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Ecotourism Trails

Preserved. Explored. Treasured.

Queensland is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, with ideal competitive advantages to attract domestic and international tourists who want to experience nature.

Through a collaborative model we are working with the Department of Environment and Science, local Traditional Owners, the private sector and regional communities to deliver genuine ecotourism experiences, unlock new income streams for the preservation and management of parks and support long-term environmental, economic and social benefits.

Queensland Ecotourism Trails are designed to be ecologically sustainable and, to the greatest possible extent, preserve and protect community resources, and their natural and cultural values for future generations.

Ecotourism trails program

Ecotourism is a fast-growing industry focused on increasing appreciation and understanding of natural and cultural assets.

The Ecotourism Trails program focusses on:

  • protecting culture: working with local Traditional Owners to ensure trails and new ecotourism opportunities are designed to provide an Indigenous cultural experience
  • preserving and presenting natural assets: assessing any proposals against Local, State and National environmental frameworks and creating new revenue streams for the Queensland Government to maintain national parks
  • future-proofing regional communities: creating sustainable employment and business opportunities for Traditional Owners and regional communities.

The Ecotourism Trails program aims to deliver:

  • significant social and economic benefits to Traditional Owners, regional communities and to Queensland
  • new funding sources to preserve, protect and present national parks and their unique natural  and cultural heritage values, such as enhanced public experiences, and more effective pest, weed  and fire management.
  • long term job and business opportunities for Traditional Owners and their future generations
  • enhanced opportunities to showcase Traditional Owners’ connection to Country with genuine cultural tourism opportunities
  • stronger appreciation and understanding of Aboriginal culture
  • innovative tourism offerings to Queensland that capture new market share with potential for thousands of new overnight stays each year
  • long-term growth and liveability and building community resilience for respective regional communities.

Eco-accommodation

The Queensland Government supports low-impact, best practice ecotourism experiences in suitable locations within national parks. Development in national parks is guided by the Department of Environment and Science’s Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks Implementation Framework and Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines.

In some cases, Ecotourism Trails proposals may feature public campsites or privately-operated low-impact eco-accommodation, or a combination of both, to support visitors to the trail.

The Government will apply strict conditions to any ecotourism proposals in national parks to ensure any facilities are built and operated in line with rigorous environmental standards, relevant legislation, and best practice ecotourism development principles. Ecotourism facilities in national parks may include low-impact structures that are consistent with the area’s natural and cultural values and are harmonious with the area’s existing visitor and recreational values and scenic amenity. Proposals are also strongly encouraged to incorporate environmentally friendly innovations, such as flat pack assembly, water use optimisation such as low volume flush toilets, solar and amber lighting for nocturnal wildlife. Large structures such as hotels or resorts would not be permitted.

Examples of partnerships between the Government and the private sector to deliver successful low-impact private eco-accommodation and public camping on, and adjacent to, national park land include the Green Mountains Ecotourism Revitalisation Project in Lamington National Park and the Scenic Rim Trail in Main Range National Park.

Frequently asked questions - Ecotourism

  • Ecotourism includes nature-based experiences that increase visitor appreciation and understanding of an area’s natural and cultural values. These experiences are managed to ensure they are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, to the best possible extent, contributing to the wellbeing of the natural areas and local communities in which they operate.

  • Ecotourism is a key contributor to Queensland’s $25 billion tourism industry that supports 236,000 Queensland jobs including 1 in 5 jobs in regional north Queensland. Nature-based tourism is a significant contributor to Queensland’s economy with the total spend by visitors who include a visit to a national park in their holiday itinerary adding $4.43 billion to the economy.

    Queensland’s world-class national parks and marine parks, five World Heritage areas, and huge diversity of unique, iconic and unrivalled landscapes, ecosystems and wildlife gives it a significant natural competitive advantage to provide high quality high-quality ecotourism experiences.

    Creating genuine ecotourism experiences within and adjacent to national parks can unlock new funding and reinvestment sources to preserve, protect and present natural and cultural assets through the delivery of low-impact ecotourism experiences to attract thousands of new visitors each year and make national parks more accessible to a broad range of visitors.Queensland is uniquely positioned to capture greater share of this ecotourism market.

  • The Ecotourism Trails program is a Queensland Government initiative which aims to identify and deliver adventure and nature-based experiences at iconic Queensland destinations. The program will be delivered through an innovative and collaborative model, focused on Traditional Owner engagement and working in close partnership with other levels of government, private operators and the wider community.

    The Ecotourism Trails program unlocks new funding and re-investment sources to protect, present and maintain natural and cultural assets through the delivery of low-impact ecotourism experiences that will compete on the world stage and attract thousands of new visitors each year.

  • Ecotourism Trails aim to create genuine ecotourism experiences that will attract domestic and international visitors that want to responsibly experience one-of-a-kind coastal and hinterland scenery through multi-day hiking or mountain biking. The projects may offer Traditional Owner led cultural experiences, lookouts, activities such as guided walks, public campsites and may include privately-operated, low-impact, eco-accommodation.

    Refer to the current projects section for a list of existing Queensland Ecotourism Trails program opportunities.

  • A number of project options across Queensland were considered for their ability to stimulate new tourism related business in regional areas, protect an area’s cultural resources and values and to the greatest possible extent, for the permanent preservation of the area’s natural condition. The projects were selected based on the objectives contained within the Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2016-2020 and associated good practice guides, as well as initial market sounding.

  • Yes, public access to national parks and existing trails, visitor areas and park facilities will remain. Some Ecotourism trail proposals may also create new or improved existing public facilities such as toilets and campsites.

  • Ecotourism Trails are delivered through an innovative and collaborative model focused on Traditional Owner engagement, working in close partnership with governments, the private sector and regional communities.

    A joint project team from Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport and the Department of Environment and Science has been established to deliver the Ecotourism Trails program.

  • Any ecotourism experience or facility will be carefully planned and designed within robust State, National and World Heritage environmental management frameworks.

    In keeping with the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act 1992(Qld), approved ecotourism facilities are to be in the public interest, environmentally sustainable, preserve the land’s natural condition and protect its cultural heritage and natural values.

    Where national matters of environmental significance are found, the private operator will need to comply with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

  • The Queensland Government seeks proven concepts that will involve Traditional Owners, attract tourists and protect the environment. Proposals must meet the requirements of the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld) and must conform to the Department of Environment and Science’s Implementation Framework: Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks and be in line with Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines. Proposals must be ecologically sustainable, aimed at preserving and protecting community resources, and their natural and cultural values for future generations.

  • Queensland Ecotourism Trails are conducted through a staged market engagement process in close collaboration with Traditional Owners and the local community.

    The market process will typically follow for key stages.

    Stage 1: Registration of Interest

    Tourism Operators who wish to be considered in the process for an Ecotourism Trail opportunity can submit their interest

    Stage 2: Expressions of Interest

    Suitably qualified Tourism Operators will be invited to engage with Traditional Owners and refine their proposals

    Stage 3: Request for Detailed Proposals

    Shortlisted Tourism Operators will be invited to further develop their concept and proposal, including confirmed commercial arrangements with Traditional Owners

    Stage 4: Preferred Proponent Selection

    The successful Tourism Operator will be selected and binding terms negotiated, with construction commencing after all approvals including agreements with Traditional Owners are in place.

Frequently asked questions - Ecotourism

  • Perhaps. Queensland Ecotourism Trails was established to deliver adventure and ecotourism experiences at iconic Queensland destinations, including within or adjacent to national parks, as identified by the government. The government may initiate future opportunities.

  • Ecotourism Trails may feature public campsites or privately-operated low-impact eco-accommodation, or a combination of both to support visitors to the trail. All facilities along must be delivered in accordance with the Department of Environment and Science’s Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks — Implementation Framework and Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines. Acknowledging the differences of scale and location between proposals, the Queensland Government will apply a common assessment and approval process consistent with legislative requirements.

Frequently asked questions - National parks

  • Eligible tourism operators must be accredited ecotourism operators with an ethos aligned to the ecological sustainability of the Queensland Ecotourism Trails program. Ecotourism operators are characterised as operators who have a commitment to environmental best practice. Ecotourism offerings will be operated in collaboration with Traditional Owners and Australia’s world leading highest order ecotourism accreditation will be mandatory for operators.

    All ecotourism proposals will be subject to best practice regulatory approvals processes. All facilities along the trail must be delivered in accordance with the Department of Environment and Science’s (DES) Implementation Framework: Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks and be in line with Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines.

    Leases, permits or agreements (authorities) granted to operators for ecotourism facilities will be performance-based with conditions that hold the tourism operators accountable for delivering the agreed environmental, social and economic outcomes.

    Authorities will be supported by appropriate environmental management plans, cultural heritage plans and/or facility operational plans. The authority will also include conditions that relate to operational compliance with these provisions such as enforcement actions and/or remedial actions for breaches of conditions.

    All ecotourism facilities will undergo auditing of compliance with authority conditions at regular periods. Non-compliance with conditions will be subject to remediation processes or enforcement action by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

  • Yes. This is the experience in the jurisdictions like Tasmania and New Zealand where the protection and conservation of national parks and the State’s natural assets is a top priority in ecotourism planning. Any and all developments in national parks must meet the requirements of the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld) and must conform to the Department of Environment and Science’s Implementation Framework: Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks.

    The State will continue to work with councils, community, private sector proponents and traditional owners to support and action conservation measures.

  • Yes. A key goal of the ecotourism proposal is that ecotourism operations will be expected to make a fair and reasonable contribution back to the conservation and management of the national park and also to the local community.

  • With a welcoming year-round climate, Queensland’s competitive tourism advantage is built on our nature and wildlife experiences across 17 million hectares of protected areas, marine parks and five World Heritage Areas. The Queensland Government supports ecotourism opportunities that deliver environmental, social and economic benefits to regional communities and to Queensland.

    The Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2016-2020 provides the framework for delivering new experiences and building a thriving ecotourism industry. The guiding principle is for Queensland’s treasured natural and cultural assets to be protected, conserved and presented for current and future generations to enjoy.

  • No, unlike some tourism experiences around the world, the trails and surrounding national park will remain open for all to visit, experience and enjoy. The sites involved are retained as public land by the Queensland Government and any eco-accommodation agreements with the tourism operator will likely involve leases and/or other authorities negotiated with a term appropriate for the level of investment. The precise nature of any tenure agreements with tourism operators will be considered as part of the evaluation process.

    Ecotourism proposals are subject to best practice regulatory approvals processes and it is mandatory that tourism operators work closely with Traditional Owners to develop the ecotourism experiences and associated offerings, and be in accordance with Australia’s world-leading highest order ecotourism accreditation.

Queensland Ecotourism Trails newsletter

For the latest updates on Queensland Ecotourism Trails read our previous editions and subscribe to the Ecotourism Trails newsletter.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2022