Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 1. Expression of Interest. Queensland Ecotourism Investment Opportunities

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1 Queensland Ecotourism Investment Opportunities Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 1 Expression of Interest Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks Great state. Great opportunity.

2 1. Introduction The DestinationQ Partnership Agreement established between the Queensland Government and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council on 26 June 2012 identified the demand for new, unique and low impact ecotourism facilities on national parks to attract domestic and international visitors to Queensland. The Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 1 Expression of Interest (Stage 1 Best Practice Guidelines) have been developed to ensure that new and expanded ecotourism opportunities on Queensland national parks achieve industry best practice. The Stage 1 Best Practice Guidelines provide proponents with a guide on how ecotourism facilities can be effectively integrated into national parks through awareness of: site values and constraints, appropriate site layout, design and construction low energy footprint, water and waste systems appropriate visitor interpretation and activities; and community partnerships. The Queensland Government will use these guidelines during the expression of interest preliminary concept assessment stage to assist in determining whether the proposed ecotourism use of a national park aligns with national park values and can be undertaken in an ecologically sustainably manner. Proponents should refer to the best practice ecotourism development criteria and sample prompt questions outlined in these guidelines when preparing their response to expressions of interest (EOI) for Queensland ecotourism investment opportunities. Sustainability related questions are presented in EOI tender guidelines and an application form which are linked to the best practice ecotourism development criteria. It is government s expectation that proponents will have considered these social, economic and environmental criteria in preparing and submitting an application. The Stage 1 Best Practice Guidelines have been informed by a review of equivalent guidelines used by other state governments and, in particular, the Sustainability Guidelines for Visitor Use and Tourism in NSW National Parks. The Stage 1 Best Practice Guidelines are aligned with the Queensland Ecotourism Plan and should be read in conjunction with the Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks Implementation Framework. Hinchinbrook Island National Park, Photo courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland Front cover: Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, Mark Nemet, Queensland Government 1

3 2. Legislative and policy context National parks are exceptional places declared under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (the NC Act) as representing Queensland s biological diversity and outstanding natural and cultural features and wilderness. The Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (NPRSR) has responsibility for over 320 national parks, including five World Heritage Areas. National park values include provision of life supporting ecosystem services, protection of biodiversity, environmental education, conserving wildlife, recreation and tourism, protection of cultural heritage and providing landscape amenity. NPRSR is developing a range of policy and legislative measures to improve opportunities for ecotourism and visitor use on national parks. A key initiative of the Queensland Government is the amendment of the NC Act to allow for privately funded and operated ecotourism infrastructure on national park. The amended Section 35 of the NC Act allows for the authorisation of ecotourism facilities on national parks where use of the land for this purpose is: in the public interest ecologically sustainable; and provides to the greatest possible extent the preservation of the land s natural condition and protection of cultural values and resources. The Queensland Ecotourism Plan seeks to position Queensland as the number one ecotourism destination in Australia and as a world leader in ecotourism. This vision will be achieved through a number of strategic actions that facilitate the development of high quality ecotourism experiences, build the profile of the industry and increase visitation. The Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines contributes to the improved planning and delivery of world leading ecotourism opportunities on national parks. The Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks Implementation Framework provides the model for assessment and approval of proposals for ecotourism facilities on national parks. The framework informs proponents and the broader community of how NPRSR will assess ecotourism facility proposals, the matters that will be considered and the approval and leasing arrangements for successful proposals. The implementation framework also outlines guiding principles for establishing ecotourism facilities on national parks. The Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 1 describe the key considerations for achieving environmental, economic and social sustainability outcomes and can be applied by proponents in a manner that is appropriate to the nature, scale and location of their proposal. Proponents are encouraged to be familiar with both the policy context and the legislative requirements for ecotourism facilities on national park. Bunya Mountains National Park Photo courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland 2

4 3. Best practice ecotourism development The Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 1 provide six best practice criteria for proponents to incorporate into the development and planning of their ecotourism concept. These guidelines will help ensure that ecotourism facilities and associated activities are ecologically sustainable, seek to preserve the land s natural condition and cultural values, are in the public interest and are designed and managed to facilitate the presentation and appreciation of conservation values. The definition of ecological sustainability provided in the NC Act is: within the capacity of the land to sustain natural processes while (a) maintaining the life support systems of nature; and (b) ensuring the benefit of the use to present generations does not diminish the potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations. In the context of ecotourism facilities, ecologically sustainable use of national parks means: the facility and associated activities are integrated within the constraints or capacity of the national park the facility and associated activities are based on an understanding of how the national park functions as an ecosystem, and their cultural resource The facility and associated activities enhance the parks presentation facilities and activities are designed and operated in a manner that does not impose any additional stress or constraint on the national park; and operators pursue initiatives that support the national park s long-term viability. Best practice ecotourism developments require considerations broader than just the ecological. Ecotourism facilities on national parks have the potential to influence the landscape, ecosystems, local communities, interest groups and park management, which all interact in a complex and integrated system. Increased visitation to national parks can assist in raising public awareness of their critical importance, especially when the experiences are interpreted or facilitated by a well-informed ecotourism operator. By imparting information to visitors, and combining naturebased experiences, the role national parks play in protecting and conserving biodiversity and cultural heritage can be reinforced. Similarly the involvement of Traditional Owners and local communities in ecotourism can build the cultural resources of the national park and support regional economic development. Best practice ecotourism facilities are in the public interest and can contribute the resources necessary to protect and conserve national parks for future generations. These operations build partnerships and contribute to park management in a way that maintains or enhances the national park s cultural and ecological integrity. The best practice ecotourism development criteria outlined in these guidelines will help ensure the ecotourism facilities on Queensland national parks are ecologically sustainable, demonstrate a high level of sensitivity and harmony with the natural and cultural values of the site, and reinforce and support conservation and community values. Glass House Mountains National Park Photo courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland 3

5 4. Application The Queensland Government has developed a two stage process for assessing ecotourism opportunities. Figure 1 provides an overview of the steps involved in two-staged process: Stage 1 Preliminary Concept Assessment requires the proponent to develop a concept proposal and present the information in a standard response form provided in the expression of interest (EOI) tender documentation. Stage 2 Full Proposal Assessment requires the proponent to develop a detailed proposal in response to a full terms of reference that will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 1 and Stage 2 have been developed to assist proponents incorporate sustainability considerations into the planning and development of their proposals and should inform the proponents application. The Stage 1 best practice ecotourism development criteria highlight considerations relevant to the concept or early planning phase. The government evaluation panel will use the guidelines as one of the tools for assessing and short listing successful proponents. The Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines for Stage 2 (Stage 2 Best Practice Guidelines) will provide more detailed guidance on the best practice design, construction and operation of ecotourism facilities on national parks, supported by industry standards and case studies. Application of the Stage 2 Best Practice Guidelines will be determined according to the nature, scale and location of the proposal. Figure 1: Assessment process for Queensland ecotourism investment opportunities Stage 1 Stage 2 Step 1: Step 2: Step 3: Step 4: Step 5: Step 6: Government releases general EOI to industry EOI evaluation panel shortlists proposals and makes a recommendation to the Director- General NPRSR to approve NPRSR prepares terms of reference for full proposal assessment, streamlining local/state/ federal approval processes where possible Proponent undertakes assessment as appropriate to scale and impact of the project In principle approval provided by Director-General NPRSR, subject to outstanding approvals/ conditions Lease/authority granted by Director -General NPRSR to proponent 4

6 5. Best practice ecotourism development criteria The best practice criteria outlined in Table 1 represent the key factors that proposals for ecotourism facilities need to address in Stage 1 to be considered an appropriate use under the NC Act. The criteria are relevant to the concept planning stage of a proposal and are intended to set best practice standards for permanent infrastructure and associated visitor activity on national parks. Proponents are encouraged to address the best practice criteria to the extent that is relevant to the proposed site location and the size and scale of the proposed facility. Table 2 provides additional guidance including sample questions that may assist proponents in refining and developing their ecotourism concept. The sample questions are not intended to be an exhaustive list of examples and proponents are encouraged to be innovative in their response to the criteria. Table 1: Best practice ecotourism development criteria Wilson Island, Capricornia Cays National Park Photo courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland No. Criteria Values 1 The facility is compatible with the natural and cultural values of the national park. Environmental The natural and cultural values of the site are known. Any constraints or stressors on the system are identified and development on sensitive and vulnerable areas is avoided. 2 The facility is designed to fit within the character of the national park. The design and layout of the facility is in harmony with the landscape and natural features. Climate sensitive design features capture the benefit of sun, rain and shade. Construction materials are local or renewable and the site is landscaped with native species. 3 The facility minimises its footprint on the site. Impacts on the site are minimised through the construction and operation of the facility. The facility promotes water and energy conservation and a leave no trace philosophy is applied in relation to visitor activity on site. Waste and pollution is minimised. 4 The facility contributes to protecting and positively enhancing the national park. The long-term viability of the national park is supported by working with park management and local groups to, for example, reduce environmental stressors on the park system, rehabilitate disturbed areas of the park, and educate staff and visitors regarding intrinsic park values. 5 The facility engages, involves and benefits Traditional Owners and local communities. The importance of the national park to the cultural and economic priorities of local communities is identified and long-term partnerships pursued. Traditional Owners are involved in the interpretation and experience of Indigenous cultural resources. 6 The facility encourages visitors to appreciate and want to protect and conserve the national park. The natural and cultural values of the site are appropriately interpreted, and visitor activities and experiences support the protection and conservation of these values. The facility is developed to achieve third-party certification for sustainable building design and/or ecotourism. Environmental Environmental Environmental Social Social Economic Social Environmental Economic 5

7 Table 2: Best practice ecotourism development sub-criteria and sample questions Note: The sample questions outlined in this table are intended to assist proponents in responding to the best practice ecotourism development criteria. Commensurate with the nature, scale and location of development only certain criteria and questions apply. Proponents are not required to respond to each of these sample questions, but are encouraged to consider them as guides for practical application of the criteria. Some questions may require more detailed understanding of the site and ecotourism concept than proponents may have available at this stage. These questions have been included to encourage whole of project planning at the preliminary concept stage. Criteria Sub-criteria Sample questions 1. The facility is compatible with the natural and cultural values of the national park. 1.1 Protecting and conserving natural and cultural values 1.2 Site access and suitability What are the natural values of the national park taking into consideration known listed and protected species and habitat? What are the cultural values of the national park taking in to consideration known cultural heritage, artefacts and non-physical values? What is the capacity of natural and cultural values to sustain the facility development impacts and visitor activity over time? Are there any specific constraints or vulnerabilities? (e.g. park management plans may provide guidance) Is construction and operation of the facility expected to impact the national park s natural values? How can impacts be adequately mitigated? Would it be possible to achieve no net impact or possible enhancements to natural and cultural values of the site? Are strategies required to protect sensitive habitat areas and/or avoiding activity in vulnerable or highly valued areas? In selecting the site have previously disturbed sites been utilised where possible? In providing access to the site have existing roads, tracks and utility corridors been utilised where possible? Has consideration been given to locate the development and activity on lower value habitat as opposed to high conservation areas? Does the facility and associated activity avoided high conservation areas, riparian zones and narrow and steep slopes, etc? Has there been a clear demarcation of the long term development footprint, including appropriate barriers to limit activity to stabilised or designated areas? 6

8 Criteria Sub-criteria Sample questions 2. The facility is designed to fit within the character of the national park. 2.1 Site layout is compatible with the landscape 2.2 Facility design and appearance is compatible with the landscape In planning the site layout will landscape features predominate and/or will the facility blend into the surrounding environment? Will the facility design and layout maximise use of landscape features and natural geological formations of the site? Will the design allow natural sights, sounds and scents to prevail throughout the facility? Has consideration been given to either dispersing or concentrating the facility infrastructure to achieve minimal environmental impact? Has consideration been given to the microclimate of the site and how factors such as aspect, exposure, elevation and wind can be utilised to maximise visitor comfort without depending on mechanical systems? Is the overarching design philosophy of the facility based on climate sensitive design and a strong sense of place? Does the facility use aspect and orientation to provide insulation, ventilation, passive heating and cooling? Are landscape features reflected in design through scale, form, colour and texture of the facility? Is the architectural style and materials of the facility reflective of aspects of local indigenous culture (if appropriate)? How is the facility designed so that it does not dominate landscape features? Have biomimicry concepts been utilised such as tree-house style accommodation or cabins the colour and shape of surrounding boulders? Will future landscaping use local species which require minimal maintenance and are essentially self-sustaining? Does the facility aim for smaller is better, optimising use and flexibility of spaces so building size and associated resources required for construction are minimised? Will sustainability features such as recycled materials, efficient water and energy systems and waste minimisation practices be visible throughout the site? Has adaptive re-use of existing structures been considered to reflect part of the story of the site? Is there an intention to obtain third-party sustainable building certification or accreditation for the facility? 7

9 Criteria Sub-criteria Sample questions 3. The facility minimises its footprint on the site. 3.1 Facility construction methods are low impact 3.2 Energy conservation practices are employed 3.3 Water conservation practices are employed Will disturbance and clearing of habitat during construction be minimised through best practice technologies for environmentally and culturally sensitive areas? Will the development footprint be contained during construction with impacts on surrounding areas and habitat avoided? Has consideration been given to modular, pre-fabricated and easy to assemble construction technologies to reduce construction related impacts? Have locally sourced and lightweight yet durable materials and construction practices been considered? Is there an intention to use renewable, durable, non-toxic and environmentally sustainable materials throughout the facility? Will strategies be developed to limit pollutants and toxins brought on site during construction? Will waste streams be managed during construction through re-use of on-site materials that are within the development zone (e.g. soils, vegetation, fabricated materials)? Will energy required by the site be minimised for the needs of visitors and facility operation? Will an energy efficiency strategy be developed for the construction and operation of the facility minimising energy requirements, using energy efficient appliances and generating on-site renewable energy? Has consideration been given to use of passive energy technologies for natural heating and cooling through the design of the facility, e.g. natural ventilation, shading and solar heating? Has integration of energy awareness, conservation and efficiency practices into the operation of the facility and visitor experience been considered? Has the use of renewable energy technologies that are best suited to the site and have whole of lifecycle benefits been considered, e.g. no major adverse impacts from installation or high maintenance costs? Will water required by the site be minimised for the needs of visitors and facility operation? Have water sensitive urban design practices, such as rainwater tanks, on-site recycling of water and/or wastewater, swales and bio-retention basins for water treatment and water efficient appliances been considered? Have strategies to protect surface and groundwater through best practice approaches to managing pollutants and debris in stormwater run-off and sediment transport, e.g. bio-filtration technologies and sediment traps been considered? Has the integration of water awareness, conservation and efficiency practices into the operation of the facility and visitor experience been considered? 8

10 Criteria Sub-criteria Sample questions 4. The facility contributes to protecting and positively enhancing the national park. 5. The facility engages, involves and benefits Traditional Owners and local communities. 4.1 Contributions to on-site rehabilitation and restoration 4.2 Contributions to park management 5.1 Sharing ecotourism benefits with Traditional Owners 5.2 Sharing ecotourism benefits with neighbouring communities 5.3 Local and regional economic development Will strategies be developed to rehabilitate previously impacted and degraded areas, and areas currently landscaped with exotic species where appropriate? Will strategies be developed to progressively rehabilitate areas impacted by the construction and operation of the facility? Is there land available for resting and rehabilitating heavy use or impacted areas over time? Will there be a commitment to partnering with park management and Traditional Owners to deliver shared park outcomes, e.g. assistance with preserving and restoring impacted areas of the natural or protected area, research and monitoring, attracting specialist studies, working with volunteers and providing funding? Will there be a commitment to undertaking or contributing to research and/or monitoring of acceptable limits of change for rare, vulnerable and endangered species impacted by visitation and the facility operations? Will facility management undertake self-monitoring for continuous improvement in minimising impact of operations using environmental management systems that comply with ISO14001? Is there an intention to seek Traditional Owner endorsement and participation in the facility including guidance and involvement in visitor interpretation and experiences? Will the indigenous cultural heritage and cultural values of the site be respected through sensitive visitor interpretative experiences and partnerships to contribute to the long-term preservation and protection measures of these values? Are the proposed ecotourism opportunity compatible with cultural uses of the site? Is there an intention to engage in an ongoing dialogue with neighbouring residents and community organisations to understand their attitudes to the site and impacts (positive and negative) and continual improvement? Has consideration been given to how the proposed ecotourism opportunity fits with existing uses of the area such as independent and commercial visitors, recreation, water production, landscape amenity, grazing and residential? Has consideration been given to whether the ecotourism opportunity is compatible with existing tourism activities in the national park and community use of the site? Will the ecotourism facility provide for improved community access and enjoyment of national park? Have any economic benefits for surrounding communities been identified, e.g. local procurement of food and materials, construction, repairs and maintenance, local Indigenous arts and craft for purchase by visitors (if appropriate)? Is there a commitment to providing employment and training opportunities for the local community? Is there a commitment to partnering with the community to maximise the benefit from tourism including shared activities around festivals and events, hosting activities with neighbouring communities, tours of local business and/or industry? 9

11 Criteria Sub-criteria Sample questions 6. The facility encourages visitors to appreciate and want to protect and conserve the national park. 6.1 Appropriate interpretation of natural and cultural values 6.2 Sensitive and responsible visitor experiences and activities Is there an intention to provide well researched information on the site to visitors with appropriate qualified guides? Have the special or unique environmental and cultural features of the site been identified, and is there an intention to build understanding into the visitor experience through responsible tourism practices, e.g. wildlife viewing doesn t interfere with foraging, territorial or breeding patterns? Will there be any development of educational opportunities and programs relating to aesthetic, scientific and cultural values of the site using interpretative techniques such as face-to-face Indigenous cultural education or active visitor involvement in site restoration? What strategies will be employed to inform visitors of local Indigenous and non-indigenous customs and expectations regarding use of the site particularly in relation to cultural resources? Has consideration been given to activity zones and buffers to protect sensitive habitat areas and manage visitor use and overcrowding of sites? Is there a commitment to providing staff awareness and education on the natural and cultural values of the site and appropriate visitor activity to support conservation outcomes? What are the strategies to prevent deliberate and regular intrusion of sensitive wildlife habitat? Is there the intention to obtain third party ecotourism certification or accreditation? 10

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