Peninsula tourism looking forward to nature

Elixir Journey’s, Nicola Billens

Three local tourism operators on the Peninsula will have the opportunity to become ECO Destination certified to help boost the local tourism sector when COVID restrictions ease.

Ettalong Beach’s Bombora Ettalong Beach SUP, Jake Cassar’s Bushcraft at Brisbane Water National Park, and Bouddi National Park’s Elixir Journeys have all been chosen to receive funding to pursue certification.

Achieving certification will see these businesses help the region to become recognised as a ‘world-class location for sustainable and nature-based tourism’.

Founder of nature-based tour experience Elixir Journeys, Nicola Billens, said this funding was just the beginning for her business.

“We are a high-end nature-based touring group around the Coast, trying to bring the same experience you would have at a luxury lodge,” Billens said.

“Naturally what we do is very eco-based, but we wanted to take it to another level, this will tick all the boxes when it comes to what I do,” she said.

“The process can take up to 12 months, it’s a pretty intensive qualification process – they look at your business systems and marketing.

“It’s a natural evolution of tourism that you and your business are sustainable and regenerative.

“Tourism Australia certainly look at rewarding tour operators who are sustainable … this will really help with our marketing.”

The local trio join an additional seven local nature-based businesses in the program including the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park, Terrigal Ocean Tours and Iris Lodge Alpacas.

The Central Coast has the largest regional cohort of certified or seeking certification businesses, with companies set to be supported with online tools, resources and bootcamps delivered by Ecotourism Australia.

Central Coast Council Director Corporate Affairs and Chief Financial Officer, Natalia Cowley, said it was exciting to see so many local operators welcomed into the program.

“We are working with Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia to achieve ECO Destination Certification by World Environment Day in June 2022,” Cowley said.

“As an important part of this journey, nature-based tourism businesses on the Coast were recently invited to submit an EOI seeking support to pursue formal recognition as an ecotourism provider, joining our region’s wider certification journey.

“Through a fully-funded partnership with Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia, these businesses will receive mentoring throughout their certification journey, as well as a $500 funding incentive to assist with the first year of the process.”

If successful in achieving certification, the 10 new program members will join the Central Coast’s existing cohort of ECO certified operators – AquaFun Avoca Lake, Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre, Noonaweena in the hinterland, and TreeTops Adventure Park in Ourimbah State Forest.

Chief Executive at Ecotourism Australia, Rod Hillman, said the Central Coast is an outstanding candidate to become a certified ECO Destination.

“The Central Coast has well managed and extensive protected areas, a strong environmental ethic within the community and Council, and high-quality existing ecotourism experiences,” Hillman said.

“Ecotourism Australia visited the Central Coast in May to launch the region’s journey to become a certified ECO Destination with regional stakeholders and announce an incentive program to create and build new ecotourism products in the region.”

Council Administrator, Rik Hart said the support of Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia will ensure the region fulfills its potential as an eco-destination of choice.

“The Central Coast has an abundance of world-class, nature-based tourist attractions and this sees us well-placed to attract an increasing number of visitors seeking sustainable travel experiences,” Hart said.

“Tourism is an important pillar of the Central Coast economy and ecotourism will play an increasingly important role in ensuring the region is front of mind for a broad mix of visitors.”

The ECO Destination Certification program is fully funded by WWF-Australia as part of their Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund.

Maisy Rae