A new study by the Curtin University Sustainable Tourism Centre identifies plans for a massive LNG industrial site near Broome as a serious threat to the Kimberley's unique and globally-recognised tourism "brand".
The report entitled "Kimberley Whale Coast Tourism: A review of opportunities and threats" by Dr Michael Hughes and colleagues from Curtin University was commissioned by environment groups and launched today.
The report finds significant opportunities for increased regional economic benefits, including employment, through the burgeoning whale watching industry and enhanced marine protection. Broome is uniquely placed to benefit from whale tourism because of the proximity of the humpbacks and the fact they are in the area to give birth to calves.
Peter Robertson, state coordinator for The Wilderness Society WA, said the study presents a series of important findings that are at odds with recent "wishy-washy" government studies and statements on the impact of LNG industrialisation on Broome and Kimberley tourism.
Some of the study's key findings are:
· The Kimberley tourism "brand" is based on the unique natural and cultural values of the region, including its wildlife and vast, unspoiled coast and landscapes;
· Tourism is more valuable to the regional economy than resource projects which return less to the local economy, employ fewer local people and have relatively short lifespans;
· When iconic brands are damaged - as occurred in the 1970s with the location of an oil refinery on the Shetland Islands - it takes a lot of time, money and effort to rebuild;
· Currently around 10 tour operators, including Aboriginal-run businesses, offer whale-watching experiences out of Broome & the Dampier Peninisula - the site of the proposed LNG hub and port.
· There appears to be a substantial imbalance between government support for tourism, including indigenous tourism enterprises, and the far greater level of funding for resource extraction projects.
Martin Pritchard, director of Environs Kimberley, said the government needs to recognise the findings of the study which highlight the fact that Broome and surrounding communities do not need large scale industrial projects to secure their economic future.
Piers Verstegen, director of the Conservation Council of WA, called on WA Tourism Minister Dr Liz Constable to stand up for the Kimberley tourism industry and ensure that ill-considered resource projects do not "kill the goose that lays the golden egg".
Environment groups believe that Kimberley tourism needs to be better managed and requires much more indigenous involvement including expanded indigenous rangers programs, creation of new Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) and the introduction of a comprehensive licensing and permit system for tourism operators and tourists accessing remote land and sea country.
The WA jobs market is continuing to weaken, with signs the State’s construction sector is facing tougher days ahead.