Forest tourism push

The State Government confirmed last week it would reform current policies to entice investment in the state’s national parks, following recommendations made by the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission into Victoria’s tourism industry.
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Treasurer Kim Wells said the move would bring Victoria into line with every other state in Australia, as well as New Zealand, which already allowed development in national parks.

“If we hope to attract more international visitors to Victoria, particularly from markets such as China, we must meet the rapidly growing demand for nature-based tourism,” he said.

Tourism Minister Louise Asher said that Victoria was competing with other states, the Northern Territory and New Zealand to gain market share in the lucrative eco-tourism sector, and needed to improve its offering to travellers to induce them to stay longer in regional Victoria.

“The independent Tourism Forecasting Committee predicts that by 2020, Victoria will receive approximately 500,000 Chinese overnight visitors – almost double the current level and expenditure is forecasted to reach $1.5 billion,” Ms Asher said.

“These changes announced will capitalise on this, grow the tourism sector and improve access to Victoria’s world-class natural assets.”

Any investment proposals would be subject to tight environmental controls and approval from the Environment Minister.

“The Coalition Government will develop guidelines on the approval process and standard terms and conditions for a lease in a national park,” Mr Wells said.

“The Minister will also be able to grant up to 99 year leases in national parks to provide greater certainty for investors to help encourage investments which enhance visitor experience.

“Lease conditions will ensure that proposals are consistent with the principles of ecological sustainable development and include conditions necessary to manage any environmental risks.”

Gannawarra Mayor, Cr Max Fehring said the shire would be open to any discussions regarding projects within the forest, but believes more needs to be done to the facilities within the park.

These include road entrances to the park – which is part of the largest inland island in the southern hemisphere – and track signage, as well as amenities.

Another issue that concerns Cr Fehring is the lack of an agreement outlining which organisation is responsible for the collection of rubbish within the forest following peak camping periods, such as summer and Easter holidays.

“The shire has not received any requests at this stage, but I would like to see an investment in infrastructure within the park first,” Cr Fehring said.

The Victorian National Parks Association has criticised the legislative changes, describing the proposal as “misguided and dangerous”.

“The primary role of national parks is the conservation of nature on behalf of all Victorians. Our parks were not created to end up as building sites for hotels and large-scale infrastructure that can only be used by a privileged few who can afford it,” VNPA executive director Matt Ruchel said.

“There is ample opportunity for tourism infrastructure adjacent to parks, where financially rewarding private developments can take place without impacting on the core conservation values of parks.

“There is a danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. People visit national parks for experiences they can’t get elsewhere – they want the opportunity to see the natural world at its best, not hotels and a shopping mall.”

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Posted by at 21/05/2019
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