Impacts of protected areas on the regional economy of north-east NSW

North-east NSW comprises the coast and tablelands south from the Queensland border to Coffs Harbour. It encompasses 167 national parks and reserves, many of which have been created over the last twenty years.

To better understand the regional economic impacts of park management and park visitation, the former Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) commissioned a study of its protected areas in north-east NSW. The study, by Gillespie Economics, used 'input-output analysis' to assess the direct and indirect contribution of park management expenditure and park visitor expenditure to the regional economy.

In addition, a 'travel-cost' study was commissioned to assess the economic value visitors placed on the recreational experiences offered by the region's national parks and reserves.

Impacts on the regional economy

Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (formerly OEH) management of parks and reserves involves significant local purchases of goods and services, which stimulates local business activity, generating further expenditure throughout the economy and creating local jobs. The wages and salaries of regional Department staff who live in towns and cities across north-east NSW also contribute to the local economy.

The study estimated that each year the parks in the area are visited by almost 6 million people. Visitors come from around the world, as well as parts of Australia. They may come for a specific park, or for a number of the region's attractions. During their stay, visitors spend money on goods and services including accommodation, food and beverages, shopping, motor vehicle expenses and recreation.

The estimated economic contribution resulting from park management and visitor spending is shown below.

Regional activity

Department expenditure (p.a.)

Visitor expenditure (p.a.)

Regional value-added activity

$17 million

$107 million

Household income

$13 million

$59 million


265 jobs

1,650 jobs

The study found that Department expenditure contributes $17 million per year in direct and indirect value-added activity to the regional economy. About $13 million a year of this is paid as household income. Department expenditure directly and indirectly generates the equivalent of 265 jobs in the region.

The study suggests that visitors to parks and reserves contribute about $107 million per year in regional value-added activity, which includes $59 million income paid to households. Visitor spending represents the equivalent of 1,650 jobs in the region.

National parks in north-east NSW therefore help to create more than 1,900 jobs.

Value of recreational use of protected areas

The second part of the study found that visitors were prepared to pay between $25 and $50 per year in travel costs to visit the parks and reserves of north-east NSW.

This figure indicates that in aggregate, visitors value their visits to be at least $188 million per year for north-east parks and reserves, as shown in the following table.

Value of visitation to protected areas

Per visitor

range: $25-$50 p.a.

All visitors

$188 million p.a.

The findings of this study demonstrate the significant economic benefits national parks and reserves in north-east NSW and their contribution to job growth and the regional economy.