National Extension Tourism (NET): 2021 Conf. Proceedings

recreational disturbance, and creating a standard level of information that businesses convey to their customers, thereby enhancing understanding among constituents. Habitat protection, including disturbance reduction, is an important strategy to mitigate shorebird population declines (AFSI 2015, GADNR 2015). Ecotourism provides an opportunity to build support for such conservation actions by empowering tour guides to play a role as beach stewards through educating guests about shorebirds and other sensitive wildlife. The overall goals of the pilot certification program, launched in 2021, were to implement a program with appropriate content to achieve the aforementioned objectives; an accessible format which could be logistically achievable for the target audience; enough social interaction among participants to allow for the development of networking opportunities; and the design of appropriate evaluation tools necessary to justify the infrastructure needed to support a sustainable program.


The process of creating the CARE certification began by forming a steering committee composed of a diverse group of stakeholders, building a database of ecotour providers located along the Georgia coast, and researching similar initiatives in other geographic regions. After an initial database of ecotour providers was established, a survey tool was designed and distributed to providers to determine interest level, format and content of such a program. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to in-person programming during these initial stages of program planning. All steering committee meetings shifted to a virtual format using teleconference software. Other program tasks were also shifted to the virtual format including planned public programs and presentations to colleagues to introduce the certification. A webinar event in May 2020 took the place of multiple public programs planned throughout the Georgia coast and resulted in participation of an audience from a broader geography than initially planned, including from states outside of Georgia and internationally. Participant polling (using Poll Everywhere) was used to gather information about dependence on water- based ecotour guides, how guides were identified, and what participants wanted from a guided tour. The virtual format for this event allowed gathering polling information by creating an interactive element as part of content delivery. The bulk of the course content for guides was also translated to an online platform allowing the course to be delivered in a blended format of self-

2021 NET Conference Proceedings


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