What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism encompasses nature-based activities that increase visitor appreciation and understanding of natural and cultural values. They are experiences that are managed to ensure they are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, contributing to the wellbeing and conservation of the natural areas and local communities where they operate.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines ecotourism as the: environmentally responsible visiting of relatively unspoilt natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features—both past and present), that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.

    Why is ecotourism important?

    Tourism is a $23 billion industry for Queensland (Tourism and Events Queensland, May 2022), generating $46.5 million a day in overnight visitor expenditure across the state, directly and indirectly employing 207,000 Queenslanders.

    Experiencing nature is a primary motivator for both domestic and international visitors in Australia. Queensland has a natural competitive advantage in providing visitors with high-quality ecotourism experiences because of our world-class national parks and marine parks, five World Heritage areas, and a huge diversity of unique and unrivalled landscapes and iconic wildlife.

    Queensland’s national parks play a substantial role for ecotourism. Our commercial tour operators have a long history of accessing national parks and providing visitors with a wide array of ecotourism experiences.

    What is happening to support ecotourism?

    Sustainable ecotourism experiences are able to showcase Queensland’s special natural and cultural values while offering visitors and locals unique and memorable experiences in some of the state’s most spectacular areas.

    The Queensland Government is committed to progressing new best-practice iconic ecotourism experiences to attract further growth in the domestic and international visitor market.

    Ecotourism opportunities may include:

    • commercial tourism operators that access Queensland’s protected area estate through Commercial Activity Permits and Commercial Activity Agreements
    • the design, construction, ongoing operation and maintenance of low-impact eco-accommodation and other appropriate infrastructure within and adjacent to the protected area estate
    • immersive experiences that support citizen science and voluntourism programs.

    These Queensland Government initiatives will be fundamental to making Queensland the number one ecotourism destination in Australia, delivering world-class ecotourism attractions and experiences in Queensland’s national parks.

    Why is certification required?

    Importance of certification

    Positioning Queensland as a world leader in ecotourism requires excellence in product delivery, operations and services. Industry has indicated over many years that best-practice standards are essential in achieving this ambition.

    Many ecotourism operators working within national parks and other protected areas are already certified and demonstrate a commitment to best-practice business operations and minimal impact on the natural environment. The requirement for all tourism operators authorised under long-term commercial activity agreements (agreements) to be certified by an endorsed organisation demonstrates the importance of these ambitions. It sends a strong message to the market that tourism operators in national parks are of high quality, employing best-practice, providing a competitive positioning for Queensland as a leading ecotourism destination.

    Certification requirements for tour operators

    All long-term agreement holders and ecotourism operators conducting their ecotourism experiences within the protected area estate must have commenced their certification process within 12 months of entering into an agreement and must finalise certification within 18 months of entering into an agreement. Certification must be maintained for the life of the agreement.

    Information on the type of certification operators will need to achieve is provided below.

    Endorsement of certification schemes

    The department partners with independent certification providers who can demonstrate their scheme(s) possess the following  features:

    1. A set of best practices that effectively covers the nominated key areas (below).
    2. A requirement that tourism operators agree to adopt, comply with, and publicise the best practices.
    3. A process for monitoring and auditing compliance with the best practices and other requirements.
    4. A system to issue a certificate to demonstrate compliance with the best practices.
    5. A mechanism to investigate alleged non-compliance with the best practices and, if necessary, to withdraw certification.
    6. An appeals process for tourism operators.
    7. A process and timeframe for reviewing the set of best practices.
    8. A process to identify and address conflicts and potential conflicts of interest.
    9. The potential for long-term viability.

    Key areas of best practice


    • Habitat protection
    • Species conservation and interaction
    • Waste minimisation and management
    • Cultural heritage protection
    • Good neighbour behaviour
    • Environmental contingency arrangements


    • Visitor information about natural and cultural values and world heritage status
    • Delivery of visitor information
    • Truth in marketing
    • Client services and infrastructure


    • Reporting suspected infringements, incidents and pollution
    • Monitoring the protected areas and their use
    • Supporting local and indigenous communities
    • Training staff.

    Department endorsed certification schemes

    The department has endorsed the following certification providers:

    Ecotourism Australia

    Phone: (07) 3252 1530

    Web: https://www.ecotourism.org.au/

    The department has endorsed the ‘Ecotourism’ and ‘Advanced Ecotourism’ certification levels of Ecotourism Australia’s ECO Certification Program. Operators must achieve a minimum of ‘Ecotourism’ level ecotourism certification under this scheme.

    Ecotourism Australia has developed a brochure outlining the key features of the ECO and Respecting Our Culture Certification essentials for tour operators. Additional information for tour operators on the features of the ECO Certification Program and how to apply is available on Ecotourism Australia’s website.


    Phone: (07) 3238 1900

    Web: https://earthcheck.org

    The department has endorsed the EarthCheck Evaluate and Certified ecotourism certification schemes.

    EarthCheck is the world’s leading scientific benchmarking certification and advisory group for the travel and tourism industry. These programs help tourism operators to measure and manage their environmental footprint, and to provide clear, auditable evidence of sustainable practices, and are being further developed with criteria and auditing requirements specific to operations within Queensland’s national parks.

    Additional information for tour operators is available on the EarthCheck website.