Sustainable tourism and visitation

NSW has an enviable reserve system of world heritage areas, national parks, nature reserves, marine parks, Aboriginal areas, caves, wilderness areas, and regional parks. The diversity and richness of this park system is a strong drawcard for international and domestic tourists and visitors, and helps support a strong tourism industry, creating significant economic benefits for the people of NSW.

The Government's NSW 2021 plan seeks to strengthen our local environment and communities and, of particular relevance to our parks, enhance cultural and recreational opportunities, and foster partnerships with Aboriginal people. To this end, it is vital that we provide high quality and diverse visitor experiences and promote these special places effectively, while ensuring the protection of their conservation values. In addition, the NPWS is focused on helping to realise the Government’s aim to double tourism expenditure in NSW by 2020, by providing and promoting engaging nature and cultural heritage experiences in our parks.

2011-12 Visitor Economy Taskforce


two peole pn a boardwalk looking out over the coastline of Tomaree National Park

Tomaree National Park, Hamilton Lund Courtesy Tourism New South Wales

The NSW Government has established the Visitor Economy Taskforce to develop a tourism and events strategy aimed at doubling tourism expenditure to NSW by 2020.  The Secretariat sits within the Department of Trade and Investment, and a final report is due to be presented to the Minister for Tourism and Major Events by the end of May 2012.  Under the Visitor Economy Taskforce, a number of advisory groups have been established to develop ideas to deliver growth in tourism and events for NSW.  NPWS is engaged in the work of the Nature and Heritage Tourism and Aboriginal Tourism Advisory Groups among others, given its key role as one of the largest public land managers in NSW, and as the caretakers of a significant range of spectacular landscapes, varied accommodation offerings, and impressive visitor and recreational facilities. 


Toorale and Gundabooka nature tourism action plan

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has developed the Toorale and Gundabooka Nature Tourism Action Plan (PDF, 451KB)  to guide the establishment and revitalisation of visitor experiences in two outstanding areas of natural beauty and cultural importance – Toorale and Gundabooka national parks and state conservation areas – which are found on the doorstep of the iconic north-west NSW town of Bourke. This plan provides for a range of recreational experiences including fishing, camping, access to Aboriginal cultural sites and appreciation of the ‘outback’. It also provides for ongoing consultation and communication with the park joint management committees, local government, the local community, tourism groups and business operators.

NSW River Red Gum Nature Tourism Action Plan

The NSW Parks and Wildlife Service has developed a Nature Tourism Action Plan [PDF 1mb] to guide the revitalisation and establishment of visitor experiences in the River Red Gum reserves over the next five years. The plan also recognises the importance to local communities and long-term visitors of these areas for continued access to the rivers for fishing, boating and other recreational activities.

2010 changes to the NPW Act relating to visitors and tourists

One of the objects of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) is to facilitate opportunities for people to appreciate and enjoy our parks as a means of fostering an understanding of, and support for, conservation. Over recent years we've been working hard to develop new and wonderful visitor experiences to showcase our parks and to support people's enjoyment of nature and culture. We have a number of good examples of where we have partnered with the private sector and community-based organisations to do this.

Changes brought about by the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Visitors and Tourists) Act commenced on 1 October 2010. The new legislation seeks to strike the right balance between connecting people to nature, and the ongoing conservation of natural and cultural park values, by creating a single, simpler provision that clearly sets out the purposes for which leases and licences can be granted on park, and by significantly raising the bar in terms of environmental standards for those leases and licences.

You can access additional background information here, including a Questions and Answers document and a summary of what the 2010 amendments “Do and Don’t Do”.

Sustainability assessment criteria

Sustainability assessment criteria have been adopted by the Chief Executive of OEH, and are in place to guide the appropriate use of national park land, with regard to lease and licence proposals.

For information about development on or adjoining OEH land, or environmental assessment, you can visit Development guidelines related to OEH land

In addition, a number of policies, guidelines and manuals are in place to provide information and guidance to potential tourism partners. These policies include the visitor accommodation policy; events, functions and venues policy; leases and licences referral policy and procedures; and the Commercial recreation and tourism in wilderness areas (interim) policy. You can access these documents as well as other relevant park management policies here.

If you are interested in partnering with us to deliver sustainable, nature-based tourism in national parks, please contact the relevant Regional Manager or email the Business Development team within the Tourism and Partnerships Branch at

Commercial activity in Wilderness Areas

girl sitting on the cliff edge looking out over landscape of rolling hills in Barrington Tops National Park

Thunderbolts Lookout, Barrington Tops National Park

The NPW Act seeks to ensure equity of access and safety of visitors to wilderness areas by allowing licensed tour operators to guide small groups of people into some of the more remote areas of the reserve system. This relates to those activities that are permissible on a self-reliant basis, such as walking or canoeing. In addition to ensuring the safety of participants, the Act aims to build awareness of the immense value of wilderness areas, by fostering the creation of new opportunities for nature-based tourism experiences in NSW.

For more information on the Parks Eco Pass commercial tour operator licensing system, please visit Parks Eco Pass, or email your queries to

2008 Taskforce on Tourism and National Parks in NSW

In 2008 the Taskforce on Tourism and National Parks in New South Wales finalised its report and recommendations (see below).  The Taskforce was engaged to provide advice on practical methods to realise an enhanced level of sustainable nature tourism on NSW public lands, particularly national parks, marine parks and reserves. The Taskforce was asked to:

  • Identify ways to promote and protect the State's biodiversity and cultural heritage values through appropriate use of its national parks and reserves;
  • Create a platform whereby visitor numbers and tourism expenditure can be increased; and
  • Identify ways to increase management resources and conservation benefits from tourism in national parks and reserves.

In handing down its report, the Taskforce emphasised that proposals must be compatible with the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage values of our parks and reserves.

The final report can be found here:

Page last updated: 22 October 2012