Visitors Flock to Our Annual Birding and Wildlife Festival

by Neta Harris

The Shuttle program put Brevard County on the map 50 years ago as we welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors with each launch. While Kennedy Space Center was making national headlines, the Space Coast’s entertainment and attractions offerings continued to grow. With inherent natural resources as the driving force, the Brevard Nature Alliance is actively engaged in promoting Brevard County as a top tourist destination including the establishment of one of the area’s most successful festivals.

Over the span of 15 years, the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival (SCBWF) has grown into a world-renowned event visited by thousands from around the world. Many people, even Space Coast natives, are surprised to learn that we are home to the largest birding and wildlife festival in the United States. The Brevard Nature Alliance, a nonprofit group that serves as a catalyst for environmental development and appreciation of local natural systems, handles the business activities of the festival.

This event is important because it generates awareness of the abundant natural resources of our area, not just during the event, but also throughout the entire year. These connections to quality of life, excellence in environmental education, coexistence with high technology, cultural heritage significance and business community involvement provides a focus that has placed the upcoming 2012 festival on the Southeast Tourism Society’s ‘Top 20’ list. This marks the second year in a row the festival has been featured, a rare feat in the industry.

Making the Top 20

While offering a structured opportunity for residents and visitors to view the abundance of birds, wildlife and plant species (many of them endangered) in our community is a main goal, the ancillary benefits derived from this event are ones that contribute to our overall economic health. To better measure the impact from an event of this scale, the Brevard Nature Alliance commissioned an economic impact study in 2000 and each year thereafter sharing information each year with the Space Coast Office of Tourism.

Highlights of the January 2011 report reflect a huge boost to the community from this annual festival:

  • Over 4,500 guests attended last year’s event, 42 percent of which came from outside of Florida. Nine countries were represented including Ecuador, Ireland, South Africa and Panama.
  • The festival’s estimated effect on Brevard County’s economy amounted to $945,239 in sales output.
  • The estimated impact of $945,239 is equivalent to the creation of about 10.8 new and/or part-time jobs, and generated almost $360,000 in labor income.
  • Government revenues produced by festival economic activity, at the federal, state and local levels, were estimated to be about $125,000 in tax receipts.

Multiplying the Impact

With an economic impact study to confirm it, we know that this event produces tangible results for our community.

While the above direct numbers tell a story of success, the indirect effect is likely even higher. Registered attendees of the festival were surveyed regarding additional plans for a return visit to the Space Coast and many responded with future plans to enjoy our beaches, shopping, cruises, Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex and additional cultural activities. These findings could lead to increased spending in our community at hotels, restaurants and retail providing a potential lift in visitors for other local attractions.

The SCBWF adds to the community on many levels. For the Brevard Nature Alliance, funding derived from this event, in combination with grants and corporate sponsorships, allows our organization to continue to promote Florida’s Space Coast as a top ecotourism destination.

With the Shuttle program taking its rightful place in history, we must continue to offer unique tourism opportunities to the public and welcome visitors to Brevard County from across the globe. Whether through this festival or the hundreds of cultural and nature-based activities throughout Brevard, tourism leaders are working together and looking toward the future, ensuring that Florida’s Space Coast remains in the national spotlight.

Neta Harris is executive director of the Brevard Nature Alliance, a community partner of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.