Ideas for a brighter future for all

Queensland’s top five ecotourism destinations

Post-lockdown data and trends

It’s no mistake that people immediately equate Queensland with the Great Barrier Reef, pristine and perfectly ‘Instagrammable’ beaches, the world’s oldest rainforests. It is these images stuck to vision boards around the world that make Queensland a sought-after tourist destination. Queensland, Australia’s most bio-diverse state, has many natural advantages when it comes to attracting tourists and locals alike to its 200 plus ecotourism destinations thanks to its 14.2 million hectares of national parks, 6,900km of mainland coastline. Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism that focuses on experiencing natural areas, fostering environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation, and conservation.

When people began thinking about post-lockdown adventures, the Queensland Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport (DTIS) needed to understand the impact COVID-19 had on visitor trends and tourist behaviour in order to target support for local tourism operators and to inform infrastructure development needs.  To do this in an agile and evidenced-based fashion, DTIS worked with Griffith University’s Relational Insights Data Lab (RIDL) as part of a consortium whose focus was to pilot the application of mobility intelligence data to better monitor changes in behaviour.

Why focus on ecotourism?

The United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres stressed in a 2020 briefing the important role tourism plays globally when it comes to environmental conservation and preserving our natural and cultural heritage and highlighted the need to rebuild the industry in the wake of COVID-19 in a safe, equitable and climate-friendly manner.

These calls to revive the tourism industry through SDG aligned initiatives and support were not ignored by the members of the DTIS and as a result, one of the five themes chosen to test the utility of an all-of-government approach to accessing telecommunications data was, ecotourism. The recently released Action Plan for Tourism Recovery reinforced this decision by identifying ‘accelerating ecotourism’ as one of the four catalysts for change areas to help reshape the Queensland visitor economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sundown National Park
Image: Orca TV

Sundown National Park is, according to the Department of Environment and Science, “a rugged wilderness area of spectacular sharp ridges and steep-sided gorges carved by the Severn River and its tributaries that can be discovered via maintained walking tracks, challenging remote walks or a four-wheel-drive (4WD) track”.

Sundown National Park is 250km (3–4hrs drive) south-west of Brisbane via Stanthorpe, and 70km north-west of Tenterfield. Weekday visitor numbers have increased by 479% since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Culgoa Floodplain National Park
Culgoa National Park
Image: markslethanlean

Culgoa Floodplain National Park is a remote outback destination in the Murray-Darling Basin and home to many First Nations cultural sites as well as beautifully diverse vegetation and woodland birds. Culgoa straddles the Queensland-New South Wales border, approximately 230km from St George and accessible only by 4WD. It saw a 367% increase in unique weekday visitors and the park was Number 1 for weekend visitors seeing a 417% increase from pre-pandemic numbers Friday to Sunday.  

Currimundi Lake/Kathleen McArthur Conservation Park
Image: westaway_house_currimundi

In third place, for both weekday and weekend visitor increases we have Currimundi Lake Conservation Park which is a wildflower lovers dream. Currimundi protects a small remnant of wallum heath, a plant community that was once common along the Sunshine Coast and boasts views of the creek, lake, and ocean beach.

Different from the top two, Currimundi Lake Conservation Park is located on the Sunshine Coast, just 6.5km north of Caloundra or roughly 100km from Brisbane. Curruimundi saw a 325% increase in weekday visitors and a 304% increase on weekends.

Capricorn Coast National Park
Image: jwr.___

Capricorn Coast National Park is a series of small reserves along the coast between Yeppoon to just south of Emu Park in Central Queensland. The coastal reserves of Capricorn Coast National Park protect a wide range of coastal plant communities including heathlands, open eucalypt forest, vine thickets and open tussock grasslands. Each section has something different to offer. The Park saw a 259% increase in visitors during the week post lockdowns.

Lindeman Island National Park
Lindeman Islands National Park
Image: qldparks

Lindeman Islands National Park protects 14 islands featuring a variety of vegetation types including rainforest in sheltered pockets, open forest in drier areas, grasslands and wetlands. Frequent burning by the Ngaro Aboriginal people maintained the grasslands in the area.

The islands and surrounding waters are protected by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The Lindeman Islands National Park saw a 249% increase in visitors during the week and came in 4th place for weekend visitors seeing a 244% increase since March 2020.

Data helps rebuild with purpose

Whilst data can help decisionmakers pinpoint where changes are occurring, further collaboration and engagement with industry, and between government departments and bodies – such as the DTIS, the DES, and Tourism and Events Queensland – is crucial to fully understand changes in visitor behaviour and to inform future ecotourism infrastructure development and marketing needs and opportunities.

Through strategic collaboration, tourism bodies and operators can use shared data and insights to better design services, experiences, employment opportunities, and infrastructure that not only protect but nurture Queensland’s unique biodiversity for future generations.

So, let’s put this in context. In 2016 the Great Barrier Reef supported more than 69,000 jobs which is more than all the coal jobs across all of Australia. Now that international borders are open again, Queensland has the opportunity to rebuild with purpose, providing employment opportunities that support the UN SDGs and do not come at the expense of our invaluable natural assets, cultural history or environment.


Rhetta ChappellRhetta Chappell is a Data Scientist in the Relational Insights Data Lab at Griffith University. Rhetta designs and builds intuitive and innovative solutions that enable users to make data-driven decisions using quantitative and qualitative analysis methods. Rhetta has a background in data analytics, statistical standards, data collection, reporting and survey design. Originally from Canada, she previously worked for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research as researcher and project officer.


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