I would like to focus this article from the perspective that 20 years of accumulated experience of working in the Rural Tourism sector in Andalusia has provided me.
My role has been to act as a link between the public administration and tourism entrepreneurs. I have worked throughout the region, especially in the 24 National Parks of Andalusia. But, the Serranía of Ronda is where I have worked most and where I have been able to contribute more to its development.
There is no need to tell you that Andalusia is an ideal place to observe birds, I am sure that the majority of the readers of ‘Birds of Andalucía’ know this better than I. However, for the majority of the local population, the birds go unnoticed. Only a minority have demonstrated an interest and are concerned with the conservation of them.
The biodiversity of areas such as the Serranía of Ronda allows the convergence of a significant number of species. This has always been there as a natural resource, but we had never previously considered that we could create tourist products related to the observation of birds and even less that these activities would attract tourists to the area.
It was about ten years ago when we started the promotion of the Serranía de Ronda as an ideal destination for bird watching. The fact that our interest in the promotion for this sector of tourism coincided with the arrival of Peter Jones was fundamental in the success we have achieved in the development of this area. I remember the first time I heard of Peter Jones, it was in the Hotel Cortijo Las Piletas, on the outskirts of Ronda. I was informed that an English man had arrived and had left some leaflets for their clients. My first thought of Peter was, “This guy is crazy, who is going to pay to go bird watching when you can do it for free?” That was in April 2004. A little while later, he introduced us to Juan Luis Muñoz and since then Peter and I have continued to see each other, whether it was in the countryside, to assist in the British Bird Fair or to create the Andalucia Bird Society.
The first time we went to promote the Serranía of Ronda at the British Bird Fair was in 2005 and I was overwhelmed by the potential bird related business that we could generate. I discovered that the Serranía de Ronda was completely unknown for this segment of the tourist market. Every year since then, the Serranía de Ronda has been present at this fair, and also at other fairs at national level, such as the FIO Extremadura and the Feria de las Aves Tarifa, etc. Over time, this continued promotion, has borne fruit, as there are more and more tourists visiting Serranía de Ronda, attracted by the uniqueness of its surroundings and the diversity of birds that can be found in our area. This is not surprising given that you can see some 250 different species throughout the year, particularly raptors.
At first, our promotion was aimed at positioning the Serranía de Ronda on the ornithological tourism map of Andalucía and little by little we have been achieving this objective. It is very gratifying to see how the public that visits our stands at these fairs discover the ornithological potential of Serranía de Ronda and that they are planning to visit in the short or medium term. Furthermore, our efforts have also resulted in a number of specialist travel agents including Ronda in their travel programmes for Andalucía. This is due, not only to the promotion, but also to the strategic location of Ronda in respect to the best known two places in Andalucía for bird watching (Doñana and the Straits of Gibraltar) and to the quality of tourism offered in Serranía de Ronda.
All of these actions have contributed to the creation of business activities around bird watching, which means that the natural resources that have always been there in Serranía de Ronda, are slowly being converted into a tourist product, a tourist product that generates economy for this rural area. And this is the principal key of the focus which I have always promoted in the performance of my role with regards to dealing with ornithological tourism. The local population will better understand the need to support the maintenance of the habitats and the species when they can see that they will benefit economically by doing so. The sustainability of the ecosystems that surround us must be analysed, not only from the environmental point of view, but also from the socioeconomic view, in such a way that the natural resources allow us to earn a living from our environment. If the natural environment offers economic development possibilities to the population, its conservation is guaranteed. Ornithological tourism is contributing to an increase in the number of people in the Serranía who show an interest in the birds in our area.
It is interesting to observe how, over time, even the most sceptical have been surprised by the economic activity generated by the tourists who come to the Serranía de Ronda because of the uniqueness of its birds. They have finally realised that ‘Mr Foreigner’ who liked to watch birds was not as crazy as they thought.
I would also like to comment that this tourist movement is no panacea. It is true that the profile of these tourists is very interesting, but it is also true that an idealised image may have been produced. In some cases the public administrations have considered this as the solution to all the problems that the regions have faced in recent years in Andalucía. It is important that the employers and the administration continue working together, shoulder to shoulder, to achieve the target of providing the tourist destinations with the infrastructure and the quality of service necessary to meet the expectations of these tourists. Only by being firm and resolute about this work will the administration see a continued increase in the number of tourists and the business owners satisfaction, when these tourists become their clients.
As an expert in tourist promotion I am satisfied with how the Serranía de Ronda has progressively positioned itself on the ornithological map of Andalucía. Also, as president of the Andalucia Bird Society, it is a pleasure for me to also be part of this exciting project, which contributes to the enhancement of the ornithological resources of Andalucía and for the development of this region. But what gratifies me most is to realise when working as a tour guide, that birds are not only interesting for bird lovers, but also for those tourists who are not nature lovers, who also choose the Serranía de Ronda as a destination for their holidays. All of them love to know what birds can be seen. The birds are an extra attraction for the area, which means because there are not many other attractions for the tourists the birds will act as a motor for the local economy.
In short, the richness of the ornithology in the Serranía de Ronda is going to be the main component of a series of tourist products that will generate economic overspill into many areas.