1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2003   
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Contents >> Tourism >> Nature-based tourism

Australia's beaches, national and state parks and other natural attractions such as the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, attract millions of visitors (domestic and international) each year and generate significant economic benefits for regions. Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the need to protect the environment and are embracing 'ecotourism'. Recently, the United Nations designation of 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism has done much to raise ecotourism's profile.


There are many definitions of ecotourism. Most of these definitions are centred around the concept of sustainable nature-based tourism. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as 'responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the wellbeing of local people'.

Australia is one of only two countries with an accreditation program for ecotourism (Costa Rica is the other). The Ecotourism Association of Australia (EAA) operates the Nature and Ecotourism Accreditation Program (NEAP). The program accredits accommodation, tours and attractions. The NEAP principles of ecotourism accreditation focus on:

  • experiencing and understanding nature
  • ecologically sustainable tourism
  • sensitivity to different cultures
  • contributions to conservation and local communities.

The article Sustainable tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, discusses ecotourism in a major Australian tourism attraction.

A 2001 survey conducted by the EAA estimated that there are about 3,000 ecotourism and nature tourism operators in Australia, with annual industry turnover of about $100m. Some examples of ecotourism attractions in Australia include the Valley of the Giants tree top walk (Western Australia), the Boondall Wetlands in Queensland, and Manyallaluk (Frog Dreaming) in the Northern Territory. Manyallaluk is an example of an Aboriginal owned and operated tourism venture.

Visitors to national and state parks and World Heritage areas

There are 730 properties on the World Heritage list (563 cultural, 144 natural and 23 mixed properties). Australia has 14 World Heritage sites, including the largest World Heritage area, the Great Barrier Reef. The most recent Australian additions to the World Heritage list are the Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, and the Greater Blue Mountains area. The Wet Tropics of Queensland is also a World Heritage area.

Bureau of Tourism Research data show that in 1998 the Gold Coast, which has a World Heritage listed rainforest at its northern end, was the third most visited Australian region for international visitors, with 5.4 million visitor nights (6% of all international visitor nights) spent there. It is likely that some of the Gold Coast's other attractions, including its beaches, also played a part in its popularity. Tropical North Queensland was the fourth most visited Australian region for international visitors, with 4.8 million visitor nights spent there (5% of all international visitor nights). Petermann, which includes Uluru, was the eighth most visited region. Several other regions which include World Heritage areas were also among the 20 regions most visited by international visitors, including: Hervey Bay/Maryborough (which includes Fraser Island); Northern Rivers in New South Wales (which includes parts of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves); the Great Barrier Reef; and the Blue Mountains.

In March 2001, one in two Australians over the age of 18 reported that they had visited a World Heritage area, national or state park (54%) in the 12 months prior to the survey. This was a decline from 1992, when almost two-thirds (63%) of Australians had visited one of these areas in the previous 12 months (graph 22.1).

People in the Australian Capital Territory were the most likely to have visited a World Heritage area or park, with 64% stating that they had made a trip. South Australians and Victorians were the least likely to engage in this activity (50%).

Graph - 22.1 visits to world heritage areas, national and state parks

Visits to World Heritage areas, national parks or state parks by people aged 55 and over (46.4%) were markedly less than by other population groups.

Households with dependent child(ren) recorded the highest proportion of visits to a World Heritage area, national park or state park. Couples with dependent children ranked highest (62%), followed by one parent with dependent child(ren) households (57%). One-person households were the least likely to use these areas (44%).

The reasons given for decisions not to visit a World Heritage area or park included cost, access, age/health, lack of time, and lack of interest.

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