In October last year, NPAQ organised a seminar in Brisbane to discuss an important issue: the pros and cons of ecotourism in national parks.
We caught up with two of the speakers after the event to get their perspectives in more detail (input from the other two speakers will be sought for the next edition).
Tony O’Brien is the founder and owner of ecotourism business: Yuraygir Walking Experiences. He is also a former NPAQ president.
Yuraygir National Park, on the NSW north coast, is part of the largest coastal wildlife corridor in the state. It has spectacular cliff top walks overlooking the Pacific and from May to November, you can watch whales passing by.
Tony started Yuraygir Walking Experiences (YWE) in 2015 because he wanted to help improve the conservation values of the national park. As part of this goal, YWE recently purchased 300 acres of land adjacent to the park. It plans to restore the land and provide a quality buffer for the park. The funding for this and future purchases came from Tony’s business, Sentis, where the staff are highly motivated to contribute to this goal.
Can you describe how Yuraygir Walking Experiences works?
YWE uses small villages to billet campers; the park was created around the villages so it works well. There’s just some very basic camps in the park itself…all they have is pit toilets. There’s nothing else.
The walk itself is 65 km over four days with three river boat crossings required. Many people request their bags carried and dropped off at night so there’s a big role for guides/coordination. The walking business doesn’t make much money and it probably never will. It’s really difficult to make money out of this type of business. The ideal owners would be a couple who treat it as a lifestyle business.
What do you think about the construction of eco-villages in more remote national parks; where existing external infrastructure doesn’t exist or isn’t practical?
I don’t see why you need infrastructure in national parks. If you want to come and camp in Yuraygir, well that’s fine but it’s pretty limited, I think that’s the way it should be. My view is the best tourism ventures are those that are created by entrepreneurial situations, where people can access the park and walk in the park, but the infrastructure shouldn’t be in the parks.
In what ways does YWE benefit the national park’s conservation values?
By operating locally through the villages which abut Yuraygir National Park, we employ local people both directly and indirectly and jobs that come from the park generally lead to respect for the park. This is important in an area of both unemployment and underemployment. One of the most encouraging aspects in this area is the number of local landholders who are now contributing to protecting the…park by engaging in the Land for Wildlife movement within their properties.
Adrian Caneris is managing director and principal wildlife specialist of a specialist ecological consulting company based in Queensland. He previously worked for the QLD Department of Environment in a role akin to a wildlife ranger.
What is your view on eco-tourism infrastructure in national parks?
It’s one of those areas where the devil is in the detail. The way it’s done is the issue. The QLD government is currently looking at [what’s needed on] some of the great walks, which are 3-5 days through wilderness areas. The aim is to use small pods (almost like plastic tents) that are fully removable. They’d be set up for ongoing use for a 1-5 year period. They are fully removable and easily picked up. The [tourism] operator would bring in mobile catering.
Do you see ecotourism ventures as likely to benefit the ecological values of the national parks in which they operate?
I’m generally comfortable with ecotourism, when it’s done properly.
Key points from the Queensland Government’s Ecotourism Plan 2016-2020, published in 2016
• The Ecotourism Plan 2016-2020 touts a “fresh approach” to ecotourism
• The government and tourism bodies have been investing “significant effort” into “repositioning Queensland as…a world leader in ecotourism”
• The plan identifies one of the key challenges as: work(ing) with the tourism industry to investigate and identify viable ecotourism projects on tenure other than the protected area estate”
• The plan also states “there are opportunities available for privately owned ecotourism experiences on and off protected areas…[when considering investment] preference will be given to previously disturbed areas (brown field sites) rather than intact areas (green field sites).”
• Research indicates that Queensland’s national parks receive 51 million domestic traveller visits and 7.9 million visits from international travellers per year
• The Queensland Government estimates that direct spending by visitors of over $749 million per annum can be attributed exclusively to the existence of national parks
• The World Tourism Organisation defines ecotourism in part as: “…generally, but not exclusively organised by small tour operators for small groups. Service provider partners at the destinations tend to be small, locally owned businesses”