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Ecotourism Trails

Preserved. Explored. Treasured.

Queensland Ecotourism Trails are ecologically sustainable opportunities aimed at delivering environmental, social and economic benefits to Traditional Owners, regional communities and to Queensland.

We are working with the Department of Environment and Science, Traditional Owners and regional communities to deliver a new tourism opportunity for Queensland. Founded on social, environmental and economic outcomes and delivered through an innovative and collaborative model, we are showcasing our natural assets, cultural heritage and enhancing connection to country, for now and for future generations.

The program will deliver adventure and nature-based tourism experiences aimed at preserving and protecting community resources and their natural and cultural values for future generations. The ecologically sustainable trails are designed to attract domestic and international visitors.

The trails

Ecotourism trails program

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

The Ecotourism Trails program aims to deliver:

  • significant environmental, social and economic benefits to Traditional Owners, regional communities and to Queensland
  • long term job and business opportunities for Traditional Owners and their future generations
  • enhanced connection to Country whilst ensuring the protection and preservation of Land and Country
  • 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 (view the Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2016-2020 on the Department of Environment and Science website)
  • long-term growth and liveability and building community resilience for respective regional communities
  • new funding sources to preserve, protect and present national parks and their cultural heritage
  • better controls to limit damaging and uncontrolled activities within parks including feral animal management
  • potential to host competitive domestic and international sporting events, such as mountain-biking competitions
  • coordinated state and local resources to key regional community issues, such as tourism infrastructure and water management

Frequently asked questions - Ecotourism

  • What is ecotourism?

    Ecotourism includes nature-based experiences that increase visitor appreciation and understanding of an areas’ 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.

  • Why invest in ecotourism?

    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 is uniquely positioned to capture greater share of this ecotourism market.

  • What is the Ecotourism Trails Program?

    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 Owners and working in close partnership with other levels of government, tourism 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.

  • What will the trails include?

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

    The program delivers cultural, environmental, social and economic benefits to Queensland and the regions, building community resilience for future generations and Traditional Owners.

  • What are the criteria for Ecotourism Trail locations?

    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.

    The Implementation Framework for Ecotourism Facilities in National Parks and Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines support these outcomes.

  • What about World Heritage conventions?

    With five of Australia’s 19 World Heritage listed sites in Queensland, the Queensland Government is committed to World Cultural and Natural Heritage conventions. Under those conventions, the State has the primary duty of ensuring; identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of an area’s cultural and natural heritage.

    The conventions are upheld through designing and managing ecotourism facilities that foster presentation, appreciation and conservation of the land’s natural condition and cultural resources and values.

  • How are Ecotourism Trails delivered?

    Ecotourism Trails are delivered through an innovative and collaborative model focused on Traditional Owners, working in close partnership with governments, Tourism Operators and the wider community.

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

  • What legislations and frameworks are relevant for delivering Ecotourism trails?

    Each trail 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, 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 Tourism Operator will need to comply with Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

  • What are the three pillars of the Ecotourism Trails program?

    The Ecotourism Trails program is founded on three key pillars:

    • Protecting culture
      The program unlocks new funding from private Tourism Operators who will work closely with Traditional Owners through the delivery of low-impact ecotourism experiences that compete on the world stage. Each trail is designed to provide an immersive cultural experience with Traditional Owners playing an active role in trail planning, development, maintenance and operation, enhancing connection to country.
    • Preserving and presenting natural assets
      The trails are carefully planned and designed within robust State, National and World Heritage environmental management frameworks. The end outcome aims to deliver enhanced national parks with better controls to limit damaging and uncontrolled activities, for all to experience, enjoy and appreciate.
    • Future-proofing regional communities.  The Queensland Ecotourism Trails program builds community resilience by creating long-term employment and business opportunities for Traditional Owners and regional communities.

Frequently asked questions - Eco accommodation

  • What accommodation facilities will be constructed?

    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 the trail 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.

  • Will the public still have full access to Queensland's national parks?

    Yes, public access to national parks will remain with new or improved public amenity such as toilets and campsites along the trails.

    The Ecotourism Trails program unlocks new funding and reinvestment sources to preserve, protect and present 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, as described in the Queensland Ecotourism Tourism Plan 2016-2020.

  • How will ecotourism proposals be evaluated?

    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 and must conform to the Department of Environment and Science’s (DES) Implementation Framework: Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks and 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.

  • Will there be more ecotourism opportunities offered to the market?

    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.

  • What is the market engagement process?

    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 - National parks

  • What safeguards are in place around new ecotourism offerings in 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 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.

  • Will developing ecotourism opportunities in our national parks lead to greater support for their conservation?

    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.

  • Will these ecotourism opportunities lead to more support in the upkeep of the parks?

    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.

  • Why are Ecotourism Trails in national parks or World Heritage areas?

    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.

  • With private tourism operators involved, does this mean an asset sale or privatisation of national parks?

    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 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: 26 Mar 2020