Revitalising rivers with sustainable eco-tourism

Revitalising rivers with sustainable eco-tourism

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Globally rivers are being degraded through over-exploitation and pollution. Too often waterways suffer from piecemeal decisions that fail to consider the need to manage at a whole-of-river scale. This project uses sustainable eco-tourism 'trails' (fishing, camping, boating etc) along a whole river to address this major flaw in river management.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The primary problem is the piecemeal management of rivers and their water resources, so that they suffer 'death by a thousand cuts' with incremental accumulation of problems and impacts and over-allocation of water. Whole-of-river or catchment/watershed management is not a new idea but countries around the World struggle to operationalise the concept. In many situations the major users of water are allowed to dominate water sharing negotiations. Other stakeholders struggle to be heard in such decision making processes and feel disenfranchised. This initiative is about creating a stronger economic and social imperative for a broader consideration of the ecosystem services that rivers deliver if they are kept healthy and managed for sustainability. By marketing the values and opportunities that healthy rivers can offer along their entire length (not in one part or another) this creates a driver for public policy change that results in whole-of-river stakeholder engagement and decision making.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

This idea is innovative as it deliberately sets out to overcome a major public policy failure (piecemeal management) through using a financial and social 'tool' (sustainable eco-tourism) to drive change in management practices. Our pilot study along 400 kilometres of river in the rural heartland of eastern Australia is already showing that stakeholders in the communities that share this asset resonate to the concept of being able to enjoy 'trails' to move along the river and its corridor. We're documenting opportunities to paddle, camp, fish, ride, walk or drive from one end of the river to the other to create these 'trails'. In so doing there is a growing recognition that upstream and downstream communities need to work together for a broader well-being. This concept is underpinned by the benefits sustainable eco-tourism can deliver to the river communities through the opening up of new business opportunities which flow through into employment, and sustainable development. It also broadens the economic base of these rural communities to help them cope with times of drought and other adversity. The trails will unite those businesses geared to support eco-tourism in a collective marketing effort to attract international and national tourists to the region. Environmentally the benefits are created through stronger community care and concern for the condition of the river and its assets such as water and wildlife, which provide the foundations for the success of the eco-tourism 'trails'. The 'trails' will be promoted through a marketing campaign, the production of printed 'glovebox' guides, web-based materials and satellite navigation technology.
About You
RiverSmart Australia
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



RiverSmart Australia



Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

RiverSmart Australia

Organization Phone

61 2 62817470

Organization Address

36 Badimara Street, Waramanga, ACT, 2611

Organization Country


Your idea
Country your work focuses on


Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

The pilot study has attracted interest and support from nearly 30 local organizations and businesses already. A recent audit indicates there are close to 100 more that could become part of the river 'trails' initiative over the coming 12 months as we create a marketing brand and begin the roll out of those trails that are ready to be launched.

Interest has also come from regional development organizations wishing to work with us in this trial. The cross-section of organizations, from local government, farming to community service and Indigenous groups, fishing and boating clubs, nature, hiking and adventure sports, and their support industries, tell us that this concept has great potential to overcome the traditional impediments to whole-of-river management where sector-based interests have traditionally been allowed to dominate.

The tourism sector is also becoming more interested in this innovative approach with a number of these organizations approaching us to offer expertise and advice. We know from the feasibility study completed in early 2010 that if we can grow eco-tourism in the region by just 15% this will inject approx. US$30m per annum into the local economy and create 330 new jobs. In a rural region with depressed economy and little job creation this is seen as a major initiative for providing the young people in these communities with reasons to stay and not drift toward the major cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.


See 12 below. In addition to the eco-tourism 'trails', supporting this are a range of community engagement activities such as river festivals, paddle-a-thons, outdoor movies by the river, wildlife and water monitoring programs, schools curriculum materials and programs, outdoor education trails, fishing competitions etc. These are all designed to ignite community stewardship for the river. Lack of funding is the constant threat to this initiative reaching its full potential.


In the short-term we expect to see several eco-trails created and operational within the next 6-12 months. These will then be catalysts for the development of further trails and interpretive technologies. The hope is that these will start to boost the regional economy and generate jobs. From a policy perspective we expect to see our concept of 'healthy rivers = healthy businesses = healthy communities' emerge over the coming 2-4 years as a new approach to water sharing is decided for this particular river system.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

In the coming year we plan to complete the industry audit and market research to allow us to focus the future promotional effort on specific target groups from outside the region and internationally. This year will also see a brand and web site created with industry 'famils' held to promote an understanding among the eco-tourism operators of what the whole river has to offer. This year will also see the first 'trails' launched; these certain to include fishing, boating, camping and possibly wineries and other local primary producers.

In year two, assuming funding is forthcoming, we will move into 'building' additional trails, promoting these opportunities to additional target markets, and seeking funds for new trail creation infrastructure and businesses. Year three, again assuming funding is available, will be a continuation of growth toward a target of 'trails' that cover all natural and cultural assets of the river and its corridor.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Lack of funding to allow us to move forward beyond the current development phase.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$1000 - 4000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

In what country?


Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

RiverSmart Australia Ltd

How long has this organization been operating?

Less than a year

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

This initiative relies on broad cross-sectoral support and engagement. The very issue it targets is sector-based approaches and so without securing strong engagement from across stakeholder groups it will not succeed.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

Finding on-going funding, continuing to build support and trust among a broad cross-section of interests and continuing to gather information about the condition of the river so that our work is well informed by science.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

See below. The creation of RiverSmart Australia in late 2008 was the initiative of Dr Bill Phillips, CEO and Director of this not-for-profit organization. After working in government for nearly 15 years in Australia and then for nearly three years as Deputy Secretary-General of the global Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Dr Phillips saw the need for more innovative approaches to gain community and local stakeholder engagement in river and water management.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Mr Ian Rogan made the initial suggestion about developing an eco-trail idea for this river. The evolution of that idea to being a vehicle for promoting whole-of-river management came from Dr Bill Phillips, CEO of RiverSmart Australia and was supported by several local organisations.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Web Search (e.g., Google or Yahoo)

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer