Protected areas are valued for a many reasons. Understanding the values people assign to protected areas is fundamental to successful park management. Protected areas contain both intrinsic (non-use) and instrumental (use) values. (For more information see Managing Protected Areas: A Global Guide). Something is of intrinsic value if it is of value of, or in itself. In other words, value exists irrespective of any benefits that humans may derive from them. Instrumental values can be defined as the value derived from the actual use of a good or service.
The Earth’s natural systems are under an enormous strain as can be witnessed by the unprecedented loss of biodiversity and the failure of natural systems. National parks and other protected areas conserve biodiversity and provide ecosystem services that derive from the earth’s natural processes such as fresh air and water, climate regulation and assimilation of waste. The important role that ecosystem services play is not well understood and is not adequately recognised in economic markets, government policies and land management practices (see The Value of Parks).
Natural areas, bush land and green space provide opportunities for exercise and other forms of recreation while national parks also allow for more active forms of recreation and outdoor pursuits and adventure activities like bush walking, kayaking and mountain biking, all of which contribute to a healthier lifestyle, personal health benefits and reduce the potential for and incidence of depression.
Parks also bring people together to relax with family and friends, socialize and enjoy each other’s company. Many ethnic communities use local green spaces, urban and peri-urban national parks and regional parks as a location to bring their community together and celebrate their culture. Many national park volunteers who contribute to caring for and managing national parks also benefit from the social and personal interactions.
National parks are also the home to parts of Australia’s rich history and heritage including the history and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. 'Cultural heritage' sites remind us of our past and provide a sense of identity and meaning for the present and future.
National parks also act as a scientific laboratory and classroom for studying, education and learning about the natural environment. They act as a baseline for measuring changes to natural systems and the broader environment. Some species may hold the answer to medical and other scientific challenges facing human kind.
Now more than ever national parks, marine parks and other forms of protected areas are major draw cards for Australia’s tourism industry and are multi billion dollar contributors to the tourism industry, which in turn has both direct and indirect economic impacts on local and regional economies, as well as providing a source for local and regional employment. National parks also employ large numbers of people and significant economic activity is generated through developing and maintaining parks. Parks also create financial opportunities underpinning the businesses of thousands of tour operators providing commercial services to tourists.
The focus of Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre (STCRC) economic valuation research has on developing a robust and widely supported methodology for measures the direct visitor expenditure that can be attributed to a national parks or group of parks and other protected areas in a region.
The STCRC has developed a handbook that provides a step-by-step guide capable of developing a study, which adopts the ‘spending by tourists’ approach to measuring economic value of tourism to national parks. It allows for a study of national park tourism in a single sub-state region or for the compilation of state / territory level estimates, based on a representative selection of regions in the state / territory.
Research undertaken by the STCRC on the economic impacts of national parks and other protected areas includes Queensland National Parks, the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park, the south west forests of Western Australia, Kakadu National Park, north eastern New South Wales, Watarrka National Park (NT), Tasmanian National Parks, the Gold Coast (including its hinterland and beaches) and the Australian Alps.
Other points of focus for the economic valuation of tourism include cultural heritage (see Valuing the Priceless: Valuing Cultural Heritage in Australia), wildlife tourism and festivals and events.
Please see below for a range of reports related to this section.