THESE are tough times for those in the business of tourism.On a local level, the collapse of Ansett will have long-term ramifications for many operators in Australia’s most isolated State. Internationally, the effects of the terrorist attacks in the US are already being seen, with fewer people flying and airlines laying off tens of thousands of staff.And while the WA Tourism Commission has been quick to re-evaluate and reassess its marketing plans in the wake of these two devastating events, not everything is up for review.The WATC is standing strong beside its Be Touched By Nature campaign, designed to capitalise on WA’s natural assets and meet tourists’ increasing demands to physically interact with nature.The project is quite unique in that tourists are able to interact one on one with nature in activities including planting seeds, watching turtles lay eggs, and counting whale and cockatoo sightings.WATC acting chief executive Richard Muirhead said he did not expect the recent difficulties to affect the success of the program.“That won’t be affected – it has a niche market that wants it and I don’t expect it to go away,” he said.“Nature-based tourism has grown in importance and will continue to do so.“People are moving towards looking for different priorities (in travel) and nature-based issues are one of the new priorities people will be seeking. They’re high on the list of desirable things to do.“A return to nature will be just what people are looking for.”The campaign is the result of long-term collaboration between the WATC, a variety of volunteer organisations, government agencies and private enterprise.It also involves a series of nature-based stories to be produced by Channel Nine Perth’s Postcards team and aired on the program.Despite the dampened spirits of many in the tourism industry, the launch of the partnership between Postcards and the WATC went ahead just days after the Ansett collapse.Channel Nine’s general manager, Paul Bowen, said he was very excited at the prospect of working with the WATC to promote tourism in WA.“This is a major, major event,” he said.Under the partnership plan, Postcards will feature about 30 nature-based tourism stories over the next 12 months. The stories will air not only in Perth, but will been seen by regional viewers through the WIN network.Mr Muirhead said that, when the WATC approached Perth’s commercial TV stations earlier in the year about the Be Touched By Nature campaign, Channel Nine responded very enthusiastically to the proposal.He said the object of the alliance was to highlight WA’s natural assets and encourage more Western Australians to holiday at home.“Western Australia offers some of the most remarkable natural experiences in the world and we want as many people as possible to experience them,” Mr Muirhead said.This aim falls in line with the State Government’s plans to spend part of the $5 million recently allocated for supporting services affected by the Ansett failure on boosting the State’s tourism market, principally by encouraging residents of the State to travel at home.A major marketing campaign aimed at encouraging Western Australians to holiday at home began just five days after the Postcards launch, including new radio and print advertising.Regional tourism associations throughout WA also can expect to receive up to $50,000 for additional advertising campaigns to promote rural WA, providing the activities meet WATC approval.Tourism Minister Clive Brown said it was vital that confidence in the tourism industry was restored.“It is important that we ensure everyone who is contemplating a holiday is confident enough to go ahead with those plans,” he said.Mr Muirhead chose the launch of another of the Be Touched by Nature projects to encourage tourists to “get back in the saddle” after recent upheavals.“To demonstrate our confidence in tourism I’ll be flying to Kalgoorlie to launch the Silky Pear project,” Mr Muirhead said.As part of the Silky Pear program, visitors will assist in the regeneration of a 200ha bushland park by scattering the seeds of one of the area’s most significant plants – the Karlkurla Vine or Silky Pear.Another project under the umbrella of the Be Touched By Nature campaign is the Ocean Giants Lookout Kit. The kit will be sold at visitors’ centres and Albany’s Whaleworld and will offer tourists the opportunity to help CALM by tracking the movements of the humpback and southern right whales.Summer of Turtles, a joint venture between CALM, the WATC, Murdoch University and the tourism industry, will allow tourists to observe and monitor egg laying and hatching.On the Trail of the Red Tailed Black Cockatoo is another program with links to various organisations, including the WA Museum and Friends of the Bibbulmun Track.Tourists can purchase a Bibbulmun Track Pack for $20 and record bird sightings so as to assist the Museum prevent a further decline in the population.The Twin Karri Boardwalk project was seen as a bench-mark for nature-based tourism success in WA. In the southern forest region near Northcliffe, tourists using nature trails helped to build a boardwalk around the root system of a 450-year old tree.The nature-based tourism industry generates an estimated $75 million a year.The WATC estimates that, by 2010, it will generate $500 million per year and provide 5000 jobs.
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