Is there a market for a walking experience in East Gippsland?

Stakeholder support for the project

There is significant support from both the East Gippsland Shire and Destination Gippsland to grow nature-based tourism and create a range of different products and experiences sufficient to change potential consumers’ perceptions of the area and lead to higher levels of visitation.

Stakeholder consultation found strong activity and growth with significant new nature-based tourism projects coming on stream in the next few years in the wider East Gippsland region. Stakeholder conversations were wide ranging and varied based on the interests of the stakeholder.

A key outtake was the strong interest in developing trails and networks, but not all believed the original 10-12 day Sea to Summit walk was the highest priority. The lack of current infrastructure (accommodation, telephone coverage etc) along the trail and work underway on trails in other nearby areas (connecting with towns, plus with the coastal walk) were raised as issues.

The proponents provided substantive information on the origin of the walk concept. It was noted that while the desire to connect the sea to summit was still paramount, consideration of Traditional Owner wishes plus the importance of creating local jobs and supporting the communities in the area, meant the early indications from market testing showing interest in shorter walk options needed to be considered.

What do people want from a nature experience?

To experience ‘wild’ nature

People increasingly believe in the benefits of time spent interacting with nature as opposed to the heavily human dominated environments most of us live in. In the built environments people are not experiencing the sense of awe in nature that is protected from human domination. Wild places allow us to experience a sense of humility and awe instead of what city-dwellers see daily and that is the evidence of human adaptation gone wrong.

Adventure with some indulgence and comfort

People want to leave behind the city but are also seeking to indulge their senses with food, wine, smells, sounds, quietness, stillness, exposure to weather. They want local produce and authentic experiences. Some would like to stay in bed and breakfast style accommodation at the start and end.

It’s a broad spectrum of needs

For some the adventure dials up and the luxury dials down, while at the other end of the spectrum it’s the luxury that they want dialled up and the adventure to be very soft.

Multi-dimensional experiences

Human beings are complex with different experiences, and components/dimensions [i.e.mind, body and soul], integrated into a creature that experiences people, the human self, and the natural environment differently. It appears that all these dimensions seek to be fed by the experiences they have. Adding depth and breadth of nature-based experiences in wilderness enables humans to flourish.

To collect memories (not things)

This involves doing things and not passively watching things. Enabling activities such as eBikes, kayaking down stream, 4WD for access (about a quarter own a 4WD). Though the ‘4WDing’ was polarising with some being in favour of it and others fearing it would harm the environment (e.g. petrol fumes, etc).

To feel they haven’t harmed the planet

Even for a few days people want to be in nature and feel they haven’t harmed it. This is a crucial factor in understanding luxury – it’s luxury that provides comfort (to all senses) but not through wholesale changing and domination of the environment but in sympathy with it.

Key findings

  • 70% of adult Australians want to have a nature experience (of at least 1 hour walking in nature)
  • a one day walk was the most desired nature experience (62%) from a range of experiences presented, followed by one day 4WD (31%) and one day cycle (24%)
  • not many Australians know about East Gippsland
  • of the walkers surveyed:
    • most have walked at least once with a commercial operator
    • 62% have done a one day walk and want to do one again
    • 22% have done a multi-day walk and want to do one again
    • 15% haven’t done a one day walk but want to
    • 26% haven’t done a multi-day walk but want to
    • more want to do a multi-day hike than are currently doing them.