The objective of this paper is to identify factors that may affect the long term environmental and economic sustainability of tourism in northern Australia. The paper does not suggest a set of recommendations about specific actions to deal with the future but does offer observations about how the tourism industry can respond to the challenges that the future will generate. A three stage research methodology was employed commencing with a literature review of past reports and academic research followed by an environmental scan to identify major factors that may affect the study region in the future and concluding with interviewers with stakeholders from across the study region. The paper reviews a wide range of factors including the impact of long term structural changes, ongoing evolution of consumer demands for tourism experiences, changes in source markets and climate change. The paper concludes with a discussion on how the tourism industry in the study region could respond to the issues raised in this research. The following points summarise the major findings of this research:
Between 1999 and 2012 there was no growth in the tourism industry in the study region (2013 data was not considered).
There is no substantive evidence to suggest that the study region’s natural environment is being used in an unsustainable manner by the tourism industry.
This situation may change in the long term if the impact of climate change reduces the resilience of the region’s ecosystems.
The long term economic sustainability of the region’s tourism industry is being adversely affected by the growing mismatch between consumer demand and what the region has chosen to supply.
In the long term, continued over reliance on the region’s ecosystems as the main pull factor to attract tourists is likely to lead to low or no growth.
New investment targeted at new markets and offering new experiences will be required to overcome the stagnation experienced in the period between 1999 and 2012.
There is little evidence that stakeholders realize the need for new activities and experiences to augment the study region’s current suite of environmental experiences.
The ongoing health of the region’s tourism economy is closely tied to the health of the region’s ecosystem.