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Ohio Sea Grant College Program
and Stone Laboratory

Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory

Socio-economic impacts of bird watching along Great Lakes

Project Number: R/ME-033, Progress Report

Start Date: 2/1/2010

Completion Date: 1/31/2012

Revision Date: 5/31/2013

Principal Investigator(s)1.Philip Xie, School of Human Movement, Sport and Leisure Studies Bowling Green State University

Funding Record

Source: Ohio Sea Grant College Program
Source FundState MatchPass Through
First Year$ 59,997.00$ 30,894.00$ 90,891.00

Objectives

The objectives of this study will focus upon three major areas:

(1) Economic impact of bird watching as it relates to substantial economic expenditures

Bird watching can yield considerable returns on investments and be a positive force in remedying economic problems along Lake Erie.  Economic impact studies are popular vehicles for illustrating the benefits of bird watching.  There are numerous and important uses for economic impact studies.  For example, the results may inform legislation to implement economic development and conservation policies to stimulate local resource-based economies.  Various groups can also utilize the information such as community planners who respond to developmental prospects; public and private travel marketers who set the level and direction of their promotional efforts and expenditures; economic developers who capitalize upon and sustain bird watching market; and planners and marketing strategists to forecast bird watching tourism demands.  The priority of this study aims to explore the estimation of the total contribution to local and regional economies attributable to birdwatcher spending.  It is proposed to use the Geographical Information System (GIS) for the spatial analysis and Impact Analysis for Planning (IMPLAN) to assess the economic impact of bird watching along Lake Erie.  Quantifying total employment, income, value added, taxes, and total sales will allow natural resource and tourism agencies, land use planners, and policy makers to estimate benefits accrued from various land management options related to birdwatching.

(2) Tourism patterns of bird watching along Lake Erie.  

Although bird watching is one of the fastest growing wildlife recreational activities in Ohio, the types of bird watching along Lake Erie remain unknown at present.   Many local efforts to attract birders have been guided by a monolithic image of birders.  The stereotypical image of birders is characterized by “pilgrims with binoculars around their necks and cash in their pockets” (Miller, 1995).  However, recent research (Reynolds and Braithwaite, 2001; Curtin and Wilkes, 2005) in the US showed that a wide variety of birdwatchers exist with different needs and satisfaction levels ranging from the goal specificity of advanced birdwatchers to dabblers who want to learn about nature.  Birdwatching is receiving much publicity as an economic development strategy for rural communities.  This publicity, often mistakenly, portrays all birdwatchers as a group of highly committed enthusiasts who are eager to add birds to their life lists.  The market differentiation for birdwatchers of varying commitments to the activity will make it possible to identify particular segment that are still in growth and tailor products to improve birdwatchers’ levels of satisfaction.  It is proposed that the on-site survey will yield data on the types of birdwatchers and market segmentation along Lake Erie. 

(3) Strategic partnership among the communities and industries to promote the local economy and to preserve the social value of bird watching.

The study will provide reliable economic findings to help state agencies, NGOs, and community tourism planners understand the contributions of bird watching expenditures along Lake Erie.  A wider scope of analysis could encompass the cultural and environmental impacts of such birdwatchers.  However, economic contributions are of interest to both public and private agencies and communities located in areas that birdwatchers visit.  Informed decision making and public policy require that executives, officials, employees and their dependents understand the contribution that birdwatchers make to the local economy, both through those businesses directly serving birdwatchers and their suppliers.  The project will facilitate the accessibility of the communities along the Lake Erie to enjoy the bird watching activities, promote travel and tourism in the region and stimulate the economy.  It will do outreach in order to connect bird watching destinations with the community involved in nature-based tourism.  One of the objectives is to have a better idea of how much these birdwatchers spend which allow a promotion organization to more efficiently plan marketing efforts.  This project will enable rural land planners and policy makers to estimate the benefits gained from various land management options on areas related to birdwatching.  On the basis of this research, funding for nature-based tourism, species sustainability and tourism promotion can be justified from both the biological and economic standpoints.  Eventually, it could result in increased conservation efforts and additional funding for the natural areas that attract the birds and birders.

Abstract

This study explores the economic impacts of birdwatching along Lake Erie, specifically, six important birdwatching locations were chosen.  The potential benefits associated with bird watching in protected areas are extremely tangible.  For example, birdwatchers spend money on lodging, food, and other goods and services, thereby providing employment for local and non-local residents.  These positive economic impacts can lead to increased support for the protected areas where birds are located.  There is a pressing need for data on these financial contributions and economic impacts of birdwatchers.  It is essential to help the local and State governments, companies, and individuals interested in bird watching understand the scope and magnitude of economic benefits, as well as find ways to promote this recreational activity.  Credible economic benefit data are essential if policy makers and resource planners are to fully discharge their responsibilities to sustain avian resources for future generations.  Not only will this study have important information for conservation efforts, it will also be integral to the long-term success of bird watching along Lake Erie and will create a more sustainable tourism economy.

Rationale

This project will undertake a comprehensive study of the economic impacts of bird watching along the shores of Lake Erie. The aim of this investigation is closely tied to the National Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan (2009- 2013) for sustainable coastal development. One goal of the strategic plan is "healthy coastal economies that include working waterfronts, an abundance of recreation and tourism opportunities, and coastal access for all citizens" (p. 15). The project also fits the goal to provide outreach to "coastal citizens, community leaders, and industries that recognize the complex inter-relationships between social, economic and environmental values in coastal areas" (p. 17).

Despite the significance of bird watching, its net economic value along Lake Erie and the assessment of economic impact of birdwatchers have never been undertaken in recent years. Research on bird watching is a relatively uncharted area of academic study in Ohio both in terms of demand and supply. However, the potential benefits associated with bird watching in protected areas are extremely tangible. There is a pressing need for data on these financial contributions and economic impacts of birdwatchers. It is essential to help the local and State governments, companies, and individuals interested in bird watching understand the scope and magnitude of economic benefits, as well as find ways to promote this recreational activity. Not only will this study have important information for conservation efforts, it will also be integral to the long-term success of bird watching along Lake Erie and will create a more sustainable tourism economy.

The findings of this project will be useful for government officials, wildlife resource managers, tourism industry professionals, media, and others interested and active in natural resource management and economic development. The information from the project will be useful to formulate strategic plans and programs that will produce optimum economic returns from bird watching resources. The project will also include outreach to the communities which rely on wildlife resources. Outreach and education components of this project include consultation with the Ohio Sea Grant Tourism Program Director prior to distribution of research findings in order to develop additional materials to assist in interpreting and efficiently using research findings. This project coincides with an Ohio Sea Grant and ODNR Division of Wildlife project to enhance birding along the lake, and research results will be integrated into training opportunities for local businesses and resource managers. Working with Ohio Sea Grant's Tourism Program Director, research findings will also be integrated into the new Ohio Tourism Toolbox, and online educational resource for the industry.

Methodology

Previous study (Veal, 2006) in outdoor recreation showed that an on-site survey may result in a higher response rates, as compared with other methods.  Furthermore, expenditures in outdoor recreation are more accurately reflected in on-site survey.  Therefore, on-site surveys were conducted with a selected sample of birdwatchers visiting six sites, e.g., Oak Openings, Magee Marsh, Sheldon Marsh, Old Woman Creek, Mentor Marsh and Conneaut Harbor.  The research assistants and I have collected a total of 1,196 valid questionnaires from May 2010 to November 2011.  There were 502 questionnaires collected in Magee Marsh, 155 in Oak Opening, 186 in Sheldon Marsh, 121 in Old Woman Creek, 118 in Mentor Marsh, and 114 in Conneaut.  The data collection will be undertaken in two periods of time: mid and late spring; and early and mid fall.  Both periods are the peak birding seasons along Lake Erie.  In addition, different locations have various bird species, such as shorebirds appear in Conneaut Harbor in July and August.  Therefore, research assistants and I traveled extensively year around.  The purpose of collecting data year around is to ensure balanced and reliable database.

The survey is comprised of four components: (1) profiles of birdwatchers along Lake Erie including travel distance, factors influencing the birdwatching, the importance of travel decision making, accommodation used for birdwatching; (2) equipment purchasing for birdwatching; (3) expenditures for travel in different categories; (4) socio-demographics; and (5) open-ended comments to improve birdwatching experience.  Participants were asked to provide their on-site, trip-related, and equipment expenditures and the percentage of expenditure within a 15 mile radius.  They were asked for the current 24 hours to minimize recall error.  In situations where participants were on day trips, they were asked to estimate their trip expenses for the remainder of the day.  Equipment expenditures included durable items related to participation at the site and acquired during the past year.  Expenses were recorded by specific expenditure category to align them with the corresponding industrial sector in the modeled economy.  The open-ended comments include data on potential purchases by birdwatchers, their attitudes towards the preserves, local facilities and services, and their ideas on how birding experiences could be improved.  Besides the surveys, governmental data and published documents will be used to gauge the overall economic impacts of bird watching in Ohio.

In terms of data analysis, recent research has advanced the application of economic assessment tools in birdwatching.  There are two related, but distinct, economic concepts in bird watching: economic value and economic impact.  Two research models will be implemented to gauge the socio-economic benefits of bird watching along Lake Erie: (1) Geographical Information System (GIS) for spatial analysis of birdwatching; and (2) Impact Analysis for Planning (IMPLAN) will be used to measure the economic impact for bird watchers’ travel and equipment expenditures.

With respect to spatial analysis of birdwatching, Geographical Information System (GIS) have great potential to understand the origins of the birders, patterns of travel, and birdwatching infrastructure along Lake Erie.  GIS can describe and identify transportation network elements geometrically, thematically and topologically.  In addition, GIS is described as hardware, software, and procedures collectively supporting the collection, input, storage, retrieval, transformation, analysis and presentation of geo-referenced object and field data.  Since GIS technology couples common data, it is considered a decision support system involving spatially referenced data in a problem-solving environment.  The application of GIS for birdwatching study is especially important.  In the past, the GIS used for nature-based tourism has been diverse, including the systematic inventory and audit of natural resources and conditions; simulating and modeling spatial outcomes of proposed developments through visibility analysis; and simulation modeling to facilitate monitoring and management of visitor flows.  In this study, the GIS was used to map the origins of birdwatchers visiting Lake Erie, the population density of the birders; and the projection of the birdwatching flow.

Expenditures represent dollars spent in an economy of interest; however, economic impacts measure dollars that remain in that economy. Economists have traditionally used input-output (IO) analysis to examine the impacts of tourism on the economy of the regions (Frechtling and Horvath, 1999).  The IO analysis is especially useful in describing current and potential economic contributions of natural-based recreational activities, e.g., birdwatching, to the overall economy (Johnson and Moore, 1993; Strauss et al, 1995; Grado et al, 2001).  IMPLAN is an alternative model for regional analysis and can be used to measure the economic impacts of expenditures for travel and equipment associated with birdwatching.  It is particularly useful for multiplier estimates since bird watching involves purchasing the necessary equipment, such as binoculars and cameras.  IMPLAN is a computerized database and modeling system for constructing regional economic accounts and regional input-output tables.  IMPLAN software and database can be purchased online through MIG, Inc. 

Economic impacts of bird watching can be grouped into three categories: direct, indirect, and induced.  The IMPLAN model was built to identify direct and secondary impacts resulting from birdwatcher expenditures.  Direct impacts represented that portion of expenditures retained by an economic entity in the operation of its business, such as sales, salaries, and jobs created by initial purchases of participants.  Secondary impacts included indirect effects of inter-industry trade within the region and the induced effects of household consumption originating from employment tied to the direct and indirect activities.  Six economic categories are identified to estimate these direct, indirect and induced impacts: (1) total economic effect to understand industry output associated with bird watching activities; (2) birdwatchers’ incomes; (3) employment: the total number of jobs related to bird watching including both full-time and part-time workers; (4) employee compensation: the description of the total payroll costs including benefits of bird watching industry; (5) proprietary income: the spin-off income received by private business owners and self-employed individuals; and (6) indirect business taxes: the excise and sales taxes paid by individuals to businesses. 

The steps for estimating economic impacts of bird watching expenditures by using IMPLAN in the five selected destinations are as follows:

  1. Obtain bird watching expenditures in the economy from the six economic categories listed above.
  2. Match the expenditure, earnings, and /or employment categories with the IMPLAN industries.
  3. For retail trade industries, transform bird watching expenditures into birdwatcher output through estimates of margins; for service industries, birdwatcher expenditures equal birdwatcher output.
  4. Obtain the appropriate IMPLAN output, earnings, and employment multipliers for these industries from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  5. Multiply the birdwatcher output for each industry by the appropriate final-demand multipliers to obtain total output, earnings, and employment produced in the economy by the bird watching expenditures and evaluate.
  6. If final-demand multipliers for earnings and/or employment seem unreasonable, multiply earnings and /or employment directly generated by these expenditures by the appropriate direct-effect multipliers to obtain total earnings and employment produced by bird watching expenditures.  Evaluate these multipliers.
  7. Attempt to validate these estimates by comparing them with similar estimates obtained from other acceptable sources.

Benefits & Accomplishments

The annual economic impact of birdwatching is defined broadly into seven categories: (1) travel (rental car, airfare, etc.); (2) food and beverage (restaurant, groceries, etc.); (3) lodging (hotel, motel, campground, etc.); (4) admission and fees at the site; (5) general shopping (clothing, souvenirs, etc.); (6) automobile (gas, repairs, parking, etc.); and (7) entertainment or recreation.  The respondents were asked to estimate the spending on that day in these categories including all spending, not just that at the birdwatching site.  In addition, the respondents were asked to estimate percentage of this spending occurred within 15 miles of the birdwatching destination.  The average of the birders’ responses were estimated and then applied to the total number of birders in each site (including those who did not take the survey).  This effort yields a fairly comprehensive yet relatively conservative set of estimates of direct economic spending stimulus produced in the local economy.  The direct spending economic stimulus is then entered into the IMPLAN economic impact assessment model which translates this direct spending into indirect and induced economic stimulus.  Summing the respective effects provides an estimate of the overall economic impact to the area economy.

Birders directly spent a total of $26,438,398 in six selected locations.  Among these expenditures, $4,594,749 was spent in travel by birders from 2010 to 2011.  Amongst the birdwatching sites, birders spent $3,217,025 in travels to Magee Marsh while $52,176 in Conneaut.  Comparatively, birders spent approximately $3,894,210 a year in food and beverage in Magee Marsh while $58,136 spent in Mentor Marsh.  The discrepancy was influenced by a number of factors: (1) the number of birders who visited the sites.  Magee Marsh is ranked as one of top ten birdwatching destinations in the US; therefore, it has attracted up to 100,000 birders annually from different States; comparatively, other destinations, such as Oak Openings and Mentor Marsh, tend to be regional to attract local residents.  The number of birders were much smaller compared with Magee Marsh; (2) duration of birdwatching.  Birders spend more money if they stay overnight, e.g., shopping and entertainment.  Oak Openings, Conneaut and Mentor Marsh have the lowest numbers for lodging as these destinations attract the majority of birders from the metropolitan areas, such as Toledo, Erie and Cleveland.  The birdwatching in these locations appears to be day trips; and (3) Using a 15 mile radius of the destination to gauge the economic impacts, Magee Marsh and Sheldon Marsh have the highest percentage of expenditure while Mentor Marsh and Conneaut have the lowest.  The infrastructure support seems important for birders’ intention to stay overnight.  

In addition to this direct spending, there is also a “multiplier” effect on businesses throughout Lake Erie, specifically in each county.  The multiplier effect occurs as the initial spending on birdwatching circulates further within the regional economy, creating additional sales and employment opportunities in other businesses.  For example, there is a multiplier effect when birder’s hotel purchases services from other companies, such as accounting services and farms.  There is also a multiplier effect when park employees spend their paychecks throughout the local economy on typical household expenditures such as food, insurance, housing and entertainment.  Thus, the multiplier effect captures how businesses throughout the regional economy gain from the money attracted to birdwatching sites.  Economic multipliers show the dollars of total impact for each dollar of direct impact.

Economic multipliers were calculated using the IMPLAN Pro model.  The multipliers calculated for expenditures vary in six locations where Magee Marsh is 1.43, Sheldon Marsh is 1.46, Oak Opening is 1.70, Old Woman Creek is 1.45, Mentor Marsh is 1.49, and Conneaut is 1.36.  On average, economic multiplier for birdwatching along Lake Erie is 1.48.

Substantial economic impacts were realized in terms of employment, labor income and State and local tax revenues.  By documenting the direct, indirect, and induced impacts of birdwatching in six selected locations, the findings show that birdwatching contributed about 283 full-time and/or part-time jobs to the local communities and $8.9 million in personal income.  State and local tax revenues are comprised of four categories: (1) employee compensation including payroll tax; (2) indirect businesses including property tax and sales; (3) households including tax revenue through employment; and (4) corporation tax.  Birdwatching contributed about $1.9 million tax revenues in both State and local levels.

In terms of job generation, the expenditures were coded based upon the IMPLAN industry codes, which have 440 classifications ranging from farming (code 1-11) to retail stores (code 320-330).  The findings suggest that the majority of job creation comes from four industries: (1) hospitality industry, such as hotels and motels; (2) food services and drinking places; (3) infrastructure services, such as transportation and support activities for transportation; and (4) retail stores.  For example, in Magee Marsh area, 78 jobs were created in hotel and motel industry to accommodate birders; about 17 jobs were generated in food services; 41 jobs in transportation; and 23 in retail stores including gas stations, sporting goods, and general merchandise.  It appears that these jobs were mainly created in service industry which caters for birders’ food, travel and lodging accommodation.

In summary, birders visiting Lake Erie provide significant revenue infusions to the region year round.  All the reported spending flows directly to local stores, hotels and motels, restaurants and retail outlets.  The annual spending in six selected sites was $26,438,398 which created 283 jobs to the local communities, generated $8.9 million in personal income, and $1.9 million tax revenues directed to local coffers.  In some locations, such as Magee Marsh attracting about 20,000 each May for bird migration, birdwatching is seen as an engine of local economic development and growth.

 

 

        

Impacts

1Economic Impacts of Birdwatching
Focus Area: Sustainable Coastal Development

The study will provide reliable economic findings to help state agencies, NGOs, and community tourism planners understand the contributions of bird watching expenditures along Lake Erie.  A wider scope of analysis could encompass the cultural and environmental impacts of such birdwatchers.  However, economic contributions are of interest to both public and private agencies and communities located in areas that birdwatchers visit.  Informed decision making and public policy require that executives, officials, employees and their dependents understand the contribution that birdwatchers make to the local economy, both through those businesses directly serving birdwatchers and their suppliers.  The project will facilitate the accessibility of the communities along the Lake Erie to enjoy the bird watching activities, promote travel and tourism in the region and stimulate the economy.  It will do outreach in order to connect bird watching destinations with the community involved in nature-based tourism.  One of the objectives is to have a better idea of how much these birdwatchers spend which allow a promotion organization to more efficiently plan marketing efforts.  This project will enable rural land planners and policy makers to estimate the benefits gained from various land management options on areas related to birdwatching.  On the basis of this research, funding for nature-based tourism, species sustainability and tourism promotion can be justified from both the biological and economic standpoints.  Eventually, it could result in increased conservation efforts and additional funding for the natural areas that attract the birds and birders.

2Socio-economic impacts of bird watching along Great Lakes
Focus Area: Sustainable Coastal Development

The study explored economic impacts of birdwatching along Lake Erie in Ohio and demonstrated the significant impacts on local economy and community.  The highlights of the findings are as follows:

 

1. Birders spent $26,438,398 during visits to the six selected locations. $4,594,749 was spent on travel. 

 

2. Birdwatching created 283 full-time and/or part-time jobs in the region and generated $8.9 million in personal income and about $1.9 million in tax revenues. 

 

3. Birders were mature, had high incomes, and were highly educated: 62% were over 55 years of age, 80% were college graduates, and 34% reported annual household incomes over $100,000.

 

4. The majority (64%) said they were willing to travel over 100 miles to go birding. Birders whose annual income is over $75,000 were more willing to travel farther than those with lower incomes. 

 

5. The researchers classified birders as advanced, serious, or casual based on the amount of time the respondents spent birding and the number of species they could identify. A majority (51%) were “serious,” 25% were “advanced,” and 24% were “casual.” 

 

6. 72% of all respondents were willing to purchase binoculars valued at more than $300, and 48% were willing to purchase a camera costing more than $500. 60% spent more than $100 per year on books and field guides.

 

The study provided reliable economic findings to help state agencies, NGOs, and community tourism planners understand the contributions of bird watching expenditures along Lake Erie.  A wider scope of analysis could encompass the cultural and environmental impacts of such birdwatchers. Informed decision making and public policy require that executives, officials, employees and their dependents understand the contribution that birdwatchers make to the local economy, both through those businesses directly serving birdwatchers and their suppliers. 

 

Birders visiting Lake Erie provide significant revenue infusions to the region year round.  All the reported spending flows directly to local stores, hotels and motels, restaurants and retail outlets.  In some locations, such as Magee Marsh attracting about 50,000 each May for bird migration, birdwatching is seen as an engine of local economic development and growth.  Therefore, this study provided quantitative measurement to understand the impact of birdwatching, as an important recreational activity in Ohio, along Lake Erie.
3
Focus Area: Sustainable Coastal Development
Relevance: this project was closely associated with marine and recreation.  It also reached out to the communities along Lake Erie and regional economic development

Response: this project received an overwhelmingly positive response from the communities and birdwatchers.  A total of 1,100 surveys was collected from six birdwatching locations along Lake Erie.  The State parks participated in the survey and provided support for this research

Results: the findings show that birdwatching contributed about 283 full-time and/or part-time jobs to the local communities and $8.9 million in personal income. 

Recap: Birders visiting Lake Erie provide significant revenue infusions to the region year round.  All the reported spending flows directly to local stores, hotels and motels, restaurants and retail outlets.  The annual spending in six selected sites was $26,438,398 which created 283 jobs to the local communities, generated $8.9 million in personal income, and $1.9 million tax revenues directed to local coffers.  In some locations, such as Magee Marsh that attracts more than 20,000 visitors each May for bird migration, birdwatching is seen as an engine of local economic development and growth.  It is estimated that birdwatching generates approximately $30 million dollars worth of spending along Lake Erie in Ohio.

Publications & Media

Deprecated: Miscellaneous documents
PDF: Philip F. Xie 2012, Socio-economic Impacts of Birdwatching along Lake Erie: A Coastal Ohio Analysis
Made available by Ohio Sea Grant as OHSU-TS-061
Deprecated: Miscellaneous documentsDoug Caruso 2011, Columbus Dispatch newspaper article. Searching for economics behind Ohio bird-watchingDate: March, 2011
Newsletters, periodicals
Newsletters, periodicalsJohn P. McCartney 2012, Birders contribute millions to local economy
Toledo Free Press
Topical websites, blog sites
Topical websites, blog sitesMatt Markey 2012, Region to be roosting spot for legions of bird watchers
Toledo Blade Newspaper

Related Twine Line Articles

PDF: Matthew Forte, The Benefits of Birding
Winter - Spring 2012