Licences, permits and legislation for tourism businesses

Tourism licences and permits

The permits and licences you need to run a tourism business in Queensland will depend on the services you offer (e.g. transport, accommodation, meals) and whereabouts you offer them (e.g. Great Barrier Reef or K'gari (formerly Fraser Island)).

There are local, state and Australian government laws that apply to trade and business activities and you should be aware of the requirements that apply to your business.

The Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) is an excellent resource to help you find government licences, permits, approvals, registrations, codes of practice, standards and guidelines.

Tour operators

You may need to register as an inbound tour operator in Queensland if you sell leisure, group or corporate travel packages to overseas companies (including on-sellers such as wholesalers or travel agents). Check your eligibility criteria.

Providing short-term rental accommodation

To offer rental accommodation to customers you may need permission from your local council.

Providing meals

To offer meals, even a barbecue lunch, as part of your business, you may need a Food Business Licence from your local council. Learn more about food and beverage industry regulations and compliance.

Providing transport

To transport your customers by water, sea or road, you may need 1 or more of the following permits:

Transport type Permit required
Boat, ferry or ship

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is the national regulator for domestic commercial vessels. Contact AMSA for all domestic commercial vessel enquiries.

To use jetties for your tour operation, you may need the following permit from the local council for each jetty.

  • Commercial Use of Jetties Permit – permit costs vary depending on your tour operation and it will take the council 4 weeks to process your application. All commercial vessels must be approved to use jetties and pay mooring fees.
Pontoon, artificial island or fish aggregating device
  • Permit to Operate a Sea Installation – you need this permit to operate a pontoon, fish aggregating device or artificial island – that is either attached to the sea floor or floating and used for an environmental related activity.
  • Driver Authorisation is required to drive public passenger services of a particular kind in Queensland.
  • Operator Accreditation is required to operate public passenger services of a particular kind in Queensland.

Serving alcohol

To supply alcohol to your customers, you may need a:

Liquor licence exemptions

Tour operators, limousine, bed-and-breakfast accommodation and host farm accommodation providers are exempt from needing a liquor licence, providing they supply no more than 2 standard drinks per person per day.

Filming and photography

If you are a commercial filmmaker or photographer wanting to operate in a national park, conservation park, recreation area or state forest, you must apply for a Commercial Activity Permit (CAP) if the activity involves 11 or more people and is with or without prescribed structures.

Fishing and fossicking tours

To do activities, such as fishing and fossicking, as part of your tour business, you may need 1 or all of the following:

  • Charter Fishing Licence – this licence is needed for commercial fishing charters with at least 1 boat of any size in offshore waters. The boat must be in water at least 2m deep, and not in a waterway or on a foreshore.
  • Fossicking Licence (Commercial tour operator) – this licence is needed to fossick for gemstones, ornamental stones, mineral specimens and alluvial gold for recreational and tourist purposes. In most cases, you will also need the landowner's permission.
  • Fossicking Camping Permit (Commercial tour operator) – this permit is for commercial tour operators who bring groups to certain designated fossicking areas where camping is regulated.
  • Fossicking for gold – you may need an Environmentally Relevant Activity Licence (part of the development permit) from your local council to fossick for gold or other metals.

Providing tours in protected natural areas (e.g. whale watching and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef or K'gari (formerly Fraser Island))

To operate commercial activities in or from Queensland, you may need 1 or more of the permits listed in the table below:

Natural area Permit required
National Parks, Recreational Areas and Forests Commercial Activity Permit – you need this permit to operate commercial activities including guided tours, events and filming and photography.
Commonwealth National Parks Permit to Conduct Commercial Activities in Commonwealth Parks and Reserves – permit to conduct commercial activities in all reserves, including marine reserves. Permit stays in effect for up to 12 months and cannot be transferred.
Great Barrier Reef Permit for Activities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – permit for commercial activities not regulated by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).
Moreton Island, K'gari (formerly Fraser Island), Bribie Island Commercial Activity Permit to conduct tours and activities.
Queensland Marine Parks Permit to Carry Out Activities in Queensland Marine Parks – you need this permit for commercial tourism, any development work and mariculture and commercial collecting, within Queensland Marine Parks.
Antarctic region Environmental Impact – Australian Antarctic Territory Permit – in most cases, you need this permit to undertake commercial or non-commercial activities in the Australian region of the Antarctic.
Bathing reserves Activities in Bathing Reserves Permit from your local council. Use of bathing reserves, including the hire of aquatic equipment in designated bathing reserves, is regulated to enhance public safety.
Whale watching

Snorkelling and Diving Code of Practice

To offer activities such as snorkelling and diving as part of your tourism business, you will need to comply with the diving and snorkelling code of practice. The Code includes a number of safety measures for operators, including:

  • ensuring automatic external defibrillators are available on reef tourist vessels
  • ensuring systems are in place to identify at risk snorkellers prior to them entering the water
  • having flotation devices available and are used by at risk snorkellers
  • and
  • ensuring at risk snorkellers swim in a buddy pair.

Operating radio transmitter equipment

To operate radio transmitter equipment as part of your tourism business, you may need a Radiocommunications Apparatus Licence – Transmit.

Keeping animals other than dogs or cats

To keep animals other than dogs or cats as part of your tour operating business, you may need a Keeping of animals other than dogs or cats permit from your local council.

Tourism legislation

Queensland's tourism industry is governed by a number of laws governing transport, accommodation, business and activities in environmentally protected areas, such as:

Tour operators and guides

In terms of protecting tourists in their dealings with inbound tour operators and tour guides, tourism in Queensland is regulated by the Tourism Services Act 2003.

Standard business legislation

As a tourism business you will be required to comply with standard business legislation, such as the Fair Trading Act 1989 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Environmental legislation

Depending on where you operate your business, you may also be required to comply with environmental legislation, such as the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and the Marine Parks Act 2004.

Other state and federal laws

Various other state and federal laws apply to trade and business activity and you should be aware of the requirements that apply to your individual business. The Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) is a useful starting point.

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