Biodiversity Conservation and Ecotourism: an investigation of linkages, mutual benefits and future opportunities
Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 5
Noel Preece and Penny van Oosterzee, Ecoz-Ecology Australia and David James, Ecoservices Pty Ltd
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995
6. Review of existing strategic plans
One of the objectives of the Draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity (ANZECC Task Force on Biological Diversity 1993) (reviewed in Sn.2.2) is to 'develop and implement national integrated policies for the ecologically sustainable use of biological resources.'
This objective is to be achieved through cooperation between the Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments and relevant industries and nongovernment organisations, which will develop and implement national policies based on the objectives and principles of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development. This will integrate the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity into relevant sectoral and cross-sectoral activities. In developing these national policies, the need to maintain the international competitiveness of industries must be taken into account. The policies will require:
- Implementation on a bioregional basis;
- Improved coordination and integration mechanisms between all levels of government, industry and community groups;
- Better planning to overcome incremental decision making;
- Effective monitoring and development of performance indicators;
- Rapid dissemination and application of new information;
- Implementation measures including regulatory arrangements, legislation, standards and economic instruments;
- Proper evaluation of the full environmental, social and economic benefits and costs of the protection of biological diversity; and
- Greater public accountability.
In the last five years there has been increased recognition of the value of natural resources and the need for conservation of the national resources in tourism in Australia. An early policy initiative was taken in 1989 by Western Australia, which emphasised the 'Eco Ethics' of tourism development – possibly the first to explain why tourism developments should be environmentally responsible (WA Tourism Commission 1989a,b). The focus in the WA policy papers was tourism developments, mainly buildings and infrastructure. The policy identified the obligations of developers to 'contribute in cash or in kind' to the operation and maintenance of the natural environment, specifically national parks.
Subsequently, each State and mainland Territory has taken steps towards developing policies and strategies for the promotion and development of ecotourism and nature based tourism. All appear to rest on the assumption that nature based and ecotourism are the next big markets for tourism and that each State and Territory will be able to capitalise on this market. There are certain inconsistencies in this approach that are identified in this review.
The discussion presented in this Section reviews the policies, strategies and plans which have been developed or are in gestation in each State and Territory, based on a desktop survey covering all States and Territories in Australia. There are some gaps in information. In some cases various policies and strategies had not been approved by the necessary authorities, while in others they had not yet been produced.
The National Ecotourism Strategy 1994 sets the framework for the Australian Commonwealth Department of Tourism to develop ecotourism in Australia. The stated vision is described as follows:
Australia will have an ecologically sustainable ecotourism industry that will be internationally competitive and domestically viable. Ecotourism in Australia will set an international example for environmental quality and cultural authenticity while realising an appropriate return to the Australia community and conservation of the resource.
One of the aims is to develop a national framework for developing ecotourism. The major issues identified include, among other strategic ones, minimal impact and ecologically sustainable approaches to tourism planning, developing and management; the need to simplify the processes used in planning and regulation across government boundaries and agency jurisdictions; factors affecting management of natural resources, including constraints; need for monitoring of impacts; and accreditation.
The strategy identifies ecotourism as a potentially significant growth area, offering the potential to generate foreign exchange earnings. Ecotourism 'presents Australia with the opportunity to make the most of its international competitive advantage, with it spectacular and diverse natural features, unique flora and fauna '... Ecotourism can also provide resources for environmental conservation and management and an incentive for the conservation and sustainable use of both public and private land'.
Ecotourism opportunities and activities may include highly specialised, small or large scale tourism, remote tourism, cultural and natural combinations. The strategy points out that ecotourism is not the antithesis of high volume tourism, but an integral and complementary part of the tourism industry. It adds that conservation should apply not only to ecotourism, but to all forms of tourism. Ecotourism can act as a model for tourism in general.
Ecotourism is considered to be an incentive for conserving natural areas, a source of financial and physical resources for conservation, and a stimulus for an environmental ethic that goes beyond ecotourism. The strategy suggests that ecotourism involves active participation in conservation, for example scientific monitoring or financial contributions.
One of the four key issues identified, and derived from the National Strategy for ESD, is the protection of biological diversity and the maintenance of ecological processes and systems.
Economic factors are considered, both from the perspective of revenue generated and from the introduction of pricing mechanisms, fees, and levies. The goals of natural resource management may be achieved to some extent through the use of permits and licences for operators. A warning is given that pricing mechanisms to control numbers of visitors can be seen to have an elitist dimension. Likewise, the strategy notes that it is unrealistic to depend on the revenue generated from ecotourism to fully fund management of the resource. Viability of ecotourism enterprises is also considered in the light of the costs of operating sustainable enterprises on a small scale.
Ecotourism's dependence on protected areas could be assisted by the National Biodiversity Strategy's recognition of the need to establish and manage a system of protected areas that represent Australia's biological diversity adequately.
The National Ecotourism Strategy presents objectives for ecological sustainability and biodiversity conservation which should not be confined to the narrowly defined ecotourism industry. We consider that the ecotourism industry has no unique or special features which should distinguish it from the rest of the tourism industry in needing to comply with requirements of ecological sustainability or conservation of biodiversity. The Strategy clearly states that this should be the case, but then focuses on the very small part of the tourism industry which is defined as ecotourism.
Recommendation: that the principles espoused in the National Ecotourism Strategy for sound and ecologically sustainable practices should be recognised as applicable to the whole industry, and not confined to just the narrowly defined 'ecotourism' segment.
The Queensland Tourism and Travel Corporation recognised in its 1993/94 Corporate Plan that conservation of natural resources is of benefit to Queensland tourism. The Department responsible for addressing the policies and practices is Tourism, Sport and Racing, which is developing a series of discussion papers and strategies on tourism. The Queensland Tourism Strategy includes Issues Paper No.5 Ecologically Sustainable Development in the Tourism Industry (Sept 1994), which recognises that there are limits to resources and that the tourism industry should act in support of conservation. The paper is not considered official government policy.
Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) is considered fundamental to tourism in Queensland, and the 'maintenance of biological diversity, ecosystem integrity, ecological processes and cultural diversity are imperatives at national, state, regional and local levels.'
The Issues Paper recognises the 13 biogeographic regions of Queensland that are undergoing an active process of acquisition based on clear evidence that such areas are needed for the conservation of the State's biodiversity. It notes that national parks and protected areas cannot be relied on to ensure adequate protection of ecosystems and species, and recommends that all agencies and industries involved in each region should bear some responsibility for biodiversity.
An important point made in the paper is that tourism is virtually the only commercial use that is ecologically sustainable in protected areas. Tourism can also provide opportunities for creating more protected 'icons' for tourism and 'off park' areas.
Tourism can pass on the costs of responsible management, and economic benefits must flow through to host communities, in accordance with the ESD paper. But resources used by tourism will only be adequately conserved when they are properly valued.
The paper identifies various incentives that can support environmentally responsible tourism. Increased entry charges can be justified on the grounds of capacity to pay and improved visitor experience; another argument is that higher fees will produce larger revenue, better quality and less volume with a lower subsequent environmental impact. The report recommends that surveys and other investigations be undertaken to determine the capacity of industry to pay resource rental contributions within the constraints of industry competitiveness. Paradoxically, the paper argues that a reduction in fees for operators will act as an incentive for environmentally responsible tourism.
There is potential for industry ownership of and involvement in Private Lands Protected Areas, Park Management Boards, and other management bodies. Industry should also contribute to data collection and analysis on natural and cultural resources and impacts on the environment. The report warns that contributions should not be one-way. Excessive expectations of profit sharing and resource rental are inconsistent with the benefits of ESD.
The Queensland Ecotourism Strategy, Discussion Paper, released for comment in November 1994 is intended as a starting point for discussion for those interested in ecotourism. It is an early step in the formulation of a Queensland Ecotourism Strategy and builds on the views and knowledge of representatives of Queensland ecotourism stakeholders. The Strategy reflects many areas identified in Issue Paper No 5.
The strategy recognises that 'ecotourism offers the state a major opportunity to provide economic, social and environmental benefits to further enhance the lifestyle of citizens. The key is to plan now so that the benefits of ecotourism can be maximised while adverse impacts are minimised' (p4). The direct provision of revenue for natural area management is also recognised.
The definitions provided by the Strategy are rather circular. Firstly it recognises that all tourism should be ecologically sustainable. It continues that nature-based tourism is distinguished by its natural area setting which separates it from ecotourism 'which places emphasis on conservation of the natural environment' (p6). The cornerstone of ecological sustainability is, of course, conservation of biodiversity. This is a reflection of the confusion surrounding the term 'ecotourism'. It also hints at the more sinister possibility of other sectors of the tourism industry including the nature-based sector abrogating their environmental responsibilities by off-loading them onto 'ecotourism' operators.
The Strategy states that the outcome of an effective ecotourism strategy is a vibrant and environmentally sound industry which provides a diversity of destinations and experiences to a clearly identified market. Furthermore, the industry would be characterised by viable enterprises which provide excellence and best practice ecotourism.
The Strategy suggests the sound starting point of identifying the separate and distinctive natural areas of Queensland including marine environments and areas on private land. It recognises that by doing this there will be more 'opportunities' that are unique and are likely to be of interest to international visitors as well as Australian visitors. The Strategy recognises that Queensland has the opportunity to position itself as one of the world's leading tourism destinations because of, amongst other things, the three World Heritage listed areas, its national, marine and environmental parks, state forests and areas of natural significance in private land.
The major challenges facing ecotourism are little different to those facing the tourism industry generally in Queensland and include expanding the knowledge base of the natural resources, implementing appropriate management regimes, developing opportunities, monitoring impacts, improving infrastructure and marketing and encouraging a closer working relationship between ecotourism operators and natural resource managers.
The Strategy has one of the most forward looking approaches of all State strategies to address the challenges. These include the location of ecotourism activities outside protected areas to assist in the protection of key areas (see section 3.4) and the adoption of a resource-based approach to planning (see section 3.2).
The Great Sandy Region Management Plan (Qld Department of Environment and Heritage 1994) recognises that the region is very important for the maintenance of biodiversity. There are no recommendations, however, for tourism to fund or contribute to biodiversity conservation, except for whale watching. Licence fees for whale watching, combined with a passenger levy, are directed towards park management. Monitoring of the whales and enforcement of licences and regulations is funded by the levy to some degree. The objectives of the whale watching policy are the maintenance of the Hervey Bay ecosystem, and to generate revenue for marine park management, including whale monitoring and research.
Expansion of the available range of recreation opportunities is considered an important principle, with protection of special values and zoning being key elements to the planning process (QDEH 1994).
The Wet Tropics Management Agency has produced a large range of strategies and plans for the Wet Tropics region. Many of these consider the costs and benefits of tourism, but little attention is directed to strategic linkages between ecotourism and biodiversity. Researchers and managers appear not to be addressing important matters, such as identifying the impacts of tourism and preventive measures. The Tourism Strategy for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area had not been adopted (Chester 1994, pers. comm.) by the Board of the Wet Tropics Agency at the time of this study .
Directions for tourism have been considered in detail in the Cairns region, resulting in the preparation of a draft Cairns Region Tourism Strategy (Office of the Coordinator General [OCG] 1993a) and Context Report (OCG 1993b). These two reports address natural assets, trends, growth rates, and existing and required infrastructure, among other things.
The Context Report (OCG 1993b) noted that the tourism industry in the Cairns region is primarily dependent on natural rather than manmade attractions, and that these natural attractions are characterised by their diversity and high conservation values. Tourism planning was based on biophysical units of the region. It was recognised that the natural resource base is limiting and that some resources are scarce, that most are located in public lands, and that many of the natural resources are of high conservation value and therefore may limit tourism development and activity opportunities.
A set of strategic planning principles was developed to achieve sustainable tourism. One of the six principles is to take a resource based approach, but none addresses the issue of the obligations of the tourist industry to provide resources for the management of the natural resources.
Recommendations for the integration of natural resources into tourism strategy related to issues of natural resource inventories, policies and plans affecting protection and management, preparation of a regional conservation strategy, and guidelines for tourist use and development.
In the Draft Strategy (OCG 1993a) one of the key issues identified was the need to ensure that permits, levies, fees and quotas are issued equitably so as not to jeopardise the industry. While this recognised that fees etc. are necessary, the general thrust was that the management authorities should provide the opportunities for use of the resources.
Section 4 of the Strategy recognised that the tourism industry must use the natural resources in a sustainable way. Key issues and strategies for achieving this goal of sustainability were directed at minimising impacts, educating the public and operators, implementing policies, diversifying the range of destinations available, and restoring degraded landscapes. There is no suggestion that the industry should directly contribute to the sustainability of the resources.
The New South Wales Tourism Masterplan; An Overview (1994) is a blueprint for sustainable tourism development 'beyond the Olympics to 2010'. The Masterplan recognises that tourism is an economic force in NSW and, amongst other things, 'provides a focus for conservation of our natural environment'. The Mission of the Masterplan is 'to improve the yield from tourism and its contribution to the future development of New South Wales in economic, social, cultural and environmental terms'.
The real focus of the Masterplan is economic. It provides strategies to increase the NSW market share and improve the yield from tourists and maximise tourist returns from the Olympic Games. It focuses on tourism development, including the establishment of a Tourism Development Unit to identify and facilitate opportunities for tourism development, and it focuses on a concentrated marketing campaign through the establishment of a Sydney Marketing Group. In this general scheme, environment is a 'bit player'. The protection and appreciation of the environment by the tourism industry is one of the 13 'outcomes' resulting from the Masterplan and one of 8 key components requiring action. While the critical need to protect the natural environment is mentioned, there are no strategies or actions addressing how this is to be done. The environment is seen largely as an opportunity to attract high-yield, specialty markets.
The Masterplan states that while there is evidence of a new, environmentally conscious tourist, it cannot afford to overlook the emerging mass tourism market from Asia. The focus of the Masterplan with respect to the high-yield specialty markets (e.g. environment) is to capitalise on the natural assets. This 'requires new standards of environmental management consistent with global standards of best practice which conserve, protect and enhance these natural features' (p10).
The National Park System is categorised under the key component 'attractions and experiences'. Under this banner one of the strategies is to include the National Parks System 'as an integral part of the tourism industry' (p17). The various actions associated with this strategy including promotion, access and infrastructure. These are to be undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There is no suggestion that the tourist industry should contribute to these actions.
'Environment' forms a separate key component of the Masterplan with an explanation that the 'preservation of the natural environment is fundamental to the State's success and longevity.' Environment strategies essentially involve the development of product, albeit appropriate and well-managed ecotourism experiences, based on the three areas on the World Heritage List and the more than 70 National Parks, the many State Recreation Areas, Marine Reserves and forests. It is recognised that 'high yield international visitors flock to these well-managed, nature-based tourism destinations.'
The curious statement that 'potential exists for the promotion of environmental tourism as a parallel to ecotourism' (p23) is a reflection of the confusion that surrounds the term 'ecotourism'.
It is telling that the concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development is mentioned only in a sentence dealing with a strategy to improve the application of environmental policies and impact control measures by the tourism industry. It is not seen as a key guiding principle in its own right. Generally, this reflects the utilitarian tenor of the Masterplan in which there is, apart from general glib statements, little recognition of the pivotal role that environment plays in tourism and no recognition that tourism should contribute toward the protection of this fundamental resource.
The North Coast Regional Economic Development Board is currently producing an Ecotourism Development Plan. The strategy addresses the natural and cultural values of the Northern Rivers Region, including the wealth of national parks and World Heritage Areas. The Terms of Reference (June 1994) identified the extraordinary biophysical diversity of the region, the serious lack of funding for management of parks and the World Heritage Areas, and the responsibility of the tourism industry to contribute to the management of these areas for their sustainability for the industry.
A "Search Conference" Focus on the Future of Ecotourism (October 1993) in the region established that ecotourism utilises resources both on and off parks and reserves, and that Ecologically Sustainable practices are fundamental to the tourism industry. The need for accreditation was also addressed. A key finding relating to biodiversity conservation was that the participants recognised that all levels of ecotourism should contribute and that ecotourism (and nature based tourism) should make a financial contribution to the management of the resource beyond simply licence fees.
The conference most frequently addressed the issues of increased competition for markets and resources, economics and growth potential. 'Sustainable ecology' was seen as a 'further issue', while recognising at the same time that the most vital opportunities for sustainable tourism included marine and terrestrial 'eco diversity'.
These visions were reinforced in the Consultant's Briefing for the Strategy and Implementation Plan. An independent consultant was commissioned in 1994 to 'investigate options to achieve financial returns to permanently bolster management funds on a sustainable basis from the National Parks that exist in the Northern Rivers Region.'
The strategy concept was community based and had the support of the local and regional tourism industry and other business sectors.
Ecotourism and nature based tourism were identified in the Tourism Victoria Business Plan as areas which require development, although Tourism Victoria was not developing any strategies at the time of this study.
The Tourism Strategy developed by the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (now Conservation and Natural Resources) established the parameters for tourism development in public lands (Department of Forests, Conservation and Lands 1989a). The Victorian government required (in 1989) a 4 per cent real rate of return on assets, to ensure that planning generates proper financial returns when public land is used for commercial purposes. The current government policy is towards cost recovery and commercialisation of tourism.
In the Tourism Strategy three specific user categories were defined:
- Public users, for which a charge is usually applied;
- Noncommercial users and occupiers, e.g. clubs and groups, which are subject to a discounted commercial rate;
- Commercial users and occupiers, who will be charged full commercial rates commensurate with the profitability of commercial use.
The Policy determined that CFL would determine the suitability of the land for the type of tourism, provide advice and assistance to appropriate tour enterprises, endorse appropriate tours, and ensure that the tour enterprise reflects the philosophy, aims and objectives of CFL. Accreditation was by granting of a lease, licence or permit, and allowed the use of the CFL logo for marketing.
The Strategy also required that the Department develop and maintain a distinctive style and quality of tourism which strongly reflects CFL's (CNR's) objectives in managing, conserving and protecting. Objectives include:
- Conserve and protect biota;
- Maintain ecological processes; and
- Preserve genetic diversity and maintain representation of all native species, habitats and ecosystems.
The Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources (CNR) has developed a draft strategy 'Ecotourism A Natural Strength for Victoria' (CNR 1992). The draft Strategy provides clear statements on ecotourism and its dependence on the natural environment, provides a philosophy for the ecotourism industry, and contains a vision for the growing ecotourism market and contains an apparently strong conservation bias. It lacks a clear statement of how biodiversity contributes to tourism, but recommends that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources establish a Foundation to facilitate support by the corporate sector, visitors and the community for a network of Parks and Reserves. The premise is that ecotourism is a nonexploitative means of recovering a percentage of the costs of national parks and other lands. The Strategy identified eight 'ecotourism' regions.
CNR was running, at the time of this study, a series of three day training seminars which to some degree addressed the ecological content of tours, and minimal impact. The seminars were conducted by specialists, participants were provided with notes, and followup was provided. The third one was due to be run in 1995.
A guide for operators of commercial tours on parks and other public land in Victoria (CNR 1993a) was developed to set the guidelines for tour operators. A Guided Leisure and Instruction Permit is required to operate on these lands, and the operation is a cooperative arrangement between the Department and the Victorian Tourism Operators Association (VTOA). Membership of VTOA is not essential to obtain a licence.
VTOA is the peak tour body in Victoria, with 90 per cent representation. The system is complex but workable, is able to manage the number of operators in the region, has a de-merit points system and an implementation system. This licensing system is an important component of the strategies (Doolan 1994, pers. comm.).
Fees for operation include administration fees, pro rata use fees, and additional fees (e.g. bonds). These 'may be adjusted after consultation with individual operators regarding agreed cooperative management arrangements and works between operators and the relevant Regions.' Tenders for commercial opportunities identified by CNR will consider intended provision of service, quality, environmental messages, experience and training of leaders, accreditation, and financial returns to Government. A demerit system also operates and can lead to loss of licence for infringements, breach of licence conditions, and failure to hold adequate insurances.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has taken a biogeographic region approach to developing regional plans for tourism, although the biogeographical approach is for convenience only, and was not formalised (Doolan 1994, pers. comm.). The three areas which have received priority attention were the Mallee, East Gippsland, and the Otways. The regional plans aimed to manage tourism flows and lift the profiles of the regions. They could lead to expansion of national parks and conservation reserves, and conversion from timber getting and grazing, and plan for increased tourism.
The early plans had a fairly crude understanding of tourism's ability to fill economic needs of regions. In the Mallee, a better understanding was available, and longterm restructuring of the region has been proposed (Doolan 1994, pers. comm.). Market research has been undertaken, and understanding is now more soundly based on the public perceptions of the regions, what are expected there, the barriers to change, problems of distance and accommodation, and needs for onsite monitoring.
The success of the regional plans is being assessed. In the Mallee, large areas of uncommitted Crown Land have almost entirely been redesignated as National Park. The Big Desert Wilderness Area was the first land in Victoria to be set aside exclusively for wilderness based recreation (Land Conservation Council 1987). In the final report (LCC 1989) the Council recommended continued use of parks and areas of particular importance for recreation and nature conservation. Of particular note, though, is that 'tourism' is not listed in the 1989 report as a major land use, although it is implied through the use of national parks and public lands. Of special interest too, is the recognition that duck hunters have contributed to conservation of wildlife habitats by tree planting and protection programs and erection of nesting boxes.
Initial opposition in the region has been largely mollified as it has been demonstrated that there is no agenda of 'locking up' the areas, and that there are longterm economic benefits. The change in land use has benefited the protection of biodiversity, and at the same time caused no dramatic loss of economic value. There is no measurable effect on conservation of biodiversity at this stage (no analysis had been done), but the planning and strategies have changed political attitudes, and resulted in changes to the public attitude towards conservation (Doolan 1994, pers. comm.).
The Mallee Tourism and Recreation Strategy (CNR 1993) has taken this process one step further. Among other issues addressed, particularly the economic benefits of tourism to the region, this strategy recognised that tourism may generate wealth to allow for rehabilitation of natural areas. It also recognised that ecotourism gives travellers an appreciation of the richness and diversity of a place, and respect for natural heritage. Mallee reserves are primarily for conservation. The Strategy states that preference would be given to tourism opportunities with high economic yields and low environmental and social impacts.
The Mallee Strategy established some principles to consider the ecological limits of fragile semiarid environments, conservation significance of Mallee public land, and maximising potential benefits to local communities and users of public lands. Ecotourism was considered most appropriate because of its perceived sustainability and philosophy. Interpretation and education were given high priority in the strategy, and training courses and accreditation were considered important. A licensing system and accreditation, and permit fees were reinforced. CNR recognised that it must find a balance between its role as a community service provider and supplier of commercial services. Sources of funds were identified as levies and annual fees for tour operations, among others. The report noted that there is a tendency among the private sector to undervalue local resources and enterprise.
The Gippsland Hinterland Tourism Strategy (CFL 1989b) was similar in focus, thrust and content to the Mallee strategy, and essentially set the baseline for the Mallee studies. The strategy focused on marketing, and polishing product and promotional material. There is little specific reference to biodiversity although the values of the rainforests were recognised, and the guiding principles were sustainable use and proper management of resources.
The Tasmanian Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation prepared a report on Ecotourism which found that more than 50 per cent of travellers to Tasmania visit natural areas, and that wildlife viewing and ecology were viewed as a high priority (Tasmanian Department of Tourism Sport and Recreation 1994). Access to natural resources was considered fundamental to the Tasmanian tourism industry and its nature based product.
Forestry Tasmania has evaluated the impacts and practices of guided nature based tourism in Tasmanian State Forests (Forestry Tasmania 1994a). It found that guided nature based tour operators value highly the natural environment, but did not always provide clients with the level of information on the natural environment, conservation and forest management issues. The study found that most operators overrated the extent to which they practice the elements of ecotourism. It was uncertain whether the operators believe that making a contribution to natural area management should take the form of a cash donation, voluntary services, or the payment of a license fee. It was also found that only a small proportion of visits to state forests were on guided tours.
In the companion discussion paper on tourism as a whole in Tasmanian State Forest (Forestry Tasmania 1994a), four forms of tourism were identified:
- Independent travellers 83 per cent
- Guided travellers 12 per cent
- Special events 3 per cent
- Services 2 per cent
These points are particularly relevant to the findings and recommendations of this paper. There is a large market which seeks and enjoys the natural environment and does not fit in with the uncritically accepted definitions of 'ecotourism' If planning were to ignore the rest of the market and industry, simply because they did not conform to a definition which is anyway imprecise, it would inevitably result in wrong decisions being made, and the goals of ecologically sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity would not be achieved.
Mechanisms suggested for the implementation of environmental sustainability include encouragement of tourism ventures to contribute to the conservation of the resource through finance, resources and expertise, namely:
- By direct input; and
- By providing clients with opportunities for their own direct input.
South Australia has taken an active role in the development of ecotourism in the state. A source document Dream Green was prepared for the SA Tourism Commission in 1992. Some of the profiles of "ecotourists" and several other analyses appear to be inappropriate (Buckley 1994, pers. comm.). The report recommended that park entrance fees be levied, that concessions be issued for fees, and that organisations could aid parks by way of donations, programs and sponsorships (Explore 1993).
A flyer, Ecotourism: A natural strategy for South Australia was published in 1994 as a precursor to the draft strategy. The Strategy had not been prepared by the time of this report. The flyer recognised that ecotourism is about environmentally responsible travel, nature, and conservation, among other things. Objectives include conserving South Australia's natural resources, and desired key results include an increased contribution to conservation initiatives.
As already noted in Section 6.1, the Eco Ethics of Tourism Developments and Administrative Guide on tourism developments (WA Tourism Commission 1989a,b) were two of the early state policies on ecologically sound developments to emerge in Australia. This has been followed by the publication of a discussion paper on nature based tourism Western Australia's Natural Advantage (WATC 1994). The discussion paper recognised that the Western Australian environment is the drawcard for tourism, and that WA has many different ecosystems in national parks, as well as many outside national parks. The paper integrated tourism development and conservation, noting that nature based tourism ranges from the expensive, high value, exclusive type of activity, to the inexpensive.
The biodiversity of Western Australia is considered to provide the State with a distinct advantage for tourism, and the paper suggests that conservation can benefit from tourism through information and experiences which lead to better understanding, and through generation of additional funds. The strategy will, among other things, 'identify ways the industry can contribute to conservation and management of the natural environment on which it is based'.
The Eco Ethics paper recognised that tourism should accept environmental responsibility to its own advantage. The ethics of tourism development include appreciation, interaction, minimal impact, promotion of environmental awareness, retention of native vegetation and preservation of native fauna. Developments in national parks should contribute to the orderly operation and maintenance of the park, and spread expert knowledge about the environmental delights of the park.
An evaluation of the effects of ecotourism in Western Australia undertaken by Finucane (1993) revealed from a survey of 30 tour operators (but only 19 respondents) in the state that their most common objective was to instil in their clients a greater appreciation of the natural environment. They were concerned to increase environmental awareness in their clients, and motivate them to become more environmentally responsible. Funding research into areas such as biodiversity conservation was a priority of only a small percentage of operators. This contrasts with the findings of the study of tourists and tour operators by Forestry Tasmania (1994) which revealed that the majority of tourists received far less than they desired by way of information on the environment and less than tour guides thought and claimed they were providing.
A 'Regional Planning Study' for the WarrenBlackwood area, in the southwest of Western Australia, was (1994) being developed by the Department of Planning and Urban Development. A component of this study was a small consultancy to identify 'opportunities for nature based tourism' for the SouthWest Development Commission. Initial findings indicated that there was significant tourism product, but little of it is true ecotourism, despite claims to the contrary (Liz Jack 1994, pers. comm.). The consultancy was due to be completed in late 1994.
In August 1994 the Pilbara Development Commission issued a contract to prepare a long term strategy identifying priority issues for the sustainable development and management of ecotourism for the coastal islands from Port Hedland to Exmouth. The study brief stated that 'the underlying theme of the project is the application of the principle that the natural assets be preserved for their own sake, for biodiversity and for similar legislative requirements and to ensure tourism in the long term' (Pilbara Development Commission August 1994). The study brief also required the consultant to compile an 'assets register of ecotourism resources, including available biological data'.
The Master Plan for Northern Territory Tourism Development (1994) and the Regional Development Plans identified the natural and cultural resources of the Territory as prime assets for tourism development. The Masterplan recognised the intrinsic values of wilderness and wildlife, the need for conservation and land management, that the industry must be sustainable, and that the Territory has a natural advantage in nature based tourism. The plan recommended fostering developments which are environmentally conscious and sustainable. In the 'vision for the future' it was clearly stated that conservation or sensitive adaptation of natural heritage values are preeminent considerations.
The Master Plan recognised that the drawing power of nature based tourism is achieved by protecting rare and endangered flora and fauna, preserving good representative samples of Northern Territory ecosystems and biogeographical regions, and by involving Aboriginal people. The Plan establishes that initiatives and private developments must be ecologically sustainable, and acknowledged that this makes good commercial sense. Greater national parks provide both conservation and tourism values. They will quickly gain reputations for outstanding value, and can be marketed as quality tourism destinations. Remote parks provide venues and resources for adventure and ecotourism, and make a substantial contribution to conservation of NT ecosystems and biogeographical regions.
The Regional Tourism Development Plans provided some of the more specific details for tourism development, and referred to the values of the natural environment for tourism.
The ACT Tourism Commission and the Dept of Parks and Conservation have begun to develop some policies on ecotourism. One was an internal Tourism Master Plan for the Tourism Commission on tourism infrastructure and revenue raising from tourism. An issues paper on an Ecotourism Strategy for the ACT was also being prepared by a consultant, but was not publicly available. A Draft Ecotourism Strategy was planned to be available in early 1995 (Graham Chambers 1994, pers. comm.).
A marketing plan for national parks in the ACT was being developed by the Dept of Parks and Conservation. Issues addressed were to include park use fees, attitudes to parks, financial factors, licences for tour operators, retail facilities on parks, and other management issues. The marketing plan was due to be released in 1995.
All states have developed and adopted strategies for tourism and nature based tourism which recognise the fundamental importance of the natural resource. Some have also recognised that tourism based activities have a basic requirement to channel some of the revenue into the management and sustenance of natural resources.
The policy and administrative mechanisms for placing values on the use of the natural resources are mostly in place. The challenge will be to design and implement systems that will not disadvantage any particular group of operators, and at the same time be of greatest advantage to the natural environment. Mechanisms for increasing funding support are discussed in Section 8 of this report.