Beautiful one day, a muddle the next: The flaw in a $44 billion tourism vision

The Auditor General has criticised the State Government’s push into ecotourism claiming that only three projects had been approved in 10 years and there was no definition of what it was and no roadmap on how it would achieve the vision for it.

May 09, 2023, updated May 09, 2023
Queensland domestic travel numbers have declined slightly. (photo TEQ)

Queensland domestic travel numbers have declined slightly. (photo TEQ)

The investigation by the Auditor followed the release last year of Towards Tourism 2032 by the State Government, which had specific actions but no policy that defined how tourism entities would work towards the vision.

That strategy document revealed that the industry was aiming to more than double the state’s tourism overnight expenditure to more than $44 billion in overnight visitor expenditure a year by 2032, but the auditor’s report said this was an “aspirational vision”.

But the auditor’s report said there was no definition of ecotourism, no ecotourism document, no priorities and no way of measuring its effectiveness outside protected areas. Government departments had no ability to clarify policy and this was inhibiting success.

Successive governments also had different definitions and legislation had changed and there had also been changes in the way successive governments attracted investment. Since 2016, there had been eight strategies, plans and reviews relating to ecotourism.

“All this has resulted in processes for identifying and planning ecotourism opportunities that are vague and poorly defined. Meanwhile, the demand for nature-based experiences from both domestic and international visitors has continued to evolve and increase,” the report said.

“Existing ecotourism-related strategies that are publicly available do not include measurable indicators of success, thus reducing their public accountability.”

It said the Department of Environment and Science had a robust process for assessing and approvals for projects in protected areas, but the industry believed it to be long and complex and often costly.

“The approval processes and delivery of these (three approved) developments were lengthy, complex and costly. The absence of a statewide policy on ecotourism means it is difficult to measure the development of ecotourism outside Queensland’s protected areas,” the report said.

“Success in effectively balancing the state’s environmental protection and ecotourism development priorities is considerably inhibited by the departments not proactively clarifying the government’s policy.”

While the Towards Tourism 2032 report included a greater focus in developing ecotourism and recognised the opportunities for First Nation tourism, the strategy “fell short” on providing clarity on government policies, priorities and the risk appetite needed to stimulate investment and benefits.

The report said there was tension between environmental protection and earning and economic benefit and the departments and industry had worked to overomce these issues.

“However, the success to date has been limited,” it said, pointing out that only three ecotourism projects in national parks had been approved in 10 years, while another two were in development.

“The department of Tourism, Innovation, Sport and the Department of Environment and Science should seek clarity from a whole-of-government perspective on Queensland’s policy, risk appetite, priorities anad approach to ecotourism and industry development,” it said.

“With the absence of this clarity, the departments and the ecotourism operators are inhibited by uncertainty, inconsistent approaches, varying intepretations and unresolved tension between development and environmental protection.”

Just this week, the Palaszczuk Government said ecotourism was a key element of its strategy and that the projects it was backing would generate $64 million a year.

It invested $9.2 million in six projects designed to encourage an extra 196,000 visitors to enjoy more of Queensland.








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