DEVELOPMENT TARGET: Hill Inlet looking south along the iconic Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island. The island has been earmarked for possible development.
DEVELOPMENT TARGET: Hill Inlet looking south along the iconic Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island. The island has been earmarked for possible development.

Push for Whitsunday Island tourism development

THE PRISTINE shoreline of Whitsunday Island could be developed for accommodation by private investors.

The State Government recently announced it would be inviting private operators to submit expressions of interest for the development of adventure and tourism opportunities within the Whitsunday Island National Park.

Expressions of interest were also sought for Hinchinbrook Island and Great Sandy national parks.

Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones said the government wanted to "partner with the private sector" to develop ecotourism experiences in locations around the state.

"Queensland is famous for its natural beauty. That's why it makes sense for us to develop new ecotourism experiences," she said.

"The expressions of interest... are the first stage to make sure we develop sustainable tourism experiences that showcase the very best of Queensland.

"We know eco and adventure tourists stay longer and spend more money when they visit. We're working hard to develop this sector to create more tourism jobs in Queensland."

Community groups are concerned private development of national parks may lead to environmental damage and could limit public access.

Mackay Conservation Group has launched a petition telling the State Government to keep its 'Hands off our National Parks'.

Co-ordinator Peter McCallum said national parks had been preserved for a particular purpose - to protect the scientific and ecological values and beauty of the natural landscapes of Queensland.

"National parks have not been set aside from development so that they can become the exclusive playground of a select few," Mr McCallum said.

He believes the parks are the state's most valuable asset.

"What we have seen in the past, in Tasmania, which is the model for this kind of development, is exclusive access," he said.

"At this time we don't know exactly what private developers will be asking the government... but there is every chance that these areas could become off limits to the public."

Using Hinchinbrook Island as an example, Mr McCallum said at present only 40 people could access the location at one time.

"It is generally fully utilised during the season and any private [commercial] use of the island will diminish access to the public."

Tourism Whitsunday general manager Natassia Wheeler said if executed properly the plan to develop could serve to benefit the area's tourism industry.

"The key for us, is that we are away looking at ways to diversify," she said. "We would be very interested to hear about the idea as long as it is the right kind of development. The greatest experiences in the world are developed in natural environments."

Ms Wheeler said although Tourism Whitsunday was not directly involved in the process, it was aware that any development would have "minor infrastructure" and would need to protect natural assets.

"Our understanding is that the sort of development would be eco-tents or eco-cabins for 20-30 people."

Ms Jones said the project was as much about conservation as it was about tourism.

"We want more visitors to be able to experience our ecotrails because we know that showcasing Queensland's natural beauty will lure more tourists," she said.

"One of the EOI design principles states proponents must 'encourage visitors to appreciate and want to protect the national park'.

She said the development might include cabins, retreats, huts or glamping facilities, just like the ones already in place in other states.