Is your birding tour operator legal?

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Posted 25 February 2020

This short article focuses on what information you should request of your tour company before booking a tour to South Africa or Namibia and other countries where the company operates.

It’s frustrating for us to see so many birding tour operators in Namibia and South Africa cutting corners and illegally operating tours without their proper paperwork in order, especially because it costs us a lot of time and money ensuring we’re legal, then seeing some other operators offering cheaper but illegal tours. The laws are there for a reason, most of them to protect you, our valued clients.

Foreign guides and tour leaders need a work permit to guide a tour in Namibia or South Africa. Of course, this also means that South African birding guides can’t lead a trip in Namibia without a work permit. For a guide to arrange a work permit he or she has to work for a company registered as a foreign tour operator in Namibia (Birding Ecotours is indeed registered with the Namibia Tourism Board/NTB as such, so it’s easy for us to arrange the necessary work permits for our guides).

For both Namibia and South Africa, if the guide drives, he or she has to have a Namibian or South African driver’s license and a professional driving permit (PDP). The PDP is assessed more often than a normal driver’s license. To get a PDP one has to prove that one is medically fit to drive paying passengers and one also has to prove a clean police record. So these are good rules, as they protect the client, ensuring a certain level of safety. Please do ask your tour operator if your driver has a valid PDP.

In South Africa it is also a legal requirement for all guides to be registered with the local government. To register with this, the guide has to prove three things:

  • Adequate knowledge of nature/birding in South Africa. Most guides get this through FGASA, but there are certainly other avenues too.
  • A valid first aid certificate. What happens if a guest starts choking or having a heart attack during a tour? Does your guide have a basic, passing knowledge of what to do and how to take control of that situation?
  • The guide’s PDP has to be shown to be valid, if the guide does any driving.

Namibia has similar rules, but for foreign guides with a work permit only 2) and 3) are looked at by the NTB.

Public liability, passenger liability, and other insurances types are also needed, usually applicable to the tour vehicle being used.

We are a company that spends the necessary money and staff time on ensuring we’re above reproach, wherever we operate our birding tours. There are some other major considerations not dealt with here in other parts of the world. For example, in the UK and the rest of Europe we have to have ATOL or equivalent insurance, which of course we do have. That’s only possible because we are incorporated in England/Wales (as well as in the USA, South Africa, etc.). In the USA, state park permits are a real issue. We usually have to pay the fees a year in advance, even if we’re unsure whether all the trips in all the states will run in the coming year. New Zealand has some of the strictest laws about tours on the planet, which also explains why our trips there are currently not as competitively priced as those of some operators. We’re trying to work on this. But ask the company you’re thinking of booking with if they’re legal; please kindly don’t just book on price.

Birding Ecotours

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