Ecotourism Australia welcomes the news announced by the Queensland government, to make our ECO Certification program mandatory for tourism operators, operating within Queensland’s national parks.
In late July, the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (NPRSR) announced the introduction of the Queensland Eco and Sustainable Tourism policy, QuEST. Here’s how the new policy will impact on national parks tourism operators within national park areas, along with some explanation of the implications it will bring to the fore.
The QuEST policy is replacing the previous Tourism in Protected Areas policy (TIPA). It will keep some existing essential policy components, while also improving access and providing new opportunities for Ecotourism operators in national parks, streamlining administration processes, supporting authorised operators, and promoting best practice tourism experiences.
There will be a number of improvements accompanying the introduction of the QuEST policy. New and established tourism businesses operating within QuEST areas will be guaranteed business certainty, and will be provided with ongoing support. Administration processes will be streamlined as renewal requirements are reduced; subject to renewal after ten years as apposed to three, reporting on returns will be due quarterly as apposed to monthly, and forms and payments facilities will be accessible online.
Opportunities for Ecotourism growth will arise as new national park areas are opened for public use. The QuEST policy involves assessment of locations for their development potential and ecological, economical and social sustainability to ensure growth is limited to locations that will be able to sustain it. It is paramount that development occurs only in areas that can sustain such an impact and comply with current nature conservation and cultural values. Tourism operators will require a minimum level of ECO Certification for any operations occuring within QuEST areas.
Changes introduced through implementation of the QuEST policy include the transition from the commercial activity permit to the commercial activity agreement, which must be obtained by any business entity, organisation or individual undertaking an identified commercial activity within QuEST areas.
The Commercial Activity Agreement:
Under the Tourism in Protected Areas policy, tourism operators offering tours into National Park locations required commercial activity permits, which lasted up to three years. With QuEST, permit requirements and processes have changed. The commercial activity agreement differs from the previous permit not only in longevity, now lasting 15-years, but also in flexibility; it may be transferred if a business is sold. It calls for quarterly returns rather than monthly, and requires renewal at the ten year mark, rather than every three years.
Tourism operators who currently hold such permits are eligible to transfer to a commercial activity agreement without incurring an application fee. Tourism operators will only require one agreement for multiple activities conducted across multiple areas. Operators may transfer before their current permits expire, waiving the application fee, or transfer on expiry of their existing permit. Any existing tourism operators who choose not to take up an agreement may continue to operate only until expiry of their current permit.
All tourism operators holding commercial activity agreements must apply for NPRSR endorsed ECO Certification of any tourism product which operate within QuEST areas. Applications must be made within 12-months of the release of QuEST, and be finalised within 18-months of the release of QuEST.
Fees associated with the commercial activity agreement determined according to the number of passengers carried on tours and will be paid in arrears. Fees will be set with regard to regulations according to location, with a view to establish a consistent fee structure.
Why is ECO Certification mandatory?
Queensland’s national parks are a major tourism draw card; a privilege for all to see, it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure they stay pristine for future generations. Mandatory ECO Certification will ensure that tourism ventures have minimal impact on the fragile ecosystems within national park areas in which they operate. It will help to protect national park environments, while ensuring best practice business operations and premium tourism experiences for guests. When a tourism operator carries ECO Certification, visitors are assured of their commitment to sustainable environmental practices and high quality nature-based experiences.
When does the QuEST begin?
The implementation of QuEST will be monitored by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), it is to be implemented in stages over the next two years to the following locations:
- Fraser Island Recreation Area
- Moreton Island Recreation Area
- Whitsunday Islands Area
- Daintree National Park
- Cooloola Recreation Area
QPWS will communicate directly with all permitted operators regarding specific date periods for implementation.
For more information on the QuEST policy, please click here.
For advice to tourism operators within QuEST areas, please find a fact sheet here.
For information on Ecotourism Australia certification programs, please click here.