Victoria’s tour operators and educational and recreational activity providers offer wonderful opportunities to connect people with the outdoor environment and importantly, contribute to the visitor and broader economies. Public land managers support safe, sustainable, high quality nature-based tourism in Victoria.
DEECA is proud to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of land and sea and all First Nations Peoples whose Country hosts these opportunities.
To run commercial tours and recreational activities on public land you must be licensed by the land manager. Contact us if you are unsure which is the responsible land manager.
- Legal access for the use of public land for business.
- Protection of natural and cultural values and general visitor enjoyment by managing access, use and impacts.
- Safety of visitors by specifying safety standards, insurance coverage and risk management.
- An opportunity to develop a land manager–operator relationship to realise dual benefits such as activity and use information, and communication about infrastructure and facilities.
Parks Victoria issues tour operator licences across the land and waters it manages including national and state parks. On DEECA's behalf, it also issues tour operator licences across state forests and waters that we manage.
Delegated land managers of reserved Crown land grant licences directly. These may include municipal councils, coastal committees or Alpine Resorts Victoria.
May 2023 - Fees are up to date with 2023-2024 annually indexed fees.
May 2023 - The 2021 tour operator licensing fee regulations are being extended until June 2025 with no change to the fee structure to allow time to complete a policy and fees review.
Policy review - DEECA has recommenced work on the tour operator licensing policy and fees review after it was paused during the pandemic. Find out more about the review from June 2023 on EngageVictoria
Want to know why using a licensed tour operator is the best way to explore your next adventure? Parks Victoria shows you.
Who requires a tour operator licence?
A person or business who conducts an organised tour or recreational activity for profit on public land is required to hold a tour operator licence.
If you engage a third party to deliver some or all the licensed activities, the third party must also hold a tour operator licence.
You need a licence if the tour or activity has commercial gain and is regular or repeated. If the activity is a one-off, you will likely need an event permit from the land manager. If you are still unsure, your land manager can advise whether a licence or event permit, or another permit is needed.
Commercial recreational activities could be anything from four-wheel driving, bushwalking, surfing and prospecting to wellness and fitness activities such as stretch, strength, yoga, personal training, organised swimming and running.
Commercial activity includes circumstances where a service is provided by a guide or leader and they are being paid, or where an entry or membership fee is collected beyond the costs of running the activity. This is regardless of an organisation being not-for-profit.
The requirement to hold a licence is set out within key public land management Acts: National Parks Act 1975, Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978, Forests Act 1958, Land Act 1958, and Wildlife Act 1975.
More about who needs a licence
Organisations providing a service to their members who do not receive financial gain over direct costs, do not need a tour operator licence. For example, a bush walking club who charge a participation fee to cover a leader’s fuel and lunch costs would not need a licence.
You do not need a licence to hire equipment, vehicles or vessels on public lands or waters where a guide is not provided as part of the service.
Public or private transport where a guided tour or activity is not provided as part of the service, do not need a licence.
Yes. Tour operator licensing applies to activities on state waters including including inland waterways, rivers, bays and coastal waters, marine national parks and sanctuaries.
This includes Port Phillip, Corio Bay and Western Port, the Gippsland Lakes and Portland Bay. Coastal waters extend to three nautical miles from the Victorian coast. A tour operator licence is not needed if all the activity takes place beyond the three nautical mile limit of State coastal waters. A permit, licence or lease may be needed from the land manager for berthing, mooring and other land based facilities.
If your tour or activity takes place on water only, a tour operator licence is only needed from the manager of those waters. If you use land for part of the tour, you need to be licensed for both.
You do not need a tour operator licence for land based activities that are not part of the tour or activity itself. This includes berthing, mooring, ticketing, loading and unloading or transitioning through public land for a short period of time. However, you must seek permission from the land manager, who may still require alternate permits, licences, or leases.
Coastal Crown land commonly has a different land manager from adjoining waters. For most inland waterways and coastal waters, Parks Victoria will be responsible for licensing, either as the manager or on behalf of us. Often coastal land will be managed by a delegated land manager as a committee of management who will grant licences.
You need a tour operator licence to run a cruise if the activity is carried out regularly and has a commercial purpose.
Water taxis and ferries, whether public or private, do not need a tour operator licence where the transport has no tour or recreation activity component. You may need a permit, licence or lease from the land manager for berthing, mooring and other land-based facilities.
No. An interim policy exempts fishing tours from needing a tour operator licence. This policy was put in place to avoid duplicate regulation at a time when fishing tours operators were required to have a trading vessel permit. This interim policy is being reviewed.
If you offer other activities such as sightseeing, wildlife tours or dolphin viewing, as part of a fishing tour, you need a tour operator licence for those activities.
If you are unsure if you need a licence contact the land manager for advice.
Yes. The marine mammal permits have a separate purpose, which is to permit tourism operators to approach whales, dolphins or seals in Victoria under conditions. You also need a tour operator licence to run the tour or activity.
No. Primary and secondary schools and higher education providers (TAFEs and universities) do not need a licence where staff run activities as part of the curriculum. School groups must follow the Department of Education and Training (DET) Safety Guidelines. Where schools or higher education providers contract a third party to conduct tours or outdoor recreational activities on public land, they must use a licensed tour operator.
Private education/training centres, adult education providers, industry and professional organisations that conduct organised tours or recreational activities (including training) for profit, need a licence.
No. You only need a tour operator licence for regular access to public land for organised tours and recreational activity. If you are planning a one-off event on public land, you should ask the land manager about an event permit. Different land managers may have different requirements, for areas managed by Parks Victoria visit Parks Victoria events, for areas managed by DEECA visit DEECA events.
Vehicle, vessel and aircraft operators need a licence when conducting an organised tour or recreational activity on public land or waters for profit. This includes chartered buses, vessels and helicopters taking sightseeing tours. Where a taxi or ride service (such as Uber) partners with an online travel company offering a tour or activity on public land, the taxi or ride service company or individual are required to be licensed.
A licence is needed for chartered tours or activities satisfying one or more commercial indicators:
- Intention to engage in business for a destination or experience, documented as an itinerary (scheduled or on demand) or guided tour.
- Interpretation or commentary is provided.
- Intended route includes multiple stops on public land.
- Provision of transport for entertainment or hospitality services on public land or water.
A licence is not required by a charter business where that business has been engaged to transport passengers from one location to another. Check with the land manager to see if other authorisations are needed.
Yes. Commercial outdoor recreational activities are inclusive of fitness, stretch, strength and wellness activities such as yoga, personal training, boot camps, and organised swimming or running. Fitness providers are currently exempt from paying use fees.
No. Lessees do not need a tour operator licence for activities covered by the terms of their lease. You need a licence for tours or activities not within the terms of the lease, or outside the leased area.
Yes. You need a licence from each public land manager for where the organised tour or activity takes place. To determine if two sets of use fees are payable, talk to both land managers for advice. It will depend on the time and extent of activity.
A licence is not needed to access public land that is not part of the tour or activity itself. For example, an activity solely based on water, does not require a licence to access the land facilitating the water access. However, you may need permission from the land manager.
Fees and fee relief
Tour operator licensing fees have two parts: an annual licence fee and a per-person, per-day use fee. The annual fee is due when the licence is granted. Tour operators must keep a record of the number of persons who participate in tours each day on the form provided by their land manager. This record is given to the land manager on a quarterly or annual basis to calculate the use fees payable.
The fees reflect the need to manage environmental and cultural values and safety issues that arise from nature-based tourism, education and activities. The licence fees allow public land managers to recover a reasonable proportion of licensing administration costs. Fees are set at a discounted cost recovery in recognition of the health, cultural and educational benefits of activities on public land.
A licence may be issued through a standard licence application process or through a competitive process when there are a limited number of licences.
2023-2024 fees for a standard tour operator licence
|Category||Fee for 2023-2024|
|Annual fee - standard one year licence||$330.40|
|Annual fee - standard licence multi year licence (per year)||$259.20|
|Use fee - adulta.||$2.40|
|Use fee - child (16 years and under) and school studenta.||$1.60|
|Use fee cap||$16,198|
a. per person per day
For standard tour operator licences there is a cap on the total amount of use fees a tour operator pays each year. If you pay the use fees quarterly, you are entitled to a refund of any excess paid over the use fee cap at the end of the financial year. If you pay the use fees annually you do not need to pay annual use fees above the capped amount.
Public land managers may set the annual fee for a competitively allocated licence. It must be at least the amount of the standard one year licence fee. It must also be a fair and appropriate return to the land manager and ensure administration costs are covered.
Use fees still apply for competitively allocated licences and the rate is the same as for standard tour operator licences. A use fee cap does not apply.
The fees must be advertised in a public Expression of Interest (EOI) document. The public land manager should seek a valuation by the Valuer General Victoria or a registered valuer for annual fees greater than $5,000.
2023-2024 fees for a competitively allocated tour operator licence
|Category||Fee for 2023-2024|
|Minimum annual fee||$330.40|
|Use fee - adulta.||$2.40|
|Use fee - child (16 years and under) and school studenta.||$1.60|
|Use fee cap||no cap|
a. per person per day
The requirement to pay fees is set out in five sets of tour operator licence fee regulations made under each key public land Act: National Parks Act 1975, Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978, Forests Act 1958, Land Act 1958, and Wildlife Act 1975.
The fee regulations ensure public land managers charge consistent fees across the State.
The fee structure was designed with low annual fees to reduce the upfront financial burden for operators and to collect a greater proportion of fees based on use.
The annual licence fee for a standard tour operator licence is fixed to 20.78 fee units, or 16.3 fee units for multi year licences. The use fee cap is set at 1018.74 fee units. The value of a fee unit is indexed annually for inflation by the Treasurer, ensuring the value of fees is not eroded by price increases over time. It is published in the Victoria Government Gazette.
The value of a fee unit for 2023-2024 is $15.90.
Standard tour operator licence fee units
|Annual licence fee for a one-year licence||20.78 fee units|
|Annual licence fee for a multi year licence||16.3 fee units|
|Use fee cap||1018.74 fee units|
|Value of a fee unit for 2023-2024||$15.90|
The annual standard licence fees and use fee cap are calculated by multiplying the regulated fee units by the annual fee unit value.
A licensee may pay multi year licence fees year by year for the annual indexed amount or upfront calculated at the year of payment.
A use fee waiver is in place for outdoor fitness trainers until a review of the tour operator licensing policy is complete (or when the 2021 fee regulations sunset in June 2025). The waiver applies for use fees only and trainers must hold a licence and pay an annual licence fee.
The waiver was issued under the regulations, following a review that found outdoor fitness trainers were disproportionately affected by the licensing system.
If you are affected by bushfire, flood or other natural event, or experiencing financial hardship you can apply for a reduction, waiver or refund of fees. First, discuss this with your land manager to see if there are other options for delivering the tour or activity such a relocation.
You may apply in writing to the land manager or delegate for tour operator licence fee relief - see 'how do I apply?'. Only the person who holds the tour operator licence may apply.
Relief can be sought for the annual licence fee, the quarterly or annual use fees, or both. Fee relief can be requested as a waiver, reduction or refund.
Fee relief is automatically granted for any non-commenced year of a surrendered licence.
Fee relief can only be requested for the period of your licence term and cannot be requested in advance of a new licence. Fee relief applications will not be accepted more than 90 days after the end of the period you are applying for.
Am I eligible for fee relief?
You may be eligible for fee relief under the following considerations:
- Whether paying the fee causes undue financial hardship.
- Whether payment of the fee is manifestly unfair.
- The impact of a natural or unnatural event on holding tours or activities.
The delegate may also use their own discretion to waive, reduce or refund fees for any appropriate reason.
Write to the appropriate land manager:
- the delegated land manager who issues your licence. Delegated land managers have the authority to make decisions about fee relief.
- for Parks Victoria issued licences, the delegate at DEECA:
Executive Director Land Management Policy
Mark the subject as ‘Tour Operator Licence Fee Relief Application’.
Relevant applications will be forwarded to the delegate of the Chief Executive Officer, Parks Victoria for consideration.
What information do I include?
- Provide a copy of your current tour operator licence(s).
- Advise whether you are applying for a reduction, refund or waiver of fees, and the amount sought.
- Advise the length of time for which you are seeking reduction, refund or waiver of fees, particularly if they are a multi-year licence holder.
- Detail the reasons why you are seeking reduction, refund or waiver of tour operator licence fees.
- If an application is on the grounds of financial hardship, include supportive evidence. This could be revenue and expense statements.
- Describe any circumstances that distinguish you from other operators.
You should also notify the public land manager(s) of your intention to apply for fee relief.
Please note applications submitted on the grounds of financial hardship should include supportive evidence such as a financial statement.
How will my application be assessed?
The delegate may seek further information from you or the land manager/s. The application will be assessed against the legislated matters of consideration and any evidence provided on its merits. It will take time to do consistency checks and go through approval processes.
The delegate will notify the applicant in writing of the outcome.
How do I apply for a licence and what are the conditions?
- Talk to the land manager about your proposal and ask how to access a tour opeator licence application form. A discussion will help you plan your activity, ensure you are aware of potential considerations and save time later. If you don’t know who the land manager is you may contact us by phone on 136 186 or Email. Parks Victoria issues around half of all public land tour operator licences.
- If the land manager supports the proposal in principle, they will send you an application form or direct you to a website to apply online. You will need to be prepared with insurance, tour or activity details and a map. Accreditation may also be needed.
- The land manager may want to discuss the application further with you. Time is needed for the land manager to complete uses and values checking, planning considerations and work out any site-specific or activity-specific conditions.
- The land manager will consider your application on its merits before granting the licence. Delegated Crown land managers must send the application to the regional DEECA office to seek approval of the decision to grant a licence. For areas co-managed in partnership with Traditional Owners, approval will be sought from Traditional Owner Land Management Boards.
- If the application is accepted the land manager will prepare execution copies of the licence and send them to you for signing. You sign the documents and return them to the land manager with the annual licence fee. The land manager will return an executed part of the licence to you for your records.
The duration of a licence is decided by the land manager, guided by policy in the 2018 Policy Update . If an applicant is accredited under a recognised industry accreditation program or has a good compliance history under previous licence conditions, land managers can offer longer (multi year) licences.
Duration of licences a land manager may offer
A standard licence for one year.
A licence for up to three years for operators with three years of full compliance. This means they have provided their insurance details, trip returns and paid invoices on time, and have a record of meeting all their compliance obligations under the licence.
A licence for up to five years subject to having recognised tourism accreditation.
A premium licence for up to ten years subject to having recognised tourism accreditation.
Under legislation, the maximum possible term of a licence is ten years. The minimum term is one year, even if an operator carries out tours or activities during a limited season. Pro rata terms and rates are not available.
You should confirm with the land manager the availability, term and conditions of the licence before applying. A licence grants a non-exclusive right to use land, so other users are still able to share the area.
When considering applications for multiyear licences public land managers should ensure:
- Applications are fairly and equitably considered.
- Applications to carry out the same activities and/or operate at the same locations are treated consistently.
- Applicants have transparency to decision making.
DEECA recognises tourism accreditation programs that drive high environmental, cultural and business management standards. New industry accreditation programs can be nominated for assessment to be recognised by contacting us.
DEECA recognised accreditation programs for longer licences
|Up to five year licence term||Up to ten year maximum licence term|
EcoCertification - Nature Tourism
EcoCertification - Ecotourism
Victorian Tourism Industry Council
Quality Tourism Accreditation
Level 2 – Sustainable Tourism (formerly, Australian Tourism Accreditation Program)
EcoCertification - Advanced Ecotourism
Respecting Our Culture
EarthCheck Benchmarking and Certification (formerly GreenGlobe Company Standard)
Public land managers offer consistent licence conditions for efficiency and the benefit of operators.
Licences are structured into general conditions, licensed areas, licensed activities, activity conditions, location conditions and any special conditions. We have a licence template for delegated land managers to use and for prospective licence holders to view as a sample.
We support the Australian Adventure Activity Standard and Good Practice Guides by making it an activity condition of the licence.
The AAAS and related GPGs are the outdoor sector’s good practice framework to manage risk and safety across a range of led outdoor adventure activities. They are based on the best available knowledge and experience across Australia.
The good practice framework comprises:
- The AAAS - key requirements for preparing and delivering all types of adventure activities.
- The core GPG - recommended common practices and supporting information for implementing the AAAS across all adventure activities.
- The various activity GPGs - detailed information on risk management and good practice for specific adventure activities.
The guidance framework covers risk management planning from design to delivery, identifying and understanding participants abilities and needs, communication, fit for purpose equipment and environments, and selecting leaders with appropriate skills and experience.
Who are the standards and GPGs designed for?
The Victorian AASs, the AAAS and GPGs are designed for use by anyone who is leading dependent participants on outdoor adventure activities, whether this is done commercially, not for profit or in a voluntary capacity.
Are the standards and GPGs compulsory?
The AASs, the AAAS and GPGs are voluntary standards and are flexible to allow users to adapt them to their own context. There is no direct standalone legal requirement to comply.
However, compliance is likely to be required by a land manager as a general condition of a tour operator licence or event permit. The AAAS and GPGs are an important tool for land managers to ensure that anyone who has a duty of care to activity participants is undertaking their activity in a safe and responsible manner.
Insurance companies may also require compliance with AASs, the AAAS and GPGs. Policy holders should check with their insurance provider.
Operators working with schools will need to reference relevant Department of Education and Training (DET) policies and procedures to ensure they meet DET requirements. The AAAS and GPGs complement these with general guidance.
Tour operator licences can be varied either by the licence holder applying to the land manger to request a variation or by the land manager giving written notice to the licence holder. The land manager may approve a variation if they are of the opinion the variation is required. The land manager must confirm the variation in writing to the licence holder.
Operators are encouraged to discuss proposed variations such as new tour routes with the land manager before applying.
Generally, the term of a licence cannot be extended as licence variation.
No, a standard tour operator licence is not transferable to other licensees or to unlicensed entities.
A licence allows the licensee to access and undertake specified activities on Crown land. It is not a property right that can be transferred between individuals. Private individuals are not authorised to make decisions about who a licence is issued to, therefore licence transfer is not permitted.
What if I am selling or buying a business?
If you are selling your business, you need to contact the land manager in writing as soon as possible to cancel your licence or notify of the sale of the business entity.
Prospective buyers should contact the land manger to confirm licensing requirements before purchasing an existing tour operator business.
A tour operator licence can be issued to either a business or an individual. If the licence is issued under a business name, and someone buys the business without changing the registered business name and continues to comply with all licence conditions, they do not need to go through a full application process. Rather, the business owner can apply for a licence variation to change the contact’s name.
Alternatively, the prospective owner can contact the land manager and apply for a new tour operator licence. Most tour operator licences are not restricted in number, so if you meet licence terms, conditions and insurance requirements, a licence will generally be issued.
Compliance, offences and penalties
Land managers have a responsibility to provide operators with advice and assistance to help them understand and meet their compliance obligations.
Land managers are also responsible for monitoring compliance with regulatory requirements and taking enforcement action against non-compliance.
DEECA also has a broad responsibility to provide information and guidance to encourage compliance with rules for tour operator licensing.
Compliance and enforcement action must be carried out by an authorised officer appointed by the Secretary of DEECA under the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987.
Public land managers who do not have authorised officers should contact their local DEECA office for advice.
The following offences and penalties apply to tour operators:
- A person must not conduct an organised tour or recreational activity for profit on relevant public lands unless that person holds a tour operator licence.
- A holder of a tour operator licence must not contravene the conditions of the licence.
- A public land manager may suspend or cancel a tour operator licence if a condition of licence is breached, provided the processes set out in the legislation are followed.
The penalties for these offences are 20 penalty units for a natural person and 100 penalty units for a body corporate.
The Conservation, Forests and Lands (Infringement Notice) Regulations 2013 provides public land managers with powers to issue on-the-spot fines (Infringement Notices) for offences relating to tour operator licences. The penalties available for on-the-spot fines in relation to both offences are 3 penalty units for a natural person and 10 penalty units for a body corporate.
Fees and fines are indexed each year for inflation, so the value is maintained. The value of a penalty unit for a financial year is fixed by the Treasurer under section 5(3) of the Monetary Units Act 2004.
The value of a penalty unit for 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024 is $192.31.
A land manager may suspend a tour operator licence if there are reasonable grounds to do so.
The following legislative requirements apply to suspend a licence:
- A notice in writing must be given to the holder of the licence and specify the time from which suspension takes effect. The maximum period for a suspension is 90 days.
- A notice of suspension to a licence holder must include information that a licence holder may make a written submission asking for their suspension to be reviewed.
- Submissions must be made within the period specified in the notice.
- The land manager must review the decision to suspend the licence on receipt of any submission.
- The land manager must notify the person whose licence has been suspended of the outcome of the review.
A public land manager may cancel a tour operator licence if they are satisfied, on reasonable grounds, the licence holder has been found guilty of an offence against the relevant Act or has breached a condition of the licence.
The legislation specifies:
- Before cancelling a tour operator licence, the land manager must notify the licence holder they propose to cancel the licence and allow the licence holder an opportunity to make either an oral or written submission.
- Submissions must be made within the period specified in the notice.
- In deciding whether to cancel a tour operator licence, the land manager must have regard to any submissions made and must notify the holder of their decision.
If you would like to report a suspected offence, please call our Customer Contact Centre on 136 186.
Policy and templates
The current tour operator licensing policy is the 2008 policy statement and 2018 policy update about including more opportunities for long term licences and additional guidance on competitive allocation of licences:
These tour operator licensing templates are for delegated land managers to use and for prospective operators to view:
In some situations it is necessary to restrict the number of licences to protect natural or cultural values, or visitor safety. This may include popular beachside locations with strong demand for water based activities.
In these circumstances, public land managers may grant licences through a public, competitive process or an expression of interest (EOI) to ensure fair allocation of the limited number of licences.
Guidelines and templates are available here to support delegated land managers run an EOI process:
Page last updated: 04/07/23