and energy between visitor and host, travel that is inquisitive rather than acquisitive? Such travel is what we are seeking to create and promote through the Caribbean Birding Trail.
Lastly, we wanted to give one more training opportunity to our guide trainees. The mid-conference field trips gave them a taste of what it is like to lead large groups of avid birders, but we also wanted to give them a chance to lead a group exactly opposite in nature. That is, a group of novice birders. Individuals who take a general interest in nature and culture, but have never picked up a pair of binoculars. Thus far in Grenada, the guides are far more likely to come across this type of tourist, and therefore it is important they know how to engage novices in birdwatching and get them excited and intrigued about the world of birds.
We organized a complementary three-hour birdwatching tour and advertised the opportunity to several resorts on the island. A family staying at Blue Horizons Garden Resort took us up on the offer and went out on July 30 with guide trainee Vaughan Francis of Henry’s Safari Tours. Vaughan took them through how to use the binoculars and then set out for Mt. Hartman to find the Grenada Dove. The group saw not one, but THREE doves! At the end of the tour, the only negative feedback was that it was too short! They wanted more time finding Grenada’s “feathered jewels.” We hope to help create many more opportunities like this one whereby hotel and resort guests can discover they have a passion for something they never before knew existed.
To wrap up this rather lengthy post, we just want to say what a pleasure it was to see the advancements made by the training participants on a number of fronts. Since the guide training, the group of trainees has been extremely active. Not only have they formed a Bird Club (yet to be named) and organized weekly field trips to hone their birding skills, but they are also collaborating on how to tackle major issues in Grenada that negatively impact the environment and their livelihoods as tour guides, such as littering.
We look forward to hearing about how they advance and in the meantime will be planning when and where to do the next guide training!