Coronavirus crisis a ‘heaven-sent opportunity’ to reset national park tourism, advocates say

May 18th, 2020 | | backpacker

As a national parks advocate, Nick Sawyer has been more frustrated than most by the coronavirus-crisis park closures, but he’s seeing them as a chance to rethink tourism.

Key points:

  • There are calls for a more sustainable use of reopening National Parks with less overcrowding rather than new infrastructure
  • Sustainability is seen as an important factor, with an industry less reliance on cruise ships and planes
  • Family and friends visiting each other will be the first wave of tourism recovery as the mode, price and destination of travel changes

Mr Sawyer, president of Tasmania’s National Parks Association, has witnessed the boom in the state’s industry in recent years, as its natural wonders like Cradle Mountain and Wineglass Bay draw tourists from the mainland and around the globe.

He thinks the pandemic shutdown of Australia’s parks and the devastation of the tourism industry should be seized as an opportunity to look outside the box as we rebuild. “This is a heaven-sent opportunity to rethink the whole approach,” he said.

For Mr Sawyer, better ways of managing the return of tourists and eventually their booming numbers won’t necessarily mean more infrastructure, like dedicated walkways, viewing platforms and handrails.

“For example, the very popular Wineglass Bay lookout [in Tasmania] is becoming too crowded, so the response [has been to consider building] a second lookout nearby,” he said.

“You don’t need a second lookout.

“You could try and space the tourists more evenly over the course of the day, thereby avoiding the worst of the crowding and giving them a much better experience.”

Tourists take photos from the Wineglass Bay lookout
One suggestion is that tourist numbers at popular places like Wineglass Bay in Tasmania should be regulated rather than new viewing points opened.(ABC News: David Hudspeth)

He points to shuttle bus systems as an example of a way visitor numbers could be managed at Wineglass Bay, to “avoid having to expand the car park, yet again”.

Mr Sawyer is among a growing number of voices suggesting the reopening of national parks across Australia presents an opportunity for a reset in the way Australia’s natural wonders are managed.

Nicholas Sawyer in front of mountain.
Nick Sawyer says the re-opening of parks is an opportunity to be more sustainable.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said the reopening of parks would ignite people’s interest in new ways of travelling.

“There has been a rising interest in sustainability, and making sure you leave a light footprint when you travel,” she said.

“We think this is going to accelerate people’s desire to travel more sustainably.”

University of Queensland Associate Professor Judith Mair said the pandemic had highlighted a myriad of ways Australia’s tourism industry could be more sustainable, and not just when it came to tackling overcrowding.

“It might be putting too much reliance on one sole market, it might be relying too much on cruise tourists, it might be involving the local community in decision-making,” she said.

“There are a lot of ways in which tourism could come back better than it was before.”

Tasmanian wildlife park operator Gena Cantwell said a financially sustainable attraction was now front-of-mind.

Her park relied on the 40 cruise ships that were visiting Tasmania’s north-west each year before an outbreak of coronavirus at the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie forced the strictest lock-down measures in the country.

Ms Cantwell said she was forced to stand down some staff, and look for ways to retain keepers and feed animals.

“It was horrible. It was probably one of the hardest days that we had to deal with here,” she said.

“It will always be in the back of our minds about how something like this can affect us so broadly.

“It was surprising how quickly a virus can bring everything unstuck.”

Woman cuddling an animal.
Gena Cantwell from Wing’s Wildlife Park in Tasmania’s north-west relied on the cruise ship industry before the corona outbreak.(ABC News: Alison Branley)

After lockdown ends she said she would look to the local market, and locals’ relatives, to help reopen the operation, but could not envision staff numbers increasing for some time.

“I don’t imagine that the international tourists or even the mainland tourists are going to come in any hurry,” she said.

“They’re going to be a little bit scared, so we’re just going to have to look and focus on what we can do for our local market and our staff. “I think our tourism bodies are going to have to do a fair bit of damage control.”

Tourism Australia said it was on the case, but the price, destination and mode of tourism travel would change.

“We really are looking to our domestic market to get our industry back on their feet again,” Ms Harrison said.

“We probably will see for a little while people wanting to control their own environment a little more, so we do expect to see people staying a little closer to home and taking their own transport.”

That might mean people using hire cars over planes and buses, or choosing short-stay accommodation over hotels and buffet breakfasts.

“This is a new normal for tourist operators,” she said.

“They are going to have to work out how they can run their businesses economically and work out how they make money with the new regulations around social distancing.”

ED: There are plenty of operators in the youth and adventure sector who use/rely on National Parks for their business. Anyone care to comment on the article?

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow