Birding Outfitters was officially launched in January 2020. It is an online marketplace platform where professional birding guides can post their private birding tours and birdwatchers can find and book birding tours. It is kind of like Airbnb but with private birding tours instead of private homes.
Our mission is to encourage support for conservation in the local communities by helping local birding guides get hired more often and with better pay. We aim to offer more choices and flexibility to birders around the world while still providing the convenience and protection offered by large birding tour companies. We believe that by making it easier for birders to find and book private birding tours that meet their needs, more birders can go on birding trips, even to less popular destinations, and more communities will benefit from the ecotourism money.
We handle the payment process. Once you find a tour you are interested to take, you can book and pay with your credit card on our site. The payment, minus a 4% service fee, will be sent to your guide after your tour is completed.
The Story Behind Birding Outfitters
Birding Outfitters was founded by me, Phoenix Kwan, in 2019. Since I was a little kid, I have cared deeply about environmental protection. Since becoming a birder in 2015, I have taken a few birding tours outside of my state and country, not only because I can see birds that can’t be seen where I live, but also because I believe ecotourism is the best incentive for governments’ actions on environmental protection.
In 2018, I joined a birding tour offered by a major US birding touring company to Costa Rica. One of the people in the group asked our birding guide, who was a Costa Rican, how much he was paid. He answered $130 a day, and he added that he was paid much higher than average due to his extensive experience. Later, I did the math and calculated that less than 20% of what we paid for the tour was actually spent in Costa Rica, including room and board, drivers and van rental, etc. That number would have been even lower if the tour had been run at full capacity. At that point, I understood why some countries don’t promote ecotourism more aggressively, even though they have some of the world’s best natural habitats: because very little of that ecotourism money goes into the countries. Ideally, people should cherish and protect their natural habitats, however, they also need to put food on their tables. When local governments don’t get much tax revenue from ecotourism, it is not surprising that they don’t crack down on illegal logging or deforestation as hard as they should be. As a result of that conversation, I want to help local birding guides get hired directly by birders from the rest of the world so they can make more money. I believe that when more ecotourist money can stay in a country, the people and the government of that country would at least appreciate the monetary value of their natural habitats. At Birding Outfitters, we only charge the guides a service fee of 6% of the total tour cost, which covers credit card processing fees, website development, and advertisements, etc. The rest of what birders pay on this site goes straight to the guides.
A couple of other things from my own traveling experience have influenced how Birding Outfitters is operated. I have always found that the entire process of paying foreign guides is a big hassle and nerve-wracking. As soon as I booked a tour, I needed to send a deposit of 25 - 50% of the tour cost via international wire transfer or PayPal, both of which have expensive fees, to someone I practically didn't know. Usually for the next several months until the tour, I am worried about being scammed. (Luckily, I have never been scammed.) Then, I had to bring a large amount of cash to a foreign country and convert it to the local currency at one of the currency exchange kiosks at the airport, which usually don’t offer the best exchange rates. This was necessary because the guides expected to be paid in full almost as soon as they picked us up. This is why Birding Outfitters handles the entire payment process. Birders can just pay for the tours with credit cards when they book the tours, and we forward the payment to the guides after the tours are completed. So birders don’t need to deal with any wire transfer or currency exchange.
All of my birding experiences with local guides have been wonderful, except in one instance when a guide left us early around noon on the last day of the tour even though it was supposed to be a full day of birding. Since we had already paid in full on the first day, there was no recourse. Because of this unfortunate incident, I insist that Birding Outfitters forwards the payment to the guides after a tour is completed. If clients on our website find that the guides have deviated the tour too much from the expected itinerary without any valid reasons, please send us an email at email@example.com as soon as possible, so we can put a hold on the payment and investigate. If the claim is valid, we will refund the tour costs partially or in full.