In our continuing series on ecotourism. Donald Greig discovers that despite the space. Australia is as prone to ecological destruction as the rest of us— Green initiatives, however, are starting to take effect.

A recent survey by the Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) revealed that Australia‘s ‘0an spaces. natural environment and unique (Australian) experience‘ are considered its greatest assets by a majority ofthe country's two million international annual tourists. But in an outdoor playground which boasts national parks the size of England. and a marine park l()()()km long. how safe are the attractions which lure people from the other side of the world. and what protection do they enjoy from the rigours of the often intrusive finger of tourism?

lt‘s tempting to think of Australia as an ecotourist‘s paradise: plenty of open space. a population density which would turn many nations green with envy. a range of ecosystems diverse enough to keep David Bellamy occupied for a

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Honey- pots and the muesli set

lifetime. and an indigenous culture which is one of the planet‘s oldest. In terms of the economy. tourism revenue is not the vital. financial lifebelt it is to developing countries (although the collapse of the tourism ' industry— which is the country’s second largest export earner after wool would undoubtedly leave a hole in the nation‘s finances far too large to be filled by a few extra sheep).

ironically. the forces which have shaped the Australia of today are those which could destroy it tomorrow. A relatively short history. coupled with rapid development in an area roughly the size of Western Europe. has led to pockets of land becoming the focus of attention. while vast tracts of wilderness have remained largely undisturbed. Although this may seem like a healthy situation. it is nonetheless a precarious one. since what has been created is a series of ‘honey-pot‘ attractions. ldle rambling between villages and towns isn‘t an option here. the distances are too great and time too scarce. and. for the majority. holidays have to be planned in advance so as to make the most of the time and money available.

Given the current trends for

travellers to seek more out-of~

the-way places. but within the standard holiday time-limit. this could easily become worse instead of better. As one honey-pot fills. so the overspill seeks an alternative. thus creating a new honey-pot elsewhere. which in turn will also become saturated. The problem has been exacerbated in the past by organisations such as the ATC. which readily admits that over-exposure of the country‘s main tourist attractions as marketing tools has created stereotypical pictures and expectations. and increased the pressure on some of the country's most popular areas.

Syndey’s famous Bondi Beach. for instance. is suffering from increased pollution levels (including human faeees). and more tourists are turning their attention to the already over-developed. and in places. insensitively-developed Gold Coast around Brisbane. Further north. as the Barrier Reef becomes more crowded. legitimate tour operators become tempted to stray out of the officially designated areas. while rogue operators. cashing in on the increased demand. offer exorbitantly-priced trips to off-limits parts ofthe reef. inevitably paying scant regard to the coral. which can be destroyed simply by stepping on it.

Unlike the Spanish Costas. which have gone past the point of no return. Australia is in a position to develop a sustainable tourist industry run on policies and principles compatible wth the surrounding physical. cultural and financial environment. While the Costas can only hope to come to grips with the plague which has beset them and find ways of modifying the

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H-Aym Book: one of the sight: that help: lura two million tourists to Australia ovary year

existing development. Australia has more than enough space in which to expand its tourism industry.

The Antipodean outdoors has frequently been at the centre of controversies between conservationists and developers. These days. the ‘muesli set‘ so called by Aussie sceptics has found support on both a national level in the government and in organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society -— and on an international level in organisations like the World Wildlife Fund. Greenpeace and Friends ofthe Earth. According to the ATC. ‘There are now more than 1000 environmental groups throughout Australia. with a total membership of about 250.000.‘

The tourism industry has not been idle either. and is facing up to its responsibilities with an encouraging strength ofcommitment. The Australian Tourism Industry Association. which represents domestic tourism operators. has drawn up an Environmental Code of Practice for its members. while local tourist authorities in all six of Australia‘s mainland states have either established their own ecotourism guidelines or work closely with environmental organisations.

So. ifyou're planning to visit Australia. put the industry to the test and see if it‘s as sincere as it claims. Ask about sustainable alternatives to the standard tourist trail and probe as deep as necessary to find out what options are available to the ‘green‘ tourist. Try to visit and support ecotourism initiatives. such as Shark Bay. in Western Australia. where dolphins can be seen in their natural

72 The List l7-3()July 1992