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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 of the natural areas and local communities where they operate.

The World Tourism Organisation defines ecotourism as:

  • All nature-based forms of tourism in which the main motivation of the tourists is the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas.
  • It contains educational and interpretation features.
  • It is generally, but not exclusively organised by specialised tour operators for small groups. Service provider partners at the destinations tend to be small, locally owned businesses.
  • It minimises negative impacts on the natural and socio-cultural environment.
  • It supports the maintenance of natural areas which are used as ecotourism attractions by:
    • generating economic benefits for host communities, organisations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes;
    • providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities; and
    • increasing awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists.

Why is ecotourism important?

Tourism is a $25 billion industry for Queensland, generating $65 million a day in visitor expenditure across the state, both directly and indirectly employing 230,000 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 appealing 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?

Most ecotourism operations are heavily reliant on visitor facilities developed and maintained by the Queensland Government and there has been little opportunity for private sector investment in national parks. The Queensland Government is supportive of investment into potential ecotourism opportunities and is increasing access to national parks and other state-owned land, for the enjoyment of all visitors.

To further leverage our competitive advantage the Queensland Government has decided to allow privately owned, low impact facilities to be established on national parks so that new and innovative ecotourism experiences can be provided. The aim of this initiative is to deliver contemporary, environmentally sensitive ecotourism developments that both showcase and preserve Queensland’s unique natural landscapes and wildlife. See what current opportunities are available.

The Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2016 - 2020 (PDF, 1.7M) was released on 27 September 2016 and presents a fresh approach to ecotourism. For more information about this plan, visit the Strategies and plans page.

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 eco-certification required?

Importance of eco-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 tour operators working within national parks and other protected areas are already eco-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 agreements to be ecotourism certified demonstrates the importance of these ambitions. It sends a strong message to the market that tourism operators in national parks are best practice, providing a competitive positioning for Queensland as a leading ecotourism destination.

Eco-certification requirements for tour operators

All long-term commercial activity agreement (agreement) holders conducting guided tours must have commenced their ecotourism certification process within 12 months of entering into an agreement and must finalise certification within 18 months of entering into an agreement. Ecotourism certification must be maintained for the life of the agreement.

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

Endorsement of eco-certification schemes

The department partners with independent eco-certification providers, who can demonstrate their scheme (s) meet the criteria detailed below, to provide eco-certification schemes.

Assessment criteria for certification schemes

To be recognised as a department endorsed certification scheme, a scheme must demonstrate 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 ecotourism certification schemes

The department has endorsed the following ecotourism certification providers:

Ecotourism Australia

Phone: (07) 3252 1530


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 Certification program (PDF) 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


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.

Last updated
16 October 2018