Private ecotourism infrastructure in Queensland national parks: win-win or thin edge of the wedge!

AUTHOR: LAURA HAHN, CONSERVATION PRINCIPAL, NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION OF QUEENSLAND

Ferns_in__Eungella_National_Park_by Kimberly Booth Wikimedia Commons.jpg

Recently NPAQ members, through a survey, confirmed support for a significant expansion and better management of Queensland’s National Park Estate. No real surprise there. There was also clear support for NPAQ’s 10 points describing leading practice for ecotourism in national parks (see below). We believe these would strengthen the current government ecotourism framework.

Some members who responded to our survey also took the opportunity to share their concerns about the Queensland government’s recent request for expressions of interest to private operators for ecotourism infrastructure in three national parks: the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook National Park, the Cooloola Great Walk in Great Sandy National Park and the Whitsunday Island Trail on Whitsunday Islands National Park. Some member comments on this can be viewed here, presented in approximate proportion of views. This continues to be a contentious issue and strong views continue to be expressed, as in this letter to government.

What is often portrayed as a win-win for the environment and economy, in reality, raises complex issues around what is ecologically sustainable, whether small sections of public national parks should be effectively privatised, and how to maintain the integrity of the park experience for all visitors. While supported multiday walks in national parks attract visitors in other states and internationally, NPAQ has yet to see actual evidence on the impacts and benefits (short- and long-term) to national parks.

Private huts on the Three Capes Walk, Tasmania. Photo: S. Cooper.

Private huts on the Three Capes Walk, Tasmania. Photo: S. Cooper.

Tasmania is typically held up as the model for ecotourism. However, trek companies and conservationists in Tasmania warn the rush for huts, lodges and helipads threatens to destroy the wilderness values on which the eco-tourism industry is based.

Also, a constrained plan, developed following extensive consultation, for sensitively placed commercial cabins in Flinders Chase National Park, South Australia, has been over ridden under what appears to be a closed process following a change in government. The Australian Walking Company now plans to site the development on ecologically and aesthetically sensitive areas of the National Park despite protests. Having walked the track in 2017, Susanne Cooper, NPAQ Councillor and retired Sustainability Specialist, says the less sensitively located proposal would compromise the integrity of the “wilderness” of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Track and the Flinders Chase National Park.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Looking for more information? Here are a few key links to recent media.

https://theconversation.com/on-kangaroo-island-and-elsewhere-beware-the-lure-of-the-luxury-ecotourist-113044

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-04/mr-godfreys-business-model-is-to-provide-luxury/10867106

https://www.theislanderonline.com.au/story/5940397/australian-walking-company-sticks-with-flinders-chase-plan/

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-27/queensland-national-parks-could-be-leased-for-eco-tourism/10423998

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW1nnn5a-Nc

https://tnpa.org.au/2774-2/

Supported Multi-day Walks in National Parks – Leading Practices from evidenced-based learnings:

1. Private (permanent) accommodation located adjacent to or near national parks, rather than within.

2. Thorough, transparent impact assessment undertaken with maintenance of long term nature conservation values prioritised.

3. Infrastructure owned by government. A private operator provides a bond for risk and rehabilitation and a regular financial contribution for park management.

4. Tracks and other infrastructure have minimal impact and thoughtfully designed to reflect ecological values, including slope, soil, vegetation type and habitat.

5. Continual Ranger or guide presence.

6. Mandatory orientation and authentic interpretation with reinforcement throughout walk focused on conservation, Indigenous values, minimal impact.

7. User number cap based on ecological resilience.

8. One-way route with controlled and staggered start.

9. All waste removed.

10. Monitoring of selected indicators to determine impact with subsequent corrective actions.