Business News

On Kangaroo Island and elsewhere, beware the lure of the luxury ecotourist

  • Written by Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

Kangaroo Island, less than 130 kilometres from Adelaide, is one of Australia’s ecological jewels. Tourism Australia describes it as a “pristine wilderness[1]”, with cliffs, beaches, wetlands and dense bushland offering protection to native animals such as penguins, sea lions, pelicans, koalas and, of course, kangaroos.

image Kangaroo Island. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA[2][3]

It is a place “too good to spoil[4]”.

Many who agree fear that new developments will do exactly that. With the state government’s approval, a tourism company wants to build two luxury tourist villages at unspoilt locations on the island’s west coast, within the protected area of the Flinders Chase National Park, the state’s second-oldest national park.

Park volunteers have gone on strike[5] in opposition. Hundreds have rallied before South Australia’s parliament[6] in support of “public parks, not private playgrounds[7]”.

The issue is not unique to Kangaroo Island. Around Australia, and the world, national parks are under threat from the curious paradox of luxury tourism, which demands development in protected wilderness areas to cater for those who want to enjoy the natural environment without any interruption of their lifestyle.

Read more: Earth’s wilderness is vanishing, and just a handful of nations can save it[8]

Death by a thousand cuts

My research has involved studying past development controversies on Kangaroo Island. One is Southern Ocean Lodge[9], a six-star ecolodge near Flinders Chase developed in the mid-2000s. Another is the Kangaroo Island Surf Music Festival[10], held in 2011 at Vivonne Bay, on the island’s south coast.

image Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Southern Ocean Lodge/AAP

Both cases illuminate the process by which parks authorities are pressured to support commercial tourism enterprises in their protected areas.

Park authorities never have enough funding to pay for conservation. Tourism authorities motivated by growth indicators seek to attract high-yield tourists[11]. Luxury ecotourism is a lucrative niche. As budgets for the environment are cut, the financial incentives dangled by tourism authorities become irresistible.

It is presented as a win-win collaboration. Any single venture can be justified on the grounds that the immediate benefits outweigh the costs. But each development becomes a precedent to allow future incursions, resulting in “death by a thousand cuts”.

Elsewhere in Australia

South Australian authorities are hardly alone in accepting this faustian bargain.

In Tasmania, the federal and state governments are backing plans for a tourism development[12] on an island in the middle of Lake Malbena in the central highlands. The lake is within the Walls of Jerusalem National Park[13], part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The plan reportedly involves building three luxury huts and a helipad so six people at a time can fly in for three-night getaways at a cost of about A$4,500 each[14].

Read more: Green light for Tasmanian wilderness tourism development defied expert advice[15]

In Queensland, the state government has plans to offer 60-year leases[16] to commercial tourism operators in three national parks (the Whitsunday Islands National Park, the Great Sandy National Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park). The operators will be allowed to build “eco-lodges” and offer “commercial experiences”.

An insight into what those experiences might involve is provided by The Weekend Australian Magazine, (whose readers have an average income of A$116,495[17]).

The article “Walk this way: adventures in the great outdoors[18]” (published 2-3 March 2019) talks of “fully supported walking experiences” with “luxury accommodations” and “premium food and wines” costing thousands of dollars, and in some cases using helicopters to access remote park sites.

Australian Walking Company

One company keen to snare the Queensland leases is the developer of the Kangaroo Island luxury tourism plan, Australian Walking Company. A director and significant shareholder in the company is Brett Godfrey, the former chief executive of Virgin Australia who is now chairman of Tourism Queensland.

image All that glitters: Brett Godfrey strikes a pose to promote Virgin’s Australian operation in 2007. Virgin Australia

Godfrey has addressed his potential conflict of interest[19] by taking advice from the office of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner[20].

Nonetheless, his dual interests give an insight into the problematic nature of governments and tourism bureaucracies supporting luxury ecotourism developments in conservation areas; particularly when (as former Queensland minister for national parks Steve Dickson said in 2013), they are “looking to make money[21]”.

Private versus public interest

The business strategy of unlocking national parks for luxury eco-tourism development risks undermining the very point of creating such parks in the first place. It pits the private interests of the wealthy against the public interest in environmental and local benefits.

It places no value on the conservation work of “friends of parks” groups, which support these parks primarily as places for conservation[22] and secondly as publicly funded places to enjoy, learn about and connect to nature.

Catering to the luxury eco-tourist is at odds with the “wild” and undeveloped nature that conservationists and local park lovers want. You can’t get away from it all and take it all with you.

Advocates can argue that luxury eco-tourism is more sustainable because it offers high economic yield with fewer numbers. But take that argument to its logical extreme and we’ll end up with situations like that in Indonesia.

Komodo lessons

The governor of the province that includes Komodo National Park, the island home of komodo dragons, wants to increase the park’s entrance fee by 5,000%, from about US$10 to US$500. It would certainly reduce tourist numbers, but also effectively make the park off-limits to most Indonesians.

The governor, Victor Laidkodat, is apparently fine with that. “This is a rare place, only for people with money,” he has reportedly said[23]. “Those who don’t have enough money shouldn’t come because this place is for extraordinary people.”

Read more: A green and happy holiday? You can have it all[24]

This is certainly not what we want for our own national parks, turning them into private playgrounds for the privileged few.

This year is the centenary of Kangaroo Island’s Flinders Chase National Park. It’s a good time to look back and appreciate the vision that led to its establishment in 1919, and to look critically at what our vision is for the next 100 years.


  1. ^ pristine wilderness (www.tourkangarooisland.com.au)
  2. ^ Wikimedia (commons.wikimedia.org)
  3. ^ CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org)
  4. ^ too good to spoil (www.tourkangarooisland.com.au)
  5. ^ have gone on strike (www.theislanderonline.com.au)
  6. ^ before South Australia’s parliament (www.adelaidenow.com.au)
  7. ^ public parks, not private playgrounds (www.bushlandconservation.org.au)
  8. ^ Earth’s wilderness is vanishing, and just a handful of nations can save it (theconversation.com)
  9. ^ Southern Ocean Lodge (www.tandfonline.com)
  10. ^ Kangaroo Island Surf Music Festival (www.sciencedirect.com)
  11. ^ high-yield tourists (tourism.sa.gov.au)
  12. ^ tourism development (www.abc.net.au)
  13. ^ Walls of Jerusalem National Park (www.parks.tas.gov.au)
  14. ^ about A$4,500 each (www.examiner.com.au)
  15. ^ Green light for Tasmanian wilderness tourism development defied expert advice (theconversation.com)
  16. ^ offer 60-year leases (www.abc.net.au)
  17. ^ average income of A$116,495 (www.newscorpaustralia.com)
  18. ^ Walk this way: adventures in the great outdoors (www.theaustralian.com.au)
  19. ^ potential conflict of interest (www.abc.net.au)
  20. ^ Queensland Integrity Commissioner (www.integrity.qld.gov.au)
  21. ^ looking to make money (www.couriermail.com.au)
  22. ^ places for conservation (www.abc.net.au)
  23. ^ reportedly said (www.dw.com)
  24. ^ A green and happy holiday? You can have it all (theconversation.com)

Authors: Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

Read more http://theconversation.com/on-kangaroo-island-and-elsewhere-beware-the-lure-of-the-luxury-ecotourist-113044

Business Daily Media Business Development

Food you need to try in Beijing

Beijing is a beautiful and interesting destination for any kind of traveler. However, foodies will find a new heaven and will be able to try out tasty, flavorful and sometimes very special...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Best Budget-Friendly Attractions in Las Vegas

Perhaps no other city in the world deserves the moniker “Sin City” more than Las Vegas. This city has been illustrated in countless works of art as the place where dreams are made, lives a...

News Company - avatar News Company

Bahrain Property Show 2018: How does it reflect the real estate market development in Bahrain

It is no secret that the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are currently going through a lot of pivotal changes. Such changes do not include economic or po...

News Company - avatar News Company

Di Jones real estate recognises high achievers

Di Jones celebrated its outstanding performers on Saturday (24 February 2018) evening at the Di Jones Real Estate Annual Awards.                               The black-tie Gala Dinner s...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull

Five Reasons Melbourne Rules

If you are traveling in Australia and have left Melbourne off your destination list, then you are going to want to reconsider. Many people consider Melbourne to the best city in the world...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Making Friends During Your Campsite Stay

Part of the excitement of vacation is meeting people who you would never otherwise encounter. Staying at a campsite isn’t just about taking in nature. It’s also about sharing the beauty of n...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Business Daily Media Business Reports

Di Jones real estate recognises high achievers

Di Jones celebrated its outstanding performers on Saturday (24 February 2018) evening at the Di Jones Real Estate Annual Awards.                               The bla...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull

Eclipse Travel Expands Operations to New Zealand

Eclipse Travel, specialists in key adventure destinations such as Antarctica, the Arctic, Africa and Latin America, have announced today their expansion of operations to ...

Yvonne Kong - avatar Yvonne Kong

How medical professionals can benefit from an overall wealth management solution

As a health care professional, you have made it your life's work to focus on the care and health of the general public. While this kind of work can be extremely rewarding...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Why Pinterest Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Pinterest is a growing social media platform that can deliver significant traffic to your website and new followers to your brand. With it’s steady growth and outrageous ...

Greg Nunan - avatar Greg Nunan

The top reasons why gyms fail

Steve Grant is a Business Coach and Founder of GymHub.com.au   Every month thousands of new trainers walk out of their 6-month course with the qualifications needed ...

Steve Grant - avatar Steve Grant

WHITE LABEL NOBA’s Winter 2016 season: Earth + Country

Taking cues from the warm winter colours of tobacco and caramel, and combining them with the strength of navy and the embracing lightness of whites and creams; and then...

Kath Rose - avatar Kath Rose

Former Etihad boss brings substantial event insight to PMY Group Board

Paul Sergeant PMY Group, the architects of the digital insurgency occurring at major venues across Australia and New Zealand, are delighted to welcome 35 year even...

Annie Konieczny - avatar Annie Konieczny

More training for coffee making than property sales: REINSW

Sydney 9 May 2016. An overhaul of education and training standards for the real estate profession must take place to help prevent illegal activities, according to the Rea...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull