An Open Letter to the Prime Minister, Federal Treasurer, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers

Ecotourism and nature-based tourism is an important economic driver and extremely vital for many regional economies and communities throughout Australia, and it needs support.

Natural attractions, iconic ecotourism experiences, and accommodation offerings in nature have been the hallmark of promoting Australian tourism to domestic and international markets for decades. In many ways, these experiences define how travellers see and experience Australia. They are Brand Australia.

The importance of the survival of ecotourism and nature-based businesses must not be under-estimated.  The experiences they offer are the drawcard for when state and international borders re-open. These businesses drive regional economies with sustainable jobs and bring much needed cash into the regions. The businesses benefit the communities they operate in, and the environment they engage with.

The reality facing ecotourism and nature-based tourism businesses is very challenging. The impact of COVID-19, on top of the bushfires, droughts and floods has significantly affected our industry and some businesses will not survive.

In March 2020, more than 90% of ECO Certified tourism businesses closed their doors and now, six months later, a third remain closed. Of those who are operating, many are doing so at unsustainable levels.

Beyond easy driving distance from capital cities where travel is permitted, ecotourism and nature-based tourism is still on hold.

The September 2020 “State of the Industry Report” by Ecotourism Australia highlights the reality of being a regionally based ecotourism operator. You may be open but not at full capacity, you are extremely likely to be severely stressed about your own wellbeing and your business’s future, you’ve probably had to let your skilled and experienced staff go and your cash flow has been decimated. When recovery comes these people need to be in a position to rebuild and reactivate their businesses and themselves.

For economic recovery Australia needs ecotourism and nature-based tourism operators to survive. Our Australian communities need to be able to easily engage with nature to provide the mental and physical health recuperation we all know is desperately need by many.

Imagine an Australia without trips to the Great Barrier Reef, guided walks through our National Parks, or tours that allow people to swim in the ocean with dolphins and whale sharks.

Without increased and ongoing support these experiences could simply disappear or become low quality and devalue the Australian brand and reputation.

To ensure these experiences are still offered when borders open and visitors return, ecotourism and nature-based businesses need:

  • Ongoing JobKeeper support that includes support for casual and seasonal workforce.
  • An expanded grant system to cover fixed business costs such as insurance, rent/ leases, loan payments, etc.
  • Regional, state and national programs that encourage and reward quality businesses that deliver high levels of service with sustainable operations. 
  • The lowest levels of restrictions on travel, border crossings, overnight stays, and tour densities in each region, that still ensure the health requirements are met.
  • Ongoing, coordinated and resourced business, wellbeing and mental health counselling for tourism operators to ensure small and medium business owners are ready for the recovery.
  • Development of a National Nature Based Tourism Strategy

The ecotourism and nature-based tourism industry implores you to consider and include these measures in budget planning.
Support that has been issued to date has certainly helped, but many operators are not yet even on the road to recovery. We must see financial support expanded to ensure our regional businesses are alive and ready for the recovery as and when borders open once again.

Ecotourism Australia