What Andrew J. Sebastian, naturalist, environmentalist and bird guide, really wants is for Malaysians to look at the photos of birds in Malaysia, and think, “Wow! our country has wonderful things to offer.
Birds are a big deal.” Sebastian’s days and nights are spent talking, educating, promoting and persuading everyone he meets to fall in love with birding, which is the hobby of watching birds. Malaysia has many species of birds that many Malaysians are not aware of, but foreigners are. This is why he is setting on a new path: championing ecotourism, with a focus on birds.
Sebastian will be presenting Malaysia and promoting birding at the first American Birding Expo, which started yesterday.
He is all psyched, to talk about birds, Malaysian birds, Malaysia and ecotourism. “For the uninitiated, birding is a hobby for people who like to watch birds. It has become a fast growing product around the world and means big business.
“In the United Kingdom, there is a huge birding community, and the Royal Society for The Protection of Birds has over a million members.
“There’s a big market for us and loads of people to come to Malaysia. America has over 44 million bird watchers. USA is a good market. We want to woo them to come over to Malaysia. “The American Birding Expo is fashioned after the UK bird fair.
I will represent Malaysia and man the booth there to woo American birders to come over.”
It is said that birdwatching in the US, Canada, and Mexico generates US$25 billion (RM110 billion) per year and it employs over 60,000 people.
Livescience reported that, “Avitourism, as this particular sector of the industry is known, is one of the most lucrative sources of income in ecotourism.
It accounts for the largest single group of ecotourists across the globe, and according to some estimates, three million international trips are taken each year for the main purpose of bird-watching.“
Malaysia could be an example of ecotourism success, Sebastian said, if only it could organise itself and focus on the wealth the country offers – hiking, nature reserves, the vast mountains and lush green padi fields and jungles, and the vibrant flora and fauna.
Then there are the white sandy beaches of Terengganu and renowned diving spots around the country. Why is Malaysia’s ecotourism so underdeveloped? For one, Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak have different things to offer. The peninsula has no champion to promote ecotourism.
There are a lot of local champions, but not one star promoter. Across the pond, there is Datuk Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin, Sabah Tourism Board chairman, who has been pushing ecotourism for many years.
Peninsular Malaysia also has a different growth chart that needs to be developed. Each state has its own idea of ecotourism, and attempts have been rather half-hearted.
Sabah and Sarawak are blessed with nature, culture and heritage and both states are dedicated to ecotourism.
Malaysia does have her share of eco-champions such as Irshad Mobarak and Hymeir Kamaruddin, who promote their nature reserves up north. Still, there is room for more players in Malaysian ecotourism.
However, this could change, with Sebastian as a champion. “Why me? Firstly I have the passion and interest. Secondly I have been doing birding and eco tourism for a long time. “We still have a long way to go. I’m trying my best to promote eco-tourism and sustainability in our tourism industry.
“If we can show the government that ecotourism works, then we don’t have to work so hard to build up structures, for we have everything already.”
Sebastian’s passion for birds earned him an invitation from the organisers of the American expo. He then approached Tourism Malaysia who agreed to send him to the US.
“Malaysia is sitting on a gold mine when it comes to ecotourism. We should embrace this and be proud of our treasures. Our birds are our wealth.” – October 1, 2015.