Queensland’s ecotourism plans ‘poorly defined’: report

Fraser Barton |

Processes for identifying and planning ecotourism are vague, says Queensland’s auditor-general.
Processes for identifying and planning ecotourism are vague, says Queensland’s auditor-general.

Queensland’s ecotourism opportunities “vague” and “poorly defined” after only three facilities in national parks were developed since 2013, an auditor-general’s report has found.

The “Growing ecotourism in Queensland” report issued highlights legislative changes and striking a balance between protecting the state’s unique natural environment and deriving economic benefit for Queenslanders as inhibitors to ecotourism growth.

Auditor-General Brendan Worrall says ‘ecotourism’ has been defined differently and policies have differed on commercial activities and infrastructure development, “resulting in processes for identifying and planning ecotourism that are vague and “poorly defined”.

Two further ecotourism opportunities are in the works but approvals and delivery of these developments were lengthy, complex, and costly, the report says.

“The absence of a statewide policy on ecotourism means it is difficult to measure the development of ecotourism outside Queensland’s protected areas.”

The state government launched an initiative in November to transform Queensland’s visitor economy titled, “The Towards Tourism 2032 – Transforming Queensland’s visitor economy future strategy”.

It includes a greater focus on developing ecotourism and nature-based tourism, while creating culturally rich experiences for visitors through work with First Nations communities.

The report states specific strategy in the 10-year plan falls short on providing clarity of government policy, priority, and risk appetite needed to stimulate greater ecotourism investment and benefits.

Mr Worrall recommends collaborative state departments develop an overarching statewide policy position on ecotourism for both on and off protected areas.

He says the state needs a clear definition on what ecotourism is and the scales and types of ecotourism development acceptable to the state.

Queensland must also identify and prioritise ecotourism opportunities both on and off protected areas, including any differences in priorities and tolerances for developments within and outside national parks while respecting cultural and traditional ownership of First Nations people.

An overarching recommendation cited by the auditor-general is consistency in achieving Queensland’s vision to become a world leader in ecotourism.

This can be brought about via clarity for government entities, industry, operators, and potential developers in understanding and implementing government’s ecotourism priorities, and supporting private investment and development in ecotourism outside Queensland’s protected areas.

To become a world-leader in ecotourism, the report says departments must develop, finalise, or update individual plans for ecotourism-related strategies and ensure government funding is directed to or aligned with the vision and policy position on ecotourism.