This project was completed by Bruce Bickerstaff, Director of Meet the People Pty Ltd (MTP) in 1996. It was administered by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and funded by the Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA).

The NPWS is a public sector organisation which is responsible for the conservation and management of natural and cultural heritage in New South Wales, and for providing opportunities for community enjoyment of this heritage through the provision of appropriate recreational opportunities and visitor facilities. NPWS is the agency responsible for the administration of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, and the Wilderness Act 1987.

In June 1993 the NPWS hosted a conference for national park concession/property managers from the respective State and Federal agencies responsible for the management of protected areas. The conference group discussed the desirability and achievability of a common approach being developed across the states to concession management in national park areas, beyond the basic principles already identified in the 1986 CONCOM report.

It was felt that the priority need was in relation to activities crossing state borders, ie. tour operations. Here the development of more uniform policies, procedures and standards in relation to the management, including licensing, of commercial and "quasi-commercial" activities was seen as both desirable and achievable. It was acknowledged however that absolute uniformity was an unrealistic (and not even necessarily a desirable) expectation, it being recognised that there were bound to be differences in agency positions on certain aspects, notably the quantum of fees.

Further, it is noted that one of the objectives of the National Ecotourism Strategy published in 1993 by the Federal Department of Tourism is to "encourage the removal of anomalies between regional, State and Territory licensing and zoning regulations where these anomalies adversely affect tour operators". This project is also seen as an initial step in that direction.

The purpose of this project then was to:

  • review the licensing systems now in place in relation to commercial and other organised group tour activities within protected areas, including their strengths and weaknesses as perceived by parks agencies and tour operators

  • identify and discuss opportunities to move towards a more uniform national approach to the issue of licensing
  • Some of the specific issues being considered include the following:

  • the goals and objectives of licensing systems

  • the level and structure of charges and the method of payment

  • the relationship between park entry fees for casual users and fees and charges for tour operators

  • the relationship with existing and proposed tour operator/outdoor recreation accreditation systems

  • the relationship between licensing and risk management

  • the degree of centralisation of the approval process (ie. the division of responsibilities between head office and park offices)

  • the treatment of organised group use (other than fully commercial tour operators) in the context of operator licensing

  • the relationship between the activities undertaken by tour operators and interpretive activities undertaken by parks agencies, and the degree of involvement by parks agencies in pay-for-service interpretive activities

  • park agency involvement in the training of tour operators, eg. induction courses

  • the nature of the legislative framework in which the licensing system must operate (an area of perhaps major difference between state/territories)

  • methods of allocating use rights where controls required, and the issue of exclusive use rights

  • Brief overview of licensing systems in place at the time of this project (circa 1996)

    1. New South Wales

    2. Australian Capital Territory

    3. Victoria

    4. Tasmania

    5. South Australia

    6. Western Australia

    7. Northern Territory

    8. Queensland

    9. Australian Nature Conservation Agency

    10. Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Tourism

    11. Ecotourism Association of Australia (EAA)

    12. National Outdoor Recreation Leadership Development Program (NORLD)

    In the material which follows please note that:

    * ... means this person attended the meeting of National Park Concession/Property Managers held in Sydney in June 1993 which resolved to undertake the current project.

    # ... means this person attended the Annual Conference of the Ecotourism Association of Australia in November 1995 and was briefed concerning this project

    A workshop in relation to this project was presented at the ORCA Risk Management in the Outdoors Conference in Launceston, Tasmania on 20-22 May 1996. Copies of the conference proceedings can be obtained from the conference organisers on Ph. (002) 308 322. A number of those noted below also attended this workshop.

    New South Wales

    Project Manager: Mr Peter Cotton, Property Management Unit, National Parks and Wildlife Service. Ph 02 9585 6379 and fax 02 9585 6401

    Others consulted:

    Mr Mike Booth*, Manager Property Management Unit, NPWS, Ph 02 9585 6364 and fax 02 9585 6401
    Ms Janet McKay*, Kosciusko National Park, NPWS, Ph 064 561 730 and fax 064 562 291
    Ms Alison Ramsay*, Recreation Planner, NPWS, Ph 02 9585 6414 and fax 02 9585 6402
    Ms Gay Curtis, Business Coordinator, NPWS, Ph 02 9585 6588 and fax 02 9585 6616
    Mr Ian Brown, Blue Mountains district office, NPWS, Ph 047 878 877

    Mr Keith Baker, Tourism Development Unit, Tourism NSW. Ph 02 9931 1485 and fax 02 9931 1490

    Mr Roger Walker, Manager, Reserves and Environmental Management Section, Department of Land and Water Conservation, Ph 02 228 6403 and fax 02 228 6342

    Mr Simon Herner, State Forests of NSW, Urunga District office (Northern Region), Ph 066 55 6203 and fax 066 55 6277

    Mr Andrew Lugg, State Forests of NSW, Northern Region office, Ph 066 528 900

    Mr Richard Harvey, State Forests of NSW, Environmental Economist, Sustainable Forests Management Team, Ph 02 9980 4556 and fax 02 484 0057

    Tour operators:

    Ms Libby Small, President, Outdoor Tour Operators Association of NSW Inc (OTOA), Ph 02 555 7216, fax 02 810 4280 and email
    An item on the project was distributed to members with the Association’s newsletter, and subsequently discussed with numerous members.

    Mr Alex Carlton, Blue Mountains Adventure Tour Operators Association. Ph. 047 881 109 or 5 Somerset Street, Medlow Bath NSW 2780

    Mr Waverney Ford and Ms Wendy Ford, “Out the Back Adventures” (also involved in the Kosciusko Tour Operators Association), Ph 064 52 6276 and fax 064 52 5678

    Mr Geoff Ferris, Bus and Coach Association (NSW), Ph 02 630 8655 and fax 02 683 1465

    Papers held/comments:

    NSW has a well-established system of licensing in place, although it is recognised as having certain deficiencies including problems of coordination. As a result a discussion paper has been prepared detailing a number of possible changes to the current system. As in other states, the issue of discounted user charges is becoming a significant problem, as the number of people/groups applying for free or reduced user charges grows. Currently groups must apply in writing to the district manager who has a fair measure of discretion in this matter. Generally groups granted free or reduced access charges are not permitted to use the parks during peak times, eg. weekends or public holidays. A separate system is also currently being trialled within the Blue Mountains region.

    One of the key features of the system proposed in the discussion paper is a two-tier method of license approval which will involve:

  • registration with head office

    This will involve submitting detailed information to the Service's Head Office and meeting certain criteria such as providing proof of public liability coverage. This will involve a charge to cover the Service's administrative costs in processing the application. This registration will normally be done on a twelve month basis.

  • licensing of specific tour operations

    After being registered through the Service's head office, the operator can then lodge one or more applications to operate tours within specific park areas. The processing of these applications is undertaken within the various regions, and mainly involving the managers of the respective parks. This stage will also involve a charge, although the intention here is not only to recoup administrative costs, but where appropriate to also generate further revenue. These licenses will also normally be issued on a twelve month basis.

    The following section details the characteristics of the current state-wide licensing system:

    In reviewing each application for a "license to conduct a commercial guided tour or instructional activity" the Service considers the following:

  • NPWS park management objectives and policies for the area/s concerned and environmental constraints
  • interpretive/educational values
  • experience, qualifications and environmental awareness or operator and tour leader/guides
  • proposed safety procedures and equipment
  • public liability insurance cover (at minimum of five million dollars)
  • use of park facilities and potential conflicts with other park users/other license holders operating in the area
  • business and financial standing of applicant, and feasibility of operation
  • The current charge for a license is $400 per annum per region plus per-passenger entry fees where these apply.

    Australian Capital Territory

    Key contact/s: Brian Weir #, Manager, Nature-based Tourism Unit, ACT Parks & Conservation Service. Ph 06 207 6090, Fax 06 207 2316 and Email

    Tour operators:

    Mr Mark Phillips, Mudmaps, Ph 06 257 4796, Mobile 018 622 496, fax 06 257 4823, and email Mark is a tour operator and current President of the Canberra Region Tourism Operators Association (CRTOA).

    The views of the majority of ACT operators were also obtained during the course of undertaking an earlier project commissioned by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service. Some ACT operators are also members of OTOA (NSW) or VTOA (Vic).

    Papers held/comments:

    The is no licensing system currently in place, although a report detailing a proposed licensing system is now under consideration. Several related policy initiatives have either recently been released or are now being finalised, including a Nature-based Tourism Strategy, a Tourism Development Strategy, and an ACT Government Inquiry into Nature-based Tourism.


    Key contact/s:

    Bill Fox, Manager Tourism and Visitor Services, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Ph 03 9412 4425 and fax 03 9412 4803

    Other people consulted:

    Vivienne Clare, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Ph 050 223 005, fax 050 223 030, and Email Currently undertaking a review of the Victorian licensing system.

    Tour operators:

    Victorian Tourism Operators Association. Peter Shelley CEO, Ph 03 9654 2618 and fax 03 9650 5570. Insert on this project was placed in their November '95 newsletter.

    Papers held/comments:

    Victoria has a quite comprehensive permit system in place to manage commercial and organised group use of public lands (not just mational park areas). This is outlined in the booklet "Commercial Tour Operations" which was produced in conjunction with the Victorian Tourism Operators Association (VTOA). The booklet describes the procedure for obtaining a "Guided Leisure and Instruction Permit".

    The "commercial tour permit" application requires the following details:

  • signed indemnity formed and copy of public liability insurance coverage of at least five million dollars

  • area/s to be used and route followed

  • nature of activity including whether camping will take place, frequency of use, size of tour groups, etc
  • A permit application fee of $200 applies ($50 for renewal of an existing permit). Variations to an existing permit (routes, etc) will be charged between $50 - $200 depending on the extent of investigation involved. The subsequent park use fee is $1.00 per person per day for both day tours and overnight tours.

    Victoria has a system of demerit points for those holding permits which provides a means of censuring operators without resorting to immediate cancellation of permits.

    A major review of the Victorian system is now underway.


    Key contact/s:

    Carole McCourtie, A/g Senior Concessions Officer, Tasmanian Property Services Group/Department of Environment and Land Management. Ph 002 33 2115 or Fax 002 33 6655.

    Other people consulted:

    Bob Tyson #, Director Land Management, Parks and Wildlife Service/Department of Environment and Land Management. Ph 002 33 2625 or Fax 002 23 8308.
    Lynne Dean, Program Manager, Conservation & Community Services, Forestry Tasmania. Phone 002 33 8154, Fax 002 23 8280, and Email
    David Taylor #, Conservation & Community Services, Forestry Tasmania. Phone 002 33 8167 or Fax 002 23 8280 & Email

    Tour operators:

    Mr John Mitchell, President, Independent Tourism Operators of Tasmania Pty Ltd. Fax (003) 281 441. John Coulson, Secretary, Ph 003 281 237 and fax 003 281 441. An insert on the project was distributed to members with their newsletter.

    Mr John Boden, Secretary, Tasmanian Licensed Guiding Operators Association, Ph 004 269 312 and fax 004 269 350

    Papers held/comments:

    Have well-established licensing system which involves coordination with other land management agencies

    The Tasmanian tour operators licensing system features a $50 application fee ($150 for lease applications), with licenses being granted for a period of twelve months. Licenses normally feature a trial period of 6-12 months, during which time the operators are subject to closer scrutiny. Licenses can be extended by written application, subject to satisfactory performance (a further application fee is not normally required). The license fee for bushwalking operations is $1.50 per head per day, or $3 per head per day for overnight stays.

    Larger operations and concessions pay on the basis of a percentage of gross turnover. This may be calculated on a sliding scale, with the percentage claimed increasing (eg. from 2% to 3%) as turnover reaches certain thresholds. Public liability insurance coverage of at least five million dollars is required.

    The national parks and forestry agencies are currently working towards the adoption of a single integrated licensing system for the use of all public lands.

    South Australia

    Key contact/s:

    Jim Knight #, Manager Business Services, Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Ph 08 204 9266 and fax 08 204 9160

    Charles Moore, Manager Community Services, Department of Primary Industries. Ph 08 303 9955 and fax 08 303 9999

    Other people consulted:

    Jeff Dermann, Tourism South Australia. Ph 08 303 2379 and Fax 08 303 2296.

    Tour operators:

    Craig Wickham, Adventure Charters of Kangaroo Island. Ph 08 482 9119 and Fax 08 482 9122. Fact sheet distributed at a tour operators training course at Arkaroola (via Wayne Emery, Tourism SA) - 4/12/95

    Papers held/comments:

    The Parks and Wildlife Service has a licensing system in place although this is currently under review with proposed reforms being discussed with park users and subject to subsequent Executive endorsement. The currently system involves use of a Commercial Users Agreement form for individuals or organisations proposing to undertake activities of a commercial nature within the State's reserve system.

    Current fees for commercial agreements vary according to the market and type of business (generally 10% of the audited gross receipts are sought).

    A scale of annual fees in relation to a proposed Commercial Operators License is currently being finalised. It is likely that there will be an administration fee of $50, and up to $2 per person user fees depending on the number of passengers, as shown below. In the case of static operations, eg. vending vans, charges will continue to be based on a percentage of gross audited receipts.

    The proposed fee structure (subject to Executive endorsement) is as follows:

    1 - 7 paying passengers - $50
    8 - 15 paying passengers - $100
    16 - 25 paying passengers - $150
    26 - 45 paying passengers - $300

    ... plus the entry fee and/or camping fee where applicable, OR $2 per paying passenger per day

    In 1994 South Australia produced the document "Ecotourism - A Natural Strategy for South Australia".

    Western Australia

    Key contact/s:

    Colin Ingram, A/g Manager Parks Policy & Tourism, Department of Conservation and Land Management. Ph 09 334 0576 and Fax 09 334 0466

    Other people consulted:

    Gil Field #, Senior Interpretation Officer. Ph 09 334 0580 and Fax 09 334 0583. Project information forwarded
    Allen Grosse. Fax 091 93 5027. Kimberley region
    Mark Pittavino/Russell Gueho. Ph 091 680 200 or Fax 091 682 179. Kimberley region

    Eugene Stankevicius #, Planning Manager, Western Australian Tourism Commission. Ph 09 220 1700 and Fax 09 220 1735

    Tour operators:

    No state-wide tour operators association in place. Other related bodies to which project information was forwarded were:

    Tourism Council Australia (WA) Noel Semmens, President, on Ph 09 365 7688 and Fax 09 365 7558
    Country Tourism Association, Ray Bird, Secretary, on Ph 09 324 1696 and Fax 09 324 1690
    Bus and Coach Association of WA (Inc), Julie Piggott, Executive Director, on Ph 09 325 6077 and Fax 09 324 1417

    Papers held/comments:

    A license is required for any commercial activity on lands and waters managed by CALM. "The issuing of licenses enables CALM to monitor access and use of lands under its control and to ensure that the conservation values of these areas are maintained".

    CALM issues two types of licenses:

    Class 'E' license - Generally used where there is limited access to an area for an activity resulting in a limited number of licenses or even an exclusive license. This would normally involve first calling for 'expressions of interest'. The license is valid for one or more years, depending on the nature of the activity, the amount of capital investment involved, and the impact on the environment.

    Class 'E' license fees are generally a percentage of gross turnover, and are substantially higher then Class 'T' fees to reflect the commercial advantage that is afforded to license holders due to the restricted number of licenses issued.

    Class 'T' license - This is the most common license, and is used for example in the case guided tours, instructional courses, or leisure activities which are open to many operators. The license is valid for one year and costs $250.

    Both types of licensees must meet the requirement of other government agencies, especially in relation to the operations of boats and vehicles. They must also pay applicable park entry fees, and must hold public liability insurance of at least five million dollars. License application costs a non-refundable fee of $50. License fees are reviewed annually. Licenses are not transferable.

    One license application only is required regardless of how many areas of the state are visited. Flexibility can be built into the agreement where operators do not want to tie themselves into a specific timetable. License fee includes subscription to departmental journal.

    Failure to be licensed to sell goods or services carries a penalty of $2,000. Licenses can be cancelled or suspended for non-compliance with license conditions.

    Released a draft Nature-based Tourism Strategy in late 1995

    Northern Territory - See also under ANCA

    Key contact/s:

    Peter Egan #, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. Ph 08 8999 4419 and fax 08 8999 4510

    Tour operators:

    No territory-wide tour operators association in place, but regional associations do exist for eg. Central Australian Tourism Industry Association on Ph 08 8952 5800 and Fax 08 8953 0295. Project fact sheets were distributed to all delegates at the Annual Conference of the Ecotourism Association of Australia held in Alice Springs November 1995.
    A fact sheet was also forwarded to Simon Kay, AAT Kings Manager at Uluru, Fax (08) 8956 2145

    Papers held/comments:

    Currently the Commission only requires permits for park-based concessions. Tour operations to parks are not licensed, except in the case of parks where specific entry restrictions apply, or for high risk activities. Certain amendments to the existing system are currently being finalised.


    Key contact/s:

    Peter Ogilvie*, Manager - Park Management, Department of Environment and Heritage. Ph 07 3227 7707 and Fax 07 3227 7676. Jon Walsh, Senior Administration Officer. Ph 07 3227 7769

    Other people consulted:

    Faye Smith #, Principal Tourism Policy Officer, Department of Tourism Sport & Youth. Ph. 07 3237 9848 or Fax 07 3235 4023
    Mike van der Zee, Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Ph 077 818 851 or Fax 077 726 093
    Terry Harper #, Planning Officer, Wet Tropics Management Authority. Ph. 070 520 555 or Fax 070 311 364
    David Morgans, Brisbane Forest Park. Ph 07 3300 4855 and Fax 07 3300 5347.

    Tour operators:

    No state-wide tour operators association in place (a far north region association exists)
    Andrew Steele, Coral Sea Kayaking, Ph (070) 317 766 bh or (070) 316 877 ah & fax (070) 314 777

    Papers held/comments:

    Licensing occurs in the context of the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Have recently released a draft state Ecotourism Plan. Licensing co-ordinated with Forestry agency.

    An application for a "commercial activity permit" requires the following details:

  • nature of proposed activities including vehicle registration numbers, equipment used, etc

  • experience and qualifications of those involved

  • areas visited, number of clients, routes followed and frequency of visits

  • details of likely public benefit of proposed activity

  • proof of compliance with relevant transport regulations, eg. coach, boat or plane

  • proof of public liability insurance coverage (not less than two million dollars) and safety procedures in place

  • copies of existing/proposed advertising material

  • proposed management of waste materials
  • Licensed operators are required to maintain a special "record book" in which they must detail their use of park areas, noting dates, vehicle registration numbers, number of passengers carried, and activities undertaken. Each month a copy of these details must be submitted to the Parks Service and appropriate payment rendered. Random checks are used to enforce this system.

    Permit applicants must pay a $100 non-refundable application fee. Successful applicants are required to sign a legal "deed of agreement" and pay a negotiated permit fee (usually $100). Permits are normally valid for one year, although this is can be varied where considered appropriate. Where a "one-off" event is involved, then a temporary permit can be issued (usually a $20 fee).

    In addition to the application fee and permit fee, operators must also pay a charge for each passenger carried. This charge depends on the duration of the activity and whether or not it involves camping. These fees are $1.15 per passenger (less than three hours), $2.30 per passenger (more than three hours), and $2 per passenger for camping. School students on school excursions pay only a $1 per person camping fee.

    Permits may be suspended or cancelled if conditions are not complied with. Separate permits are required to use national parks, recreation management areas, and state forests, although applications may be lodged at the one office.

    Although the definition provided for "commercial activity" is quite broad, specific exclusion is provided for non-profit organisations. This has caused the most problems in terms of managing the permit system, with many ostensibly non-profit groups levying payments from their passengers, but not contributing towards park maintenance.


    Australian Nature Conservation Agency

    Those consulted were:

    Ms Hilary Sullivan, Ph 06 250 0350 or email

    Ken White# is Assistant Director - Policy. Ph 06 250 0347 and fax 06 250 0756. Email

    Ms Georgianna Fien*, Kakadu National Park, Ph 08 8938 1107 and fax 08 8938 1115

    Ms Valerie Costarelli is the Permits Officer in the Darwin Office. Ph 089 815299 and fax 089 813497

    Mr Graeme Marshall* is the Programs Director for ANCA in the Darwin office (same contact numbers as above)

    Mr Julian Barry, Park Manager, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Ph 089 562 699 (or 089 562 299) and fax 089 562 064

    Ms Heather Moorcroft, Planner Officer, Kakadu National Park. Ph 089 381 170 and fax 089 381 115

    Papers held/comments:

    Commercial tour operators are permitted to take tours into parks subject to a conditional annual permit which costs $50. Filming permits cost $250 per day plus additional costs should staff/guides be required, and a photography fee of $30 applies. Conditions apply and are stringently monitored.

    Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Tourism

    Jill Grant, A/g Director, Nature Based & Indigenous Tourism, Tourism Division. Ph 06 279 7234 and fax 06 279 7178

    The Dept is not directly involved in tour operator licensing but has an interest in the issue thorugh related policy development. The Dept released its National Ecotourism Strategy in 1994, and has been closely involved in recent moves to establish a national accreditation system for ecotour operators.

    Ecotourism Association of Australia (EAA)

    Mr Ian Blevin, Trek Gondwana. Ph (089) 528 248 and fax (089) 528 247
    A fact sheet for this project was also distributed at the EAA annual conference in Alice Springs in November 1995.

    National Outdoor Recreation Leadership Development Program (NORLD)

    Mr Stuart Lennox, National Outdoor Recreation Leadership Development Secretariat (NORLD), Department of Sport and Recreation. Ph 002 30 8154, fax 002 30 8355, and email
    A paper on this project was presented at the ORCA conference held in Launceston in May 1996.

    Note that NORLD has now been absorbed within the recently formed (non-government) organisation known as the Outdoor Recreation Council of Australia (ORCA). The contact details for the new national office of ORCA are Ph 02 9923 4275 and Fax 02 9923 4237

    The final report was submitted to the NSW NPWS in early February 1997. Requests for copies of the final report should be directed to the head office of either ANCA or the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

  • The author of this report, Bruce Bickerstaff, can be contacted at bruceb_is@lycos dot com

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