11/11/2010 - 00:00

Indigenous tourism gets funds boost

11/11/2010 - 00:00

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Indigenous tourism leaders are hopeful a funding boost for the sector will raise the level of professionalism of its operators. Aimée Sargent reports.

Indigenous tourism gets funds boost

A NEW agreement between Tourism WA and the Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Committee (WAITOC) will deliver $1.3 million to the indigenous tourism sector over three years, boosting the profile and professionalism of its operators.

Jointly funded by the Royalties for Regions scheme, Tourism WA chairman Kate Lamont hopes the support will allow WAITOC to build capacity in the sector to meet the increasing demand for quality and authentic cultural experiences.

“We know that it is a unique selling point for WA – the combination of our landscape and the indigenous connection to the country – so we wanted to assist WAITOC to continue their good work and put them into a position where they can formulate ideas how they want to market their niche,” Ms Lamont says.

As part of the agreement, not-for-profit association WAITOC will be required to conduct marketing activities around indigenous tourism and on behalf of its members. Ms Lamont says this may include activities such as developing a product manual and further developing its website.

Additionally, WAITOC will represent indigenous operators at trade shows such as the Australian Tourism Exchange.

WAITOC has been representing indigenous tourism for the past decade. The member-based body includes accommodation providers, bush tour operators and art galleries.

Ms Lamont says the funding is in recognition of WAITOC’s role as a mature industry organisation that has a history of getting businesses up and running and international ready, meaning they are equipped to take on tourists who have expectations about the type of experience they are going to get.

“WAITOC is a much-revered association around Australia; people look to them as best practice in terms of growing the capacity of their sector,” Ms Lamont says.

According to industry research, 80 per cent of international visitors are seeking an indigenous cultural experience, but only 20 per cent of these visitors are actually getting one. Shifting the weight of this statistic is a key objective of WAITOC.

With the focus primarily on driving up tourist numbers comes a potential risk that flooding the market will compromise the authenticity of the cultural experiences.

Neville Poelina, owner-operator of Uptuyu Aboriginal Adventures and chairman of WAITOC, doesn’t agree.

“A lot of people come to WA for an indigenous experience and leave disappointed because they don’t know how to find one – we need to be better marketed,” Mr Poelina says.

“So there’s definitely room for more indigenous operators; the market does demand that. Just in my region there seems to be the numbers there to support more indigenous businesses to come to fruition.”

Mr Poelina says the much-needed funding will enable the volunteer-run WAITOC board to focus on raising the awareness of the sector and ensuring it can offer professional, accredited operators.

“We intend to make good use of the funding to show the [state] government that we’re worth funding in the future,” he says.

“But I don’t believe we’ve been given a handout here, it’s more like a hand up.”

Ms Lamont says the funding will give WAITOC certainty about how the association wants to move forward in its advocacy role and, of equal importance, become a sustainable business.

“There are some KPIs around [the funding], but the message is we have confidence in their capacity to deliver because we’ve observed their performance over time,” Ms Lamont says.

“Also, we talk a lot about cross-agency support and yet there’s a lot of frustration out there that it doesn’t really deliver on the ground.

“So this is a great example of addressing that; WAITOC will work with the each of the five regional tourism organisations, and other tourism industry stakeholders, to deliver marketing activities at a local, interstate and international level.”

Since its inception, Mr Poelina says WAITOC has “run on the smell on an oily rag”, but to the board’s credit, more than 50 per cent of indigenous tourism operators are now fully accredited.

“To us that’s a powerful statement and it means accredited operators are marketed across the world through trade shows, visitor centres and tourism websites,” he says.

In order to achieve accreditation with WAITOC and the Tourism Council of WA, a business must be delivered by an indigenous person and be culturally appropriate.

In an effort to boost accreditation numbers and his own business, Mr Poelina set up a training centre at the Oongkalkada Wilderness Camp in the Kimberly region.

The centre was established with the support of a $500,000 grant from the Indigenous Regional Development Program through the WA Department of Regional Development.

“My business has been growing but it’s been hard to find employees because they don’t have the necessary skills, so we branched out into teaching indigenous tourism so we can get more professional people in the industry,” Mr Poelina says.

“At the training centre, they come and train with us so they can go back to their communities and provide indigenous tourism.

“Basically, it’s all about giving tourists the opportunity to experience the best of the region they are travelling in.”

 

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