Australia focuses on Indigenous experiences post Covid-19

Queensland extends Year of Indigenous Tourism through 2021

Margret Campbell runs Dreamtime SouthernX Tours in Sydney.
Margret Campbell runs Dreamtime SouthernX Tours in Sydney. Photo Credit: Dreamtime SouthernX

The Year of Indigenous Tourism in Australia has thrown up a challenge to Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders that goes beyond the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the nation’s events industry.

There is a great variety of indigenous tourism product out there—everything from dot-painting workshops at Ayers Rock Resort in Central Australia to a guided tour of traditional Aboriginal camping grounds at Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens, to a snorkelling tour of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland that explores the ancient relationship between Indigenous culture and local marine life.

The challenge is to place authentic product before the eyes of event organisers that goes beyond the Aboriginal didgeridoo “Welcome to Country” ceremony that opens many international conferences in Australia.

The Northern Territory has claims to be the Australian leader in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism sector with Aboriginal ownership of approximately 50 per cent of the territory’s land and around 84 per cent of its coastline.

But while there is a wealth of opportunity to provide visitors to the Northern Territory with traditional Aboriginal tourism experiences—including jumping crocodile and corroboree billabong cruises—research indicates that there is a gap between the market demand for, and supply of, Aboriginal cultural experiences in the territory.

Cultural experience at Pudakul_mandatory credit Tourism NT Nick Pincott
A Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tour in the Northern Territory, an hour from Darwin, offers participants interaction with members of the Aboriginal community. Photo Credit: Tourism NT Nick Pincott

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Tourism Strategy 2020-2030, backed by a AU$400,000 (US$285,585) investment to support Aboriginal-owned tourism businesses, aims to drive better planning and marketing of the sector to promote future sustainable Aboriginal tourism growth.

Rebecca McCaig, director of Northern Territory Business Events, says the level of engagement with indigenous product varies according to the type of business event and the programme content. “However, the majority will include a Welcome to Country at the commencement of the event, which is delivered by a traditional owner of the land on which the event is taking place.

“Examples of other cultural activities include bush tucker excursions, dot-painting workshops, presentations on Aboriginal cuisine, artworks and traditions as well as cultural performances.”

Business Events Australia cites the Tourism Australia-approved Discover Aboriginal Experiences operation as a reference point for event organisers seeking authentic indigenous tourism product.

“Each member represents Australia’s various Aboriginal cultures with integrity and authenticity,” says Penny Lion, executive general manager events at Tourism Australia. “All tours are run by Aboriginal guides who, as owners of the stories they share, offer a means of connecting groups with Australian places and cultures.”

Margret Campbell runs Dreamtime SouthernX Tours and although she had had to reduce her staff from 10 to one due to the impact of Covid-19 on visitor numbers to Sydney, she believes taking her product online will help to draw business back to where it was pre-coronavirus.

“I had a request from a school in China for a video of one of my tours, so I think online is a place where I have to be in the future,” says Campbell.

Coinciding with the extension of the 2020 Year of Indigenous Tourism through 2021, Queensland has established a fund to support unique and innovative Indigenous tourism products and experiences, including events, particularly in regional areas.

Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel
Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel in Queensland. Photo Credit: Tourism Australia

Queensland tourism minister Kate Jones says the new Indigenous Tourism Sector Analysis report, released by Tourism and Events Queensland, has revealed more than 420,000 visitors take part in an Indigenous tourism activity every year.

“It proves just how important Indigenous tourism will be to the future of the whole industry in Queensland. Cultural experiences will be integral to a resurgence in international tourism as the recovery kicks in following Covid-19,” Jones adds.

“From Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and the renowned Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park north of Cairns, to the incredible natural setting of Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast and a host of new experiences being developed with the Quandamooka people on Minjerribah, Queensland is the best place for tourists to discover Australia’s ancient culture.”

More than 80 unique Aboriginal groups are represented in New South Wales and with such cultural diversity available New South Wales offers you some of the most accessible and remarkable Aboriginal experiences in Australia.

Tourism Western Australia, host sponsor for the World Indigenous Tourism Summit (WITS) being held in Perth in 2021, offers Camping with Custodians, an Australian-first initiative that involves the development of high-quality campgrounds on Aboriginal lands which are open to the public and operated by the community.

Visitors have the chance to stay on Aboriginal lands and to meet and mix with Aboriginal people with the fees they pay for their accommodation staying in the community.

For the participant communities, Camping with Custodians creates income, employment, training opportunities and the chance to showcase local lifestyle and culture.