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
8. Role of government
Coordination of tourism development on a national scale is frustrated by the fact that there is no national tourism authority. The Australian Tourism Commission has no jurisdiction over Australian States or Territories and is an international marketing authority. It does not actively promote ecological research and natural resource management.
The ESD Report on Tourism identified in detail the approaches that should be taken to ensure that tourism does not adversely affect the environment and that all tourism developments and operations are sustainable. The recommendations of the ESD Report have been progressed in policy documents such as the National Tourism Strategy, the National Ecotourism Strategy and the National Rural Tourism Strategy. Ecological aspects of tourism are recognised in the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity. These are discussed in section 2 of this report.
Analytical approaches to the integration of tourism development in regional planning have been described earlier in this report. There is a clear need to combine market demands by the ecotourism industry with bioregional assessments of ecosystems and economic models for regional development.
The analytical aspects of strategic planning, however, must be underpinned by improved processes of planning, involving the inputs of all interested parties.
Some States and Territories have developed systems of regional planning under which general uses of the environment and resources are prescribed. Control over development is achieved through the approvals process, whereby applications for development projects are subject to plan evaluation. Greater attention needs to be given to the special role of NBE and the implications for environmental protection. A focus is needed in regional development planning on job creation, enhancement of incomes and investment opportunities.
Where significant environmental impacts are expected, it is customary for development proposals to undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment. This may lead to recommendations for modification of the proposal or, in some instances, to rejection. Critics of the EIA process have argued that insufficient attention is paid to ecosystem protection and the preservation. Buckley, for example, has questioned the reliability of EIAs to predict the full ecological impacts of development. In a general survey of EIAs, pre-and post-project, he found that there were major errors in predicting impacts (Buckley 1991).
In another review on EIA and biodiversity Buckley (1993) maintained that:
EIA law... generally contains only procedural provisions for the preparation, exhibition and assessment of EIS's, and in some cases substantive provisions for the application, content and adequacy of EIS's. EIA law generally does not set substantive criteria for granting or refusing development consent on the basis of impacts predicted, including impacts on biodiversity. (p45)
After appraising existing EIA legislation and practice, Buckley concluded that:
Overall, therefore, EIA processes are valuable and perhaps necessary in conserving biodiversity, but far from sufficient (p47).
This deficiency is acknowledged in the National Ecotourism Strategy which has emphasised the need for improved EIA processes.
Concerns have also been expressed about the efficiency of the EIA process in dealing with the cumulative impacts of development. A project-by-project assessment can easily fail to predict indirect impacts caused by other sectors. This is especially important for the sustainable management of areas for NBE, since it depends on meeting prescribed limits of resource tolerance and standards of ecological integrity.
It is recommended that regional planning capabilities be developed jointly with Federal Government, State and Local government for the encouragement and management of ecotourism. This requires the development of information and data systems, modelling capabilities and arrangements for collaborative planning processes.
Strategic planning for infrastructure development should also be improved. Government should work closely with private sector in relation to development approvals, environmental impact assessments and investment in infrastructure.
EIAs, particularly for proposals involving development based on ecotourism, should be examined to determine their efficacy in achieving biodiversity conservation. This requires, among other things, that greater attention be paid to the cumulative impacts of development.
Government carries a major responsibility for large-scale data bases and information management systems relating to the natural environment and biodiversity. Geographic information systems are particularly helpful for planning support as they incorporate data specifically on a spatial basis.
National responses to environmental information needs include the Environmental Resource Information Network (ERIN) and the National Resource Information Centre (NRIC). More specialised data systems are maintained by Commonwealth agencies such as the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC), the Bureau of Resource Sciences (BRS) and the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (AUSLIG).
The National State of the Environment (SOE) Reporting System is expected to result in large-scale information systems on the natural (as well as the built and cultural) environment (Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories 1994). SOE Reports will be prepared every four years. As part of this process a National Task Force on Environmental Indicators will be established.
Under the terms of the National Forest Policy Statement a national State of the Forests Report will be prepared at regular intervals. State of the Environment Reports are also compiled within individual States and Territories. In New South Wales local governments are required by legislation to prepare their own State of the Environment Reports.
One-off reports on particular aspects of the environment have been produced, such as the Survey of Forest Resources by the Resource Assessment Commission and the State of the Marine Environment Report (GBRMPA 1995).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics bears responsibility for producing comprehensive data on the nation's environment. The States and Territories actively cooperate in contributing to these environmental data systems.
The States and Territories maintain comprehensive resource inventories to assist their agencies in management tasks. Some States undertake comprehensive reviews of land attributes and uses. The work of the Land Conservation Council in Victoria is an outstanding example. Queensland is initiating a similar process of land auditing and land use allocation under its Greater Planning Certainty process.
The New South Wales Natural Resources Audit Council is conducting a pioneering audit of all values associated with public lands in the North-East region of the State, including comprehensive surveys of fauna, flora, aquatic species and ecosystems in the region.
All these initiatives will provide an essential input to ecologically sustainable development planning in key regions, including the development of tourism.
Support should continue from the Commonwealth, States and Territories on resource attribute surveys, monitoring programs, State of Environment Reporting and work on environmental indicators. It is essential to maintain the development of comprehensive environmental data sets and environmental indicators to monitor the state of the environment in terms of baseline conditions, species diversity, rare or threatened species, danger signals, ecosystem structure and processes (resilience, maximum carrying capacity) and management targets.
There are distinct limitations in arrangements for the marketing of NBE in Australia and overseas, as already noted in Section 7.2. Governments can assist by expanding the scope of their advertising and information provision services. It is important for such assistance to be coordinated with the tourism industry.
Overseas marketing should continue to promote Australia's rich diversity of ecosystems and species. This requires informative advertising and educational programs and literature. Such strategies could be implemented by a joint government/tourism industry effort, possibly making use of Austrade and international educational networks tapping universities and educational institutions.
Research must be integrated with the management of natural resources and protected areas. As already indicated, education and training, for tourism operators and on a more general basis should be a basic ingredient of a national strategy. Governments at Federal and State or Territory level currently provide the basic educational infrastructure to support these activities, but clearer focus and more detailed plans of action are needed to relate tourism education and training to ecological management. A consultancy is currently being conducted on Ecotourism Education, funded under the National Ecotourism Program.
Various economic incentives can be provided to encourage biodiversity conservation based on tourism.
An important requirement for biodiversity protection is the provision of funds to support bioregional assessments, ecological research and the management of protected areas.
Methods of increasing revenue range from direct pricing and charging on a user pays basis to indirect taxes and charges on goods and services associated with the tourism trade.
Park use fees for protected areas
The management of national parks and conservation reserves offers special advantages for funding the management of biodiversity. To limit potential adverse impacts of tourism, funds should be raised to pay for site development and infrastructure such as walking paths, toilet amenities and provision of fireplaces, fuel and accommodation. Funding is required also for monitoring and research and other tasks such as fire management and visitor management.
Most economists advocate a 'user pays' system of visitor fees to cover management costs and protect natural areas. Such funds may be raised through park use fees or annual permits. Any system of fees should be feasible and enforceable. It is not practicable in some cases, particularly for large natural areas with low visitation rates, to administer a system of fees because the management costs may exceed the revenue collected.
In some cases, a special levy may be applied to tourists and collected by tour operators, as in the case of the per capita charge levied by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The logic behind this is that operators are identifiable and subject to rules and regulations. They are also easier and more available to educate on appropriate practices. The collection of park use fees could also be undertaken by smaller operators.
Commercial licence fees
The user pays principle should be extended to commercial operators, through licence fees and commercially realistic rental charges on leases and concessions. Rights to operate within park boundaries may be offered to the private sector on a competitive auction basis, to raise capital funding for environmental protection.
Commercial supply of goods and services
Goods and services offered on-site in parks and protected areas should be operated on a profitable basis with the net returns being allocated to conservation measures. Commercialisation of products and services associated specifically with ecotourism could provide further opportunities for raising funds, through educational programs, consulting services, books, videos, paintings and photographs.
Indirect taxes and charges
Revenue for environmental protection can be raised from taxes on goods used for nature-based recreation and tourism, such as camping gear, fishing equipment, diving equipment and similar items.
One means of raising revenue from tourism is a bed tax. In the Northern Territory a bed tax is collected by the hospitality industry. Tourists generally regard it as one cost component of their tourism package. Airport taxes are another potential source of revenue.
The internalisation of tourism expenditure within regions, by encouraging local service and support industries, should provide a solid foundation for income generation and further revenue-raising by governments.
An important principle that should be observed by treasuries and finance departments is that of 'earmarking' funds raised from tourism. Instead of diverting such funds to consolidated revenue they should be allocated specifically for the purpose of establishing, enhancing and maintaining natural environments. People are often willing to support conservation causes provided there is some guarantee that their money will actually be spent on such programs.
Provision for donations
Donations may be sought from the general public, through fund raising for specific causes. An example is the Mala Fund, established by the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA) and the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). This fund is now inoperative but at the time it was established (1991) was an innovative and successful marriage between industry and government which succeeded in raising $33,000 for research into the Mala, or Rufous HareWallaby, an endangered marsupial found in the central Australian deserts. A surprising aspect of this fund was that the animal would almost never be seen by tourists, being found in the wild only in a small area of the Tanami Desert. This truly philanthropic attitude from the tourism industry should be applauded. CATIA utilised the symbol of the Mala on their letterheads for some time, accompanied by the words 'Save the Mala'.
Donations may be sought through animal sponsorship schemes, under which a person 'adopts' a particular animal in a species conservation or rehabilitation program. This idea was introduced by the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust in England many years ago, to raise funds for the protection of Bewick swans that migrated annually from Russia. Each swan was identified by its unique beak markings.
Incentives can include personal identification with ecosystems, places, animals or plants. Certificates, badges and other tokens can be used to reinforce the identification. Tourists may make direct personal contributions at particular sites.
In the Netherlands a common sight in supermarkets is 'Panda bread', which carries a green label informing the customer that part of the money received will be diverted to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Funding of research can be assisted directly by the ecotourism trade. Some ecotourism operators make direct contributions to ecological research.
Industry in general can be an important source of donations. Corporations often make significant contributions to enhance their corporate image and publicise their commitment to nature conservation. Some major corporations dedicate a given proportion of their turnover to environmental causes.
Performance bonds may be introduced for private operators (offering tours in natural areas or constructing and managing infrastructure) to ensure that, should environmental damage be caused and rehabilitation is necessary, the costs of rehabilitation are covered in advance. The usual arrangement is for a capital sum or financial guarantee to be lodged with the relevant management authority as a condition of an operating licence. A strong advantage of this system is that, even if the operator becomes bankrupt the money will be available to meet environmental protection costs.
Concessions for proven compliance with codes of practice may be introduced to encourage environmental responsibility. Such a system has been used by the Queensland Government for its mining industry (James 1993).
Industry can assist the adoption of best management practices by setting a good environmental example for others to follow. One example is the program for the rehabilitation of jarrah forest in Western Australia undertaken by Alcoa, for which the company received a United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Award.
Investment in conservation on private lands
Introducing economic incentives for biodiversity conservation on private lands is more complicated, especially if a link is sought with nature-based and ecotourism.
Creating opportunities for direct acquisition of sites with high conservation value is an option for conservation groups or organisations specially constituted for that objective.
The private sector may of course see direct commercial value in conducting nature-based and ecotourism activities on privately owned lands, and make the appropriate investments in environmental protection. Study centres, exhibitions, demonstration sites, visitor facilities and research activities often occur in privately owned areas of rainforests, rangelands, wetlands and alpine areas. Environmental rehabilitation frequently is used as an attraction for visitors, for example rainforest sites.
Government support for environmental protection
In other contexts, governments may directly support the protection of natural habitats on private lands on the basis of their external economic benefits. Native vegetation, wetlands and other natural features may provide valuable protection for endemic species, act as buffer strips and prevent habitat fragmentation.
Governments should recognise the significance of attractive and ecologically interesting landscapes and ecosystems as a positive element in nature-based tourism experience. The beneficial spin-over effects on tourism, already well documented in this report, should convince governments of the need for appropriate policies and funding support.
In some cases, direct subsidies or capital grants may be paid to assist conservation measures, such as tree planting under the Landcare Program or the eradication of weeds under rural protection schemes.
One method governments can use to encourage conservation measures on private lands is offering tax concessions for the reconstruction of natural habitats. Tax writeoffs have been allowed, for example, for fencing to encourage revegetation and land restoration. An extension of this policy to cover other forms of nature conservation would be highly desirable.
Peculiarly, costs incurred in land rehabilitation by mining companies are not an allowable deduction. More consistent and positive applications of the taxation system would seem to be warranted in such cases as a means of environmental enhancement and protection.
Governments should at least ensure that existing incentives to destroy, degrade or transform natural areas rich in biodiversity are removed. Land tax policies in some States presently act as a positive inducement for land clearing, accentuating the risks of adverse habitat modification, species loss and ecological damage in local areas. These policies should be amended as a matter of urgency.
It is recommended that innovative funding mechanisms be investigated to cover costs of research, market analysis, and environmental management. Ecotourism has various potentials to contribute to the funding process. Governments should also consider methods of raising revenue from tourism in general and from other sources. To validate the economic benefits of public revenue-raising and expenditure programs for the protection of natural areas and promotion of the ecotourism trade, the application of benefit-cost analysis and financial studies is strongly recommended.