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Australia's National Landscapes: A partnership between tourism and conservation


Australia’s National Landscapes programme was inspired by the need to make Australia’s wealth of protected areas digestible for visitors, to differentiate the best natural and cultural destinations and improve the delivery of their experiences. It provides a framework for regional partners to collaborate in considering new tourism projects, infrastructure needs, conservation impacts and marketing. This innovative model of cooperation brings together tour operators, conservation groups, Indigenous communities, councils, state agencies and protected area managers to deliver a national, long term strategic approach to tourism and conservation. This partnership aims to:

  1. Promote Australia's world class visitor experiences;
  2. Enhance the value of tourism to regional economies;
  3. Increase the role of protected areas in those economies; and,
  4. Build support for protecting our natural and cultural assets.

Now in its tenth year, Australia’s National Landscapes programme provides visitors with new and engaging tourism experiences within Australia’s most remarkable natural places. It also encourages increased lengths of stay and dispersal, and contributes to the long term sustainability and protection of the Landscapes.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Worldwide, National Parks tend to be few but significant. America has 57 National Parks and Canada has 41. Australia has over 700 named National Parks and over 10,000 protected landscapes, if National Parks, protected areas and reserves are included. Visitors need help to identify Australia’s most iconic natural and cultural destinations to inform their trip planning and ensure they are able to get the most out of their visit. Historically, visitor perception of the nature tourism offerings in Australia was limited to Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef. It was rarely extended to include other Australian destinations. How do you expand understanding of what’s offered and broaden the reach of visitors to other iconic places? How does one plan to make the most of its natural assets in a country as vast as Australia? How do we work out where to put infrastructure and develop individual tourism products? Further challenging the delivery of quality visitor experiences, many of the most iconic natural and cultural Australian destinations are many hundreds of kilometers from urban centres and infrastructure.

Australia's national parks and reserves used to be managed as conservation enclaves, and were largely removed from decisions by planning bodies in their regions and from tourism development and marketing. These sectors rarely got together to discuss challenges or opportunities for nature based tourism in protected areas. As a result, many decisions that impacted long-term sustainability were taken in isolation. The social and economic value of Australia's natural and cultural assets were often undervalued.

Specific elements of components: 

(1) The National Landscape’s Approach: Tourism Australia and Parks Australia have been working together since 2005 to create a broader partnership between tourism and conservation. This collaboration created Australia’s National Landscapes programme. It was developed to deliver conservation, social and economic outcomes for Australia and its regions. The program achieves this goal by providing a framework to develop nature based tourism experiences that are sustainable and that promote and protect environmental and cultural values. Throughout these Landscapes and their surrounding regions, the program defines and differentiates Australia’s most iconic natural and cultural destinations, articulates the values that make them unique, and improves the delivery of quality of visitor experiences based on these values. It is not a funding program or an advertising campaign. Rather, is focuses on Australia’s natural advantages and working in collaboration. Australia’s National Landscapes programme advocates partnerships at all levels and challenges participants to work together and ‘think big."

Tourism organisations and operators work with protected area agencies, local councils, conservation groups, government agencies, and Indigenous communities. This partnership approach provides a framework for better infrastructure planning across the regions. This process results in the particular benefits to managing Australia's more remote national parks and natural places, because it means better access and improved experiences for visitors. By highlighting our natural tourism assets, Australia’s National Landscapes programme promotes and supports the conservation of some of Australia’s most distinct and rich environments, ensuring that international and domestic visitors become champions for the long term protection of our natural places. It also ensures local tourism and planning bodies value natural and cultural assets, which contributes to the long-term wealth and sustainability of each regions. In this way, Australia's natural and cultural experiences are protected for the future and enjoyed by locals and visitors in a sustainable manner.

In order to become a National Landscape, candidates complete an extensive application process, which is assessed by an expert reference committee. Landscapes must demonstrate they possess the natural and cultural assets to be a major draw card for national and international visitors. They must also address sustainability and planning measures to ensure the protection of these natural and cultural values. Once endorsed, each National Landscape must also complete a range of core activities, including Destination Positioning and an Experience Development Strategy. The National Landscape approach was established by Parks Australia and Tourism Australia to provide the stimulus and develop a framework for the tourism and conservation sectors to work together. Australia’s Red Centre National Landscape was launched in December 2006. Since then, 15 more Landscapes have been established to complete the full suite of 16. The suite of Landscapes are now well established. The next phase of the project will see them operating more autonomously as a flexible, collaborative industry network involving the tourism, Indigenous and conservation sectors.The focus will be on collaborating and sharing best practice while developing, delivering and promoting the Landscapes’ products and experiences.

(2) Destination Positioning: Through a series of workshops and research projects, each Landscape uncovers their “unique point of difference.” They determine what it is that makes their Landscape stand out from the rest of the country, and the rest of the world - the experiences that make them a world class destination. This piece of work, known as Destination Positioning, forms a template for the delivery of their unique visitor experiences and informs a strategic framework for planning, regional tourism development, and marketing.

(3) Experience Development Strategies: Each Landscape must develop an Experience Development Strategy (EDS). This is a tool for focused destination management planning, driven by each Landscape’s Destination Positioning. It provides a framework where regional partners collaborate to consider new tourism projects, infrastructure needs, conservation impacts and marketing. The purpose of EDS is to improve the stock of world class experiences and their delivery to the target market. Each EDS includes an implementation plan that identifies priority projects, sustainability initiatives, business opportunities, visitor management, infrastructure proposals, and more. Wherever possible, the ED plans link or integrate with other regional planning processes. Implementing these strategies to develop new or improved visitor experiences creates new opportunities for international standard product to be marketed domestically and internationally.

(4) Signature Product: The collection of 16 Landscapes represents world-class nature and culture in Australia. Signature Product criteria have been developed to identify the best iconic experiences within each Landscape. This includes those featuring outstanding natural and cultural values which showcase conservation outcomes and commitment to quality. Signature products are promoted through Tourism Australia’s digital, social and public relations channels to inspire consumers (in particular the “experience seeker” target market), to visit Australia, and include the National Landscapes in their itineraries.

Key lessons learned: 

(1) Partnerships are Key to Success: In order for this approach to succeed, it is critical that the tourism and conservation sectors make long-term commitments to the partnership, put preconceptions aside and look at the process from the perspective of place. This ongoing collaboration is essential, especially given the timeframes required to develop and deliver high quality tourism products that can protect and promote National Landscapes to Australia and the world. New signature products, being delivered within the Landscapes, are already demonstrating how improved visitor experiences provide opportunities for learning about Australia’s natural and cultural values, while adding to our understanding of those values. They are also providing an opportunity for visitors to play an active role in conserving those values for the future and demonstrating that they can also be commercially attractive. The benefits to the Landscapes from new partnerships at regional, state and national levels continue to grow. This growth is providing the impetus to identify new nature-based tourism business opportunities and to support the collaboration required to develop these products. These partnerships are also finding better ways to increase awareness of conservation activities and their benefits, amongst the tourism industry and wider community.

(2) Develop the Right Framework: When applied to regional tourism planning, the National Landscapes approach demonstrates the critical role that an appropriate consultation and planning framework (Experience Development Strategy and Destination Positioning) can play in cultivating the necessary partnerships and ensuring a truly collaborative approach. This framework ensures all stakeholders participate in the planning process, and that the right governance and business principles are applied. It also confirms that the appropriate local knowledge and expertise informs planning decisions. Therefore, if a proposal gains endorsement, stakeholders will be confident it has the endorsement of all relevant stakeholders. The right framework is one supported by an annual action or implementation plan. It should identify the priority projects for the next year, give focus to the work of those responsible, help build stakeholder support and draw attention to successes. Once the first project is successfully completed, it provides valuable credibility to the approach. It can assist in demonstrating the ‘”shovel readiness” of priority projects and assist in leveraging further interest, investment and resources for subsequent projects. For example, several priority projects have been delivered that successfully linked indigenous aspirations and regional economic development opportunities for indigenous communities.

(3) The Right Approach Can Cultivate Best Practice in Tourism Standards: Australia’s National Landscapes programme provides an incentive for improving performance standards among nature tourism operators. It also ensures that the promoted products are contributing positively towards conservation outcomes, and protecting the natural and cultural values in the area in which they operate. In order for a product to qualify as a National Landscapes Signature Product, operators must demonstrate that the product meets a high benchmark of excellence in ecological standards of performance. Operators must become certified under an endorsed eco-certification program or demonstrate how they meet specific conservation criteria. Operators who have attained this level of excellence qualify for promotion through Tourism Australia’s digital, social and public relations channels. More than 200 products within the Landscapes now meet this standard.

(4) Integration into State and Regional Planning Processes: The Landscapes that have successfully completed major projects and have leveraged the most financial support for projects are those that take a more strategic regional view and integrating the Experience Development Strategy, or the priority projects within it, into broader state and regional planning processes. For example, one Landscape initially attracted $100,000 in grant money and matched it with funds from Landscape stakeholders to complete design and initial construction works for an interpretive centre, which was identified as a priority project. The process included appropriate planning and regional stakeholder consultation and engagement. This regional engagement led to the Landscape successfully leveraging an additional $550,000 from within the region to complete the project. Effective integration of EDS priorities into the regional planning processes has also allowed large projects to succeed across multiple tenure and jurisdictional boundaries. For example, one Landscape has effectively engaged all key stakeholders to ensure its priority projects were captured within the state level strategy. As a result, it attracted initial Commonwealth funding of $250,000 and subsequently leveraged this with a state government to receive an additional $500,000 in implementation funds to complete a project that crosses State Crown land, Resort land and National Park land.

(5) Share Best Practices: Australia’s National Landscape programme is comprised of 16 Landscapes spread across the country, many in remote regional areas. One of the great strengths of the approach is that these Landscapes have fostered a culture of sharing their experience and best practice in strategic regional planning and nature-based tourism and regional development. They communicate key lessons around topics ranging from the best composition and size for a steering committee to the most successful approaches to developing new product and leveraging investment for priority projects.

Impacts and outcomes: 

Australia’s National Landscapes has brought together critical stakeholders, ranging from industry, conservation and all tiers of government, to work together in partnership to develop sustainable regional planning approaches and promote tourism and conservation in Australia’s most remarkable natural and cultural landscapes. Australia’s National Landscapes programme has played a significant role in changing our understanding of nature based tourism in high conservation value areas. It demonstrates that nature-based tourism can be undertaken in a way that protects the natural and cultural values on which it is based. It also help to improve a visitor’s understanding of the natural landscape by highlighting the values that make a landscape unique, and provides opportunities for visitors to contribute to research and conservation activities that will help to conserve and protect those values. As a result of the partnerships formed through this approach, Australia’s National Landscapes’ philosophy, content and priorities are increasingly being reflected in Commonwealth, Regional, State and Territory government plans and strategies.

The National Landscape approach has been so successful that it is also being applied to other regions in Australia where there are opportunities to develop nature based tourism. The suite of Landscapes are now well established and the programme is reaching maturity. A key outcome is that the programme is now owned by the nature-based tourism industry. The next phase of the project will see the Landscapes operating autonomously as a flexible, collaborative industry network. It will involve the tourism, Indigenous and conservation sectors and focus on collaborating and sharing best practice, while developing, delivering and promoting the Landscapes’ products and experiences.

The resources developed through Australia’s National Landscapes programme are providing international and domestic visitors access to quality information about the Landscapes and the experiences they offer. This is helping tourists to plan their visits, and helping ensure that their perception of the nature tourism offering in Australia includes all 16 National Landscapes across Australia. According to current international visitor research, Australia’s biggest strength as a tourism destination is its world class nature. In 2013, approximately 36. million visitors to Australia participated in nature-based activities. World class beauty and natural environments continue to be key factors influencing destination choice in international visitors. Australia’s National Landscapes programme is providing visitors new and improved world class experiences and new stories to tell their friends about the amazing places they have seen and the natural and cultural experiences they have had. In doing so they are helping to deliver tangible outcomes for the Landscapes and the regions they are located within.

Contact details: 
Paula Banks -- Project Officer, Planning Tourism and Strategic Partnerships, Park Australia, Department of Environment, paula.banks AT
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