State News

June 16, 2013

Tour guides on Jekyll Island might need to take test

The Jekyll Island Authority wants to make sure private tour operators are knowledgeable about the island’s history and plans to do so with an ordinance regulating tours.

The ordinance has not been adopted and will be available for public comment during its second reading at the Jekyll Island Authority’s next board meeting, which is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday.

If adopted, the ordinance would mandate that private tour operators pass a written and oral test and require information disseminated by tour guides to be approved by the authority executive director, currently Jones Hooks, “to ensure accuracy and uniformity of content.”

It’s not about controlling content, said John Hunter, director of historical resources for the authority that operates the state park. It’s about providing consistency.

“Because we do not regulate activities currently, we do not know if the information is accurate or not,” Hunter said. “Our goal is to provide resources for people providing tours that is up to date from a research perspective so they can feel comfortable with the information they are sharing with guests.”

That had been done through informal education in the past, but the proposed ordinance allows it to be done in a more structured fashion.

Hunter says the authority welcomes the growth it has seen in visitations and, in turn, tour operators.

“However, we have seen a growing trend for businesses that are not based on Jekyll offering tours of the island, many times in direct competition with businesses that make investments and commitments to be a part of Jekyll,” Hunter said. “We want to make sure that we are supporting these businesses and amenities, such as the Tidelands Nature Center, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and Jekyll Island Museum whose revenues directly support conservation, historic preservation and education programs on the island.”

The proposal also puts other mandates in place designating parking spots, prohibiting use of loudspeakers outside of a vehicle and requiring accidents to be reported to the authority.

Traffic hasn’t become a problem on Jekyll, but the authority wants to make sure it stays that way.

That’s not the case on St. Simons Island. Traffic caused by tour operators is a problem on St. Simons, said Scott McQuade, executive director of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau. He added there has been no discussion about implementing testing requirements for tour operators.

He noted that multiple tours will sometimes stop at the same place simultaneously. That causes logistical problems at tourist destinations like Christ Church, which often hosts worship services while tourists take in the historic property.

“These stops aren’t meant to handle the volume of people, as well as the parking and the noise that comes with all of the buses and people,” McQuade said.

He, too, has noticed more tours gaining popularity and plans to organize a group that will tackle the issue.

Parking spots in the popular Pier Village can become few and far between during peak tourist season, he said.

“It begs the question that we might need to put a little more of a process in place to facilitate a more reasonable schedule,” McQuade said.

Glynn County spokeswoman Candice Temple says the county has designated areas in Pier Village for tour busses to park but does not impose any restrictions on the content of tours.

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