Across the top end we have the awe inspiring gorges of the Kimberley, world heritage sites like the Great Barrier Reef, and vibrant cosmopolitan gateway cities like Darwin.
Inevitably special places get special attention in the form of tourism – and in an increasingly prosperous and populous world the pressure on these unique areas will only increase.
Tourism can bring development, jobs, prosperity and healthy cultural diversity, but it’s not the only thing left behind as tourist seasons draw to a close.
Across Northern Australia the end of the tourist season leaves communities burdened by pockets of rubbish, a by-product of an industry that trades on the natural beauty it’s partially responsible for defiling.
So how do we combat this? Where does responsibility lie in keeping our environment pristine for future visitors, locals and future generations?
Inevitably it has to be the collective responsibility of tourists, the businesses that profit from them, local government and local communities.
Behavioural change can come from many sources, but education, incentive and example is a powerful combination – something that’s been clearly demonstrated by the success of Clean Up Australia Day over the last twenty years.
When Clean Up started in 1989 the phrase ‘sustainable tourism barely existed but we now have more and more tourism operators waking up to their responsibilities – it’s a trend we wholeheartedly encourage.
However, we should be working towards the day when ‘sustainable tourism’ is a redundant expression – where it’s taken for granted that the tourism industry follows a sustainable code of practice.
What role can government play? Following the Northern Territory and South Australia’s lead in putting a commercial value and incentive on recycling with a beverage container scheme would be a good start.
Banning plastic bags would be another positive move, not to mention investing in the latest and smartest recycling and waste management resources.
What role do local communities have to play? With the establishment of the Great Northern Clean Up a chance is created for communities to seek out those pockets of rubbish and give the local environment a spring clean.
It’s basic psychology that people are far less likely to drop litter if the environment is already well maintained. If Northern Australian communities take care of their environment – the chances are that tourists will also show it more respect.
I don’t pretend to know all the issues or the answers to sustainability challenges in the tourism industry; what I do know is things are starting to change and there’s a wealth of energy, will and talent out there to take things to the next level.
Do you think we’re doing enough to protect our environment from the impact of tourism? If not, what do you think are the main sustainability challenges that face the tourism industry? And how do you think we can go about solving them?
Ian Kiernan AO
Anyone can register a Clean Up site or volunteer for the Great Northern Clean Up by visiting www.cleanup.org.au or by calling 1800 CUA DAY (1800 282 329). The cut off point for registration is August 29 2010.