Nature key to tourism plan

Warren HatelyBusselton Dunsborough Times
The new nature-based tourism strategy will further harness the region’s natural attractions.
Camera IconThe new nature-based tourism strategy will further harness the region’s natural attractions.

The region’s tourism association says mounting pressure on the local environment calls for a proactive approach from all agencies and community groups.

Last week’s release of the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association’s nature-based tourism strategy follows long-running calls from residents and some operators for the association to focus on marketing the region’s natural attractions instead of historic “gimmicky” promotions.

Critics say the new strategy’s aim to increase visitor numbers and their spending puts the MRBTA at odds with the strategy’s third goal — preserving the region’s drawcard natural environment.

The strategy offers light detail about specific outcomes, and critics have also questioned whether a private member organisation should take on board such a custodial role.

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But MRBTA chief executive Pip Close said possibilities flowing from the strategy would help the tourism group focus on real outcomes and not just marketing the region’s assets.

“The nature-based tourism strategy highlights a number of opportunities that MRBTA is excited about investigating with its partners,” she told the Times.

Options include seeking eco-accreditation for MRBTA operators and sites, developing a local botanic garden, seeking UNESCO world heritage status, and developing “voluntourism” products and “a voluntary visitor payback scheme”.

The MRBTA also indicated it would tender for the former public campground at Contos and the newly created Jarrahdene site developed by Department of Parks and Wildlife at a cost to taxpayers of $3.6 million.

“This is a starting point and not intended to be an exhaustive or definitive list of all the initiatives that might be pursued under the strategy,” Ms Close said.

“We very much see opportunities unfolding as we work alongside our partners to meet the strategy’s objectives. Education and awareness is at the heart of the strategy and many of the proposed initiatives because engendering action will be very difficult without a solid understanding of why our environment is so special.”

Veteran biodiversity worker Rick Ensley and members of the Margaret River Regional Environment Centre who were not consulted in forming the strategy said protecting the environment — made harder by more visitors — was often at odds with increasing revenue.

Mr Ensley outlined his views in a letter to the Times (see Page 8) while MRREC’s Tracey Skippings said conservationists were impressed to see the MRBTA identify the importance of the environment as not just “a greenie issue”.

However, MRREC was surprised the association had not attended regular Shire-led community reference group meetings on the environment, while identifying the environment third on the list beneath increasing visitation and spending also irked the group.

“Surely the third goal should be placed first, front and centre, if the other two are to be attained or pursued?” Ms Skippings said.

“MRBTA have done well in developing this strategy and it has some sound goals and methods to improve our preservation ideals.”

MRREC hoped active environment groups would be remembered in the focus on partnerships and that the identified “conservation outcomes” would be elevated in the strategy, and also be measurable.

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