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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Coastal Tourism - A Manual for Sustainable Development

Based on a draft paper prepared by Southern Cross University
Portfolio Marine Group, Environment Australia, 1997
ISBN 0 642 27129 1

Part 2 - Stages of the development process

Implementing the guiding principles (from Part 1) means taking action at each stage of the development process.

This part of the manual guides you through the stages of undertaking coastal tourism developments, identifying environmental, social and economic issues to address during each stage. It includes flowcharts and checklists for each stage of the development process, as well as useful examples and references.

Officers in local government will also find the stages useful in their task of advising developers.

Developers should also be aware that during all stages of the development process, decisions will be made that set the financial value and determine the financial success of the development. While this manual alerts you to the many issues to consider to make your tourism venture sustainable, make sure that your decisions are based on sound information, research and advice provided by relevant experts. You will find this manual a valuable tool for selecting and communicating with those experts.

Stage 1: Feasibility

Stage 2: Planning & design

Stage 3: Assessment & approval

Stage 4: Construction

Stage 5: Operation & management

Stage 1: Feasibility

development process

The purpose of this initial stage of the development process is to clearly define what you want - here you are limited only by your imagination - and to find out whether it will be possible to realise your project before you commit lots of time and money to it. Your goal is to identify an investment option that will be worth your while. Identifying a favourable investment means evaluating alternative proposals, which may be unique projects or unique approaches to a single project. The possibilities for your development are determined by the available opportunities and the unavoidable limits of:

Acceptable limits of change: The limits to the type and scale of change appropriate to an area.

At the end of the feasibility stage, your idea for a development should be conceptualised and documented as a workable tourism product with a clearly identified market and form.

Ecology: The study of the relationships between living organisms and their environments.

Profile the proposed development

It will be useful to produce a profile of your proposed venture, including:

Having compiled a detailed profile of your intended development, you will need to identify some good places to locate it. You may have a site in mind already, or a general region you regard as appropriate. If you have some idea of a site, it will be useful to consult with local authorities before you undertake a more detailed investigation of the site. Early consultation will help you find a site that will be good for your development, as well as ensure that it will remain within the local authorities' parameters for acceptable developments.

Consult with authorities

It is critical that all developers consult with local councils and other authorities involved in the approval process at the outset (see Part 4 for a list of useful contacts). It is crucial that this consultation takes place in the pre-application stages. Consultation will inform developers what is happening in the region - that is, what relevant local or regional plans or strategies exist, and whether their proposed development is compatible with the region's vision for economic, environmental or tourism development. Compatibility depends on planning intentions, surrounding patterns of development, and access, infrastructure and services. Regional authorities could include Regional Development Boards, Voluntary Regional Organisations of Councils or Regional Tourism Boards.

Local government officers can tell you who owns or has an interest in the land, and therefore what approvals you are required to obtain and from whom, how the area is zoned, and about any plans and policies related to the particular site and region. They can help to determine how appropriate the development is for the proposed site, identify any potential problems, as well as alert you to relevant design criteria and constraints. Consultation will also allow you to gain a sense of the level of support for or resistance to the proposal. This information will be useful in determining the location, scope and style of your proposed development.

Investigate potential sites

If you have compiled your profile with no particular site in mind, you will need to select a suitable one. Bear in mind that the site you initially select for development may not be suitable for the venture you have profiled. If this is the case, and you remain committed to the site, you will have to refine your intended market, services and products to be compatible with the environment and ecology of the site, and the needs and requirements of the approval authorities and local communities.

You need to acknowledge that some areas are unsuitable for development because they are ecologically too fragile, for example, sand dunes (see Box C) and littoral rainforest. Other areas cannot be developed without interfering or irreparably damaging their ecological processes (such as wetlands, mangroves and estuaries). Developments in these areas would in general not be acceptable to local communities and would be expensive to maintain. Developers also need to take into account potential hazards such as storm tides, erosion and sand drift, and changes in sea level. Your tourism venture should be sited where it does not have to mitigate the consequences of these hazards.

Remember that environmental protection is cheaper than environmental rehabilitation.

Checklist 1.1 will help you determine whether the site you are considering is appropriate for the profile of your proposed development or, if you are already committed to a site, if you need to modify your profile to meet the environmental and ecological constraints imposed by the site. Considering the issues raised in Checklist 1.1 will also help you decide at an early stage if a potential site is worth more detailed investigation, or whether it should be eliminated. Considering these issues will also help you identify the sorts of environmental and ecological issues you may have to deal with at the site if you decide to pursue it. When selecting your site, it makes sense to think not only about the limits it will impose on your development but also about the environmental resources it could provide.

Littoral forest: Forests situated along the coastline, such as mangroves and eucalypts located immediately adjacent to the beach.

In many places throughout this document the word 'appropriate' is used, for example, 'an appropriate distance' (Checklist 1.1). Developers should bear in mind that 'appropriate' in this context will be determined by the physical features and ecology of the site, the approval authorities and local communities.

The profile of your development will give you some idea of the sorts of sites you are looking for in terms of size and aesthetics. Checklist 1.1 suggests some of the preliminary environmental aspects you should consider and some of the environmental problems you may have to deal with, and prompts you to consider these issues before you commit yourself to a particular site. Bear in mind that Checklist 1.1 will not help you to identify a site that will suit your intended market. Gauging a site's suitability to your specific development profile is up to you.

The 1992 document Tourism Development along the NSW Coast includes guidelines on site selection based on environmental criteria.

Box C: Sand dunes and foreshores
Unvegetated sand dunes often collapse if disturbed because the sand grains that make up the dunes tend to roll over each other and fall, rather than staying in a heap. This happens because grains of sand are rounded due to the pounding force of waves and swell, and because their crystalline hardness and chemical purity mean that they are not 'sticky' and do not cling to each other.
The only natural way to make sand dunes stable is to bind the grains of sand into fixed positions with plant roots and a canopy cover of vegetation. Vegetated dunes operate as a barrier against storms and waves, preventing the loss of sand to deeper waters during storms and providing a base for a build-up of sand during calmer periods. If this vegetation mat is broken, the grains of sand are free to move. The vegetation mat can be broken in many ways - by people, fire, vehicles, and eddying of winds around buildings and fences. If the vegetation mat on a dune is broken, it is often difficult, time-consuming and expensive to re-establish it because of the harsh environmental conditions in coastal areas, including a salt-laden atmosphere and frequent gusty winds. Vegetation on dunes should be retained at all costs.
It is also important to avoid interrupting the natural movement of water and sand along foreshores. Ocean waves and currents produce extremely dynamic environments. Interrupting the movement of water, sand, seaweed and so on can cause either a build-up of sand, erosion or both. Structures like marinas or groynes can cause significant accumulations of sand on their downdrift, sheltered side, and erosion on the exposed or updrift side.

The site for Seven Spirit Bay, a facility in the Northern Territory which accommodates up to 48 people, was chosen because it required minimal clearing, provides protection from cyclonic storm surges and allows the developers to capitalise on the natural drainage patterns of the area, which filter run-off through the forest before discharging it into the bay. The soils were also suitable for construction traffic, and will not easily erode.

Checklist 1.1 : Is this a good site for your proposed development?

Locate your development:

Biological productivity: The intensity of life form production in an ecosystem or part of an ecosystem.

Box D: Acid sulfate soils
Sulfuric acid released from acid sulfate soils has caused the weakening of concrete structures and corrosion of concrete slabs, steel fence posts, foundations of buildings and underground concrete and sewerage pipes. Disturbance of acid sulfate soils during development may prevent the later establishment of gardens and lawns. The release of acid from acid sulfate soils can also result in massive fish kills and mortality of other aquatic and marine organisms.
An Introduction to Acid Sulfate Soils is a comprehensive and readable introduction to this topic. Part 4 contains details of how to obtain a copy of this document.

Development of the Couran Cove Resort on South Stradbroke Island would potentially have released acid run-off into the area. To prevent this, a dredging operation was undertaken to wash pyrites out of excavated material (see Part 3 for more information).

Acid sulfate soils: Soils rich in iron sulfide common in coastal areas.

Assess the proposal's ecological sustainability

Ecologically sustainable developments operate within the capacity of the environment. Life itself depends on ecological processes. Where developments are sustainable, local ecosystems are conserved and sometimes enhanced by their presence. The goal is for both current and future generations of people to be able to inhabit and enjoy natural environments. Sustainable developments benefit and, in turn, benefit from their environment, the local economy and local communities. Developers who consider the needs of each of these aspects, or who navigate a path among them, produce developments with a promising future. Checklists 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 deal with the sorts of environmental, social and economic issues you should think about to identify the parameters and scope of a tourism venture that will be sustainable.

Environmental acceptability

Any local plans that deal with the environment will help you to assess the environmental acceptability of a proposed development. In general, the feasibility stage is an opportunity to identify any negative impact your development may have on the environment of your potential location.

In certain environments it is simply not appropriate to plan a tourism development. One example is wetlands, where biological processes are simply too delicate (see Box E).

Once you have identified some sites which are potentially apt for your development, you will need to assess your proposal, and possibly revise it, according to the criteria for environmental suitability in Checklist 1.2.

Box E: Wetlands
Many waterbirds need to feed and spend time in wetlands as part of their extensive international migrations; others need to breed and live in the area, or escape towards the coast when harsh summers dry up inland waters.
The quality of water is vital in preserving a viable web of life in wetlands. A change in the level of water in the wetlands can kill trees and vegetation or allow alien species to invade. A rise can drown waterbird nests, a fall can result in drying out into little and foul water, encouraging the growth of a poisonous toxin causing botulism that kills waterbirds and fish. A fall in water levels can also expose acid sulfate soils which are often present in wetlands and estuaries. Once exposed, these soils can release sulfuric acid.

Checklist 1.2 : Will the proposed development be environmentally acceptable

To help make it so:

Social acceptability

The proposed development is more likely to be successful if it fits in with the local region's perceived identity. Consult with local communities to find out if they have objections or require amendments to your proposal. Community support for your proposal will depend on the extent to which it disturbs or enhances the lifestyle of local residents and the cultural heritage value of the environment. The development should not exacerbate local conflicts, or place financial burdens on the community. For example, no coastal tourism development should require, now or in the future, any public expenditure to protect either the development or the environment. On the contrary, it is important to consider the needs of local communities, to involve members and generate a positive attitude to the development. From a broader perspective, developers' efforts will foster a climate within which the tourism sector can grow and flourish.

Coastcare: Coastcare provides the opportunities for communities to become involved with coastal management.

Effective consultation with local communities is an essential feature of sustainable coastal tourism developments. By negotiating early, providing relevant information to community members, welcoming community views and generally taking an open and honest approach to consultation, you can develop a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship. You may want to formulate a contract or agreement with communities that identifies procedures for employment, purchasing and management. The agreement can reflect your investment in local resources, including knowledge, goods and services. To further increase cooperation you could:

Total catchment management: An integrated management approach which aims to coordinate all activities and process occurring in a catchment.

Listening to the community may provide you with ways to improve your proposal, or give you bright ideas. Developers of The Anchorage marina and resort at Port Stephens, New South Wales, had their proposal approved by the council. But local residents remained concerned about the environmental impact of the proposed venture, to the point of taking the developer to the Land and Environment Court. During negotiations, the developer reconsidered the proposal and decided to abandon plans to incorporate a boat repair facility. In the end the developer considered that the amended proposal was significantly better, in terms of both the design of the facilities and the economic viability of the venture (see Part 3 for more information).

Community participation: Procedures whereby members of a community participate directly in decision-making about developments that may affect the community.

It is also useful to make preliminary contact with adjacent land owners and community groups. It may be difficult to know exactly who to contact at this early stage, and how to contact them. The local council may be able to advise you on this. Also, Part 4 of this manual contains details of some useful contacts.

Turning Tilligerry Peninsula, near Port Stephens in New South Wales, into a sanctuary for koalas was not quite what developers had in mind for the site when they first proposed to build a caravan park there. This proposal prompted a local conservation group, concerned about the already degraded state of their land, to come up with the alternative. The koala sanctuary will potentially fund the rehabilitation works, providing an environmental and tourism resource for the entire community.

It may be useful to think about establishing a management committee to supervise the development procedure and liaise with local communities. Typically, such a committee would comprise representatives of the developing organisation and development approval authorities. It could also contain community members to provide a community perspective, whom you should consider reimbursing for their time and costs. As coastal tourism developments are subject to the controls and conditions imposed by management authorities or Indigenous custodians, it is important to cooperate with these groups to ensure that your development follows appropriate environmental planning and management procedures. A management committee can also provide the first point of contact for interested parties and let the community know that you are serious about addressing community and environmental concerns.

The management committee could:

Social impact: Social impact assessment identifies how changes to an environment will affect or have affected people.

The management committee will need to be presented with the preliminary proposal and any queries you might have, including:

You should compile a preliminary assessment of the impact of the development on the lifestyles of the local community in general, as well as specific components of it (such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities). The assessment should identify community concerns about the proposed development, as well as the benefits and costs to the wider community (local, regional or national). You should also investigate the site's proximity to populated areas and your proposal's compatibility with adjoining land uses. Checklist 1.3 highlights steps you can take to render your proposal more acceptable to community stakeholders.

The handbook Social Impact Assessment for Local Government, 1995 is helpful to developers considering social planning issues.

Box F: Indigenous Australians
Nearly half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in the coastal zone, in approximately one hundred different communities. Not surprisingly, then, many coastal tourism development proposals will be located close to sites significant to Indigenous peoples.
Coasts and adjacent waters are important to Indigenous peoples, for a range of reasons that should be identified early in the planning process (see Box B, Part 1). Areas of significance to Indigenous peoples are the whole area of their traditional land, whether or not they currently occupy it. Some parts of this land should not be developed. It is possible to develop others, however, with sensitivity to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples' relationship to it. Sensitive development requires developers to be genuinely committed to forming partnerships with Indigenous peoples.
Some coastal tourism developers will want to tap into the Indigenous culture and heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These developers need to recognise Indigenous attachment to the land and their own role, as tourist developers, in fostering respect for traditional and contemporary Aboriginal cultures and the diversity between and among them. They also need to recognise that Indigenous peoples must be remunerated if their culture is used to make money.
Effective consultation means devoting time and energy to negotiating with local land councils and Indigenous communities, and to learning the protocols for doing so. Contact numbers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission state offices, and Commonwealth and state agencies, are in Part 4. Developers need to educate themselves about:
  • native title rights and interests in land and waters
  • any archaeological or heritage issues relevant to the site

Intellectual property: Intellectual property represents the property of your mind or intellect.

What are the benefits of involving Indigenous peoples in tourism development?

The decision to seek ways to formally involve local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples in all stages of the development can bring social and economic benefits which will help ensure the long-term success of the project. These benefits include:

How can Indigenous peoples be involved in coastal tourism developments?

There are many options for involving Indigenous peoples in all stages of your tourism development. The most strategic approach to managing this involvement is to negotiate a protocol or agreement with the appropriate local Indigenous group or organisation during the planning stages. Such an agreement could include:

How do I know which Indigenous group to deal with?

t is important to assume that there is an Indigenous group or organisation with continuing cultural, social and economic interests in any part of coastal Australia. Advice on which Indigenous group is traditionally associated with a particular coastal location can readily be obtained by contacting one of the government organisations dealing with Indigenous issues within each state or territory listed in Part 4 of this manual.

The booklet Straight Talking: A Guide to Negotiating and Consulting with Remote Area Local Government Councils will be invaluable to developers seeking to establish an effective relationship with Indigenous communities.

Checklist 1.3 : Will the proposed development be socially acceptable?

To help make it so:

Economic viability

You are attempting, at this stage, to forecast the long-term performance of the proposed development, and to identify possible modifications to the proposal to foster its viability. The task is to balance a range of factors, including the target market, the envisaged facilities and the site's environment. In addition, you must attempt to identify any support for or resistance to the proposal from local communities and local, regional and/or state authorities.

Planning for tourism developments and designing their facilities involves catering for prospective visitors. Successful projects are always driven by a clear and thorough knowledge of the target market and its needs. As a first step, developers need to conduct a preliminary assessment of market trends and relevant market segments. Professional consultants, industry bodies and published tourism research can provide information that may be used to identify relevant market trends and groups, along with potential target markets. See Part 4 for details on who to contact for further information.

Once potential market segments have been identified, it is important to compile a more detailed report of the potential target market to use in producing a business plan. At this stage you would be considering your clients in terms of:

The 1994 publication Building Tourism emphasises market assessment and economic viability for tourism developers.

You will need to develop realistic profitability and cash flow projections for the development and operational phases of the proposed development. Checklist 1.4 will alert you to the necessary components of this document, which will allow you to assess your proposed development's economic viability.

Factors such as weather variables, political instability, industrial disputes, native title claims and adverse economic circumstances may affect the return received on tourism developments. Consequently, tourism facilities tend to involve a large amount of working capital, and considerable foresight, on the part of the developer.

Checklist 1.4: Will the proposed development be economically viable?

To help make it so:

Reconsider the proposal in light of the information gathered

At this stage, it is useful to return to your profile of the proposed development. Evaluate it in the context of any new information about your preferred site or alternative sites that has emerged from your consultation and assessments of ecological sustainability. Note any potential problems or drawbacks - environmental, social or economic - you may face.

Effective feasibility studies clearly detail all the issues and address them. Whether or not the development proposal will work depends on the ability of the developers and designers to work ingeniously within the limits imposed by the environment, legislation and local communities. The requirement that developments be ecologically sustainable, for instance, need not hinder the success of the development venture, and could work to promote it. In the feasibility stage, developers can identify potential problems and opportunities. Ultimately, this is your chance to identify opportunities and find creative solutions to problems you envisage. It is a wise investment of your time and effort.

At Quicksilver Connections, a large ecotourism operator taking visitors out onto the Great Barrier Reef, a thoughtful and active approach to managing a particularly fragile environment has paid off. Their commitment to on-site monitoring and their readiness to adapt in response to particular environmental problems is commendable: Quicksilver have pre-empted environmental regulations imposed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Quicksilver's adaptability will also help to ensure the long-term success of their venture (see Part 3 for more information).

Ecotourism: Nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable.

Addressing the criteria in Checklist 1.5 will allow you to consider the project's feasibility. It will also help to prepare briefing material for architects, planners, landscape architects, engineers, environmental consultants and investment advisers, who will need the resulting information in order to draft their plans and assessments.

Checklist 1.5: Will the proposed development be feasible?

Your revised proposal should:


The feasibility stage is your pre-application homework - to identify potential environmental, social and economic issues pertinent to your proposed development. You will be able to identify these issues by consulting with local government, other relevant authorities and local communities, including Indigenous communities. Your goal here is to understand the possibilities for constructing the development you want, as well as any ecological, social or economic factors that will influence its siting, design, construction and management.