Sustainable tourism development and rural community values in Australia's forest regions

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BACKGROUND The purpose of this inquiry is to assess the role of tourism as an agent of sustainable change in rural Australia. In many parts of rural Australia, tourism is a relatively new economic activity. Traditionally regional economies have relied on primary industries, such as agriculture, fishing and mining to sustain their populations. For a host of reasons many of these activities have been in decline or have ceased altogether in recent years. This may be due to the depletion of the resource, changes in the environmental ethic of the broader Australian population, or government policies such as Regional Forest Agreements (RFA). Whatever the reason, the consequences of a decline in, or loss of a region’s economic base may have a profound impact on a rural community. There is thus pressure to find an alternative or supplementary economic base so that the community can be sustained. A review of the literature pertaining to sustainable tourism, tourism planning and the socially constructed nature of “place” illustrates some of the complexity in using tourism as a means of societal renewal in rural Australia. Rural Australia is not a homogenous entity. The existence of complex/ localised landuse histories, combined with a diverse range of environmental ethics amongst residents mean that community members can variously accept or reject economic arguments made in favour of nature tourism development. While governments and other regional tourism stakeholders often position nature tourism as a more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable use of rural Australia’s unique natural environments; the fact that nature tourism development often necessitates a fundamental re-organisation of a community’s economic and social structure means that it can be both positively and negatively perceived by local community stakeholders.
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