An estimated 11.5 million people spend more than $6 billion annually on wildlife watching in the 53 coastal counties from Florida to Texas, according to an Environmental Defense Fund Report.
According to Mark LaSalle, director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, East Jackson County marshes and coastlines are prime locations for nature tourism.
But LaSalle said nature tourism isn't just a hobby. It's also an opportunity to stimulate the local economy.
The Audubon Center, in conjunction with the Jackson County and Ocean Springs Chambers of Commerce, is hosting a program for local businesses to understand the clientele of nature-based tourism, specifically birdwatchers.
LaSalle said The Birder Wise Small Business Seminar is designed for small businesses to learn the needs of nature tourists and how to connect their business to this demographic.
According to the report, the hobby is slightly female dominated and includes people ages 55 to 64 with an annual income between $40,000 and $75,000.
"If you understand your clientele, you can cater to them," LaSalle said. "Just as we are growing to further accommodate and encourage the nature tourism community through the upcoming construction of a new Audubon facility, we are collaborating with local businesses and economic development groups to realize the collaborative benefits of attracting this sector."
Tony Hubbert runs the Holiday Inn Express, Shular Inn and Best Western Flagship Inn in Moss Point and is hoping this seminar will help businesses draw birders to the area.
"I think it will teach all of us to teach people to appreciate ecotourism and the natural beauty of the area," Hubbert said.
Delorise Nettles, owner of Delo's Heavenly House of Coffee in Gautier, said birdwatchers stop by her shop frequently and she wants to learn more about wildlife tourism to interact with her customers.
"Based on the traffic that comes through my shops, it's beneficial for me as a business to be familiar with the topic and know where people can get more information in the area," Nettles said.
Businesses that complete the seminar on Feb. 25 will be able to display a "Birder Wise" logo at their location, indicating their knowledge of birders.