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What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism encompasses a broad spectrum of environmentally responsible activities that increase visitor appreciation, develop a better understanding of the natural and cultural heritage, and are carefully managed to be ecologically, economically and socially sustainable.

Ecotourism Australia defines ecotourism as ‘ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation’.

Ecotourism requires tourism to contribute to the well-being of the natural areas and local communities in which they operate, and to educate and inform visitors. This means that the environmental values of national parks are protected and preserved while also being enjoyed.

Why is ecotourism important?

Ecotourism is a major part of the Queensland Government’s plan to grow the tourism industry—one of the state’s four economic pillars.

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, environmentally responsible 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.

The Queensland Government will ensure that the inherent conservation and heritage values of national parks are preserved by applying its recently amended legislative provisions.

Suitably experienced individuals and organisations were invited to submit proposals for developing privately owned, low impact, purpose-built ecotourism infrastructure through an expression of interest (EOI) process.

An EOI for the redevelopment of the Green Mountains campground in Lamington National Park was also released for a three month tender period which closed on 29 November 2013. Read more about the Green Mountains EOI on the previously released opportunities page.

Ecotourism facility operators are eligible to apply to subcontract the conduct of commercial activities on Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) managed areas.

The Draft Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2015 - 2020 was released for public consultation at DestinationQ in 2015. 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. At DestinationQ in 2012, industry reconfirmed the importance of this for the future of ecotourism in particular.

In recognition of their unique natural values, the Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2013–2020 (Resource currently being updated) requires that compulsory minimum ecotourism standards apply for tourism operators in national parks and protected areas. Best practice ecotourism standards support delivery of world class experiences and encourage the protection of the natural and cultural environment. Industry certification programs provide effective standards.

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 eco-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 eco-certification process within 12 months of entering into an agreement and must finalise certification within 18 months of entering into an agreement. Eco-certification must be maintained for the life of the agreement.

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

Endorsement of eco-certification schemes

NPSR 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 an NPSR 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.

NPSR endorsed ecotourism certification schemes

NPSR has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the following ecotourism certification provider:

Ecotourism Australia

Phone: (07) 3252 1530


NPSR has endorsed the ‘Ecotourism’ and ‘Advanced Ecotourism’ certification levels of Ecotourism Australia’s Eco Certification Program. Operators must achieve a minimum of ‘Ecotourism’ level eco-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

Last updated
25 November 2015