12/12/2007 - 22:00

International visitors drive growth in indigenous tourism

12/12/2007 - 22:00

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Although still primarily a niche market segment, indigenous tourism has grown in popularity of late, particularly among international visitors seeking a more unique Australian cultural experience.

International visitors drive growth in indigenous tourism

Although still primarily a niche market segment, indigenous tourism has grown in popularity of late, particularly among international visitors seeking a more unique Australian cultural experience.

Western Australia has more than 100 indigenous tourism operators covering a wide variety of authentic indigenous experiences, from eco-friendly accommodation to tours, visitor centres, traditional dance and art.

The bulk of the operations are concentrated in the Kimberley and Dampier Peninsula regions, where the concept of indigenous people engaging with the mainstream tourism industry began decades ago.

In fact, some of the first indigenous tourism operations started 15-20 years ago – including the well-known Kooljaman wilderness camp at Cape Leveque north of Broome, and the Wundargoodie Aboriginal Safaris in Wyndham – are still in operation today.

Since its humble origins, the profile and popularity of indigenous tourism has grown, and that trend looks set to continue as demand for cultural, eco and nature-based tourism experiences increases.

International visitors are the largest consumers of indigenous tourism products, with an estimated 830,000 visitors to Australia participating in indigenous cultural experiences annually.

That number is projected to rise to more than 1.3 million visitors by 2016.

Locally, about 160,000 visitors to WA experience Aboriginal art and craft and culture displays each year, with about 81,000 visiting an Aboriginal site or community.

German visitors to WA rated the highest, with 22 per cent doing at least one of the activities, followed by tourists from Japan and the United Kingdom, both at 21 per cent and the US at 14 per cent.

Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Committee (WAITOC) chief executive officer, Angelique Fransen, said since the organisation was incorporated in 2002, the number of market and export ready operators had increased from 30 to more than 65.

As the peak not-for-profit body for indigenous tourism in WA, WAITOC represents more than 100 different operators across the state, taking part in trade shows and increasing awareness of WA indigenous product in international markets.

It is also looking to bridge the gap between indigenous and mainstream tourism experiences, promoting indigenous tourism as a part of the overall Australian experience.

Ms Fransen said indigenous tourism provided a unique cultural experience which differentiated Australia on an international scale.

“The feedback we receive is that people want cultural tourism experiences,” she told WA Business News.

“People can go and sit on a beach anywhere. But the individual, cultural, unique things is what people want to do here.”

For the local communities, the development of viable indigenous tourism operations encourages local employment, as well as independence and self-sufficiency.

“Most operators are family based or individual operators using the community and elders as part of the business,” Ms Fransen said.

For small and sole operators, Ms Fransen believes partnerships with other groups are important in engaging the mainstream tourism sector.

Margaret River luxury retreat Moondance Lodge offers unique and personal indigenous experiences through its partnership with local Aboriginal cultural custodian, Josh Whiteland.

Experiences include a didgeridoo meditation, a medicinal tribal bush walk, and Aboriginal corroboree.

Managing director Geraldine Reilly said the partnership with Mr Whiteland offered international tourists a connection to an authentic Australian experience, while also making contemporary Aboriginality more accessible to a wider audience.

“I help to facilitate by creating the space and helping people connect to the material. But I’m not an indigenous person, so I stay on the right side of that line. It’s a partnership,” Ms Reilly said.

One of the state’s newest indigenous tourism operations is Goombaragin Eco Ventures, located 160 kilometres north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula.

Operating in its current form since June this year, the facility offers five eco tents raised on wooden platforms, which sleep between two and five people, and access to nearby activities and cultural tours.

Goombaragin is looking to build six chalets by the end of next year to offer a more up-market product in addition to the tent option.

Owner Kathleen Cox said Goombaragin offered a very exclusive, private and secluded offering, with visitors given the opportunity to engage in a range of activities with the local community.

She also believes that creating viable and sustainable businesses through “lifestyle tourism” products encourages development within the communities.

“For Goombaragin, the main thing was to be independent from government welfare and have a bit of control over our destiny and work towards our own independence,” Ms Cox said.

In late October, the state government allocated $1.5 million over four years to WA’s indigenous tourism industry, to encourage job creations and boost Aboriginal tourism businesses.

The funding package aims to create 100 employment and training positions within indigenous tourism, consisting of 70 new trainee posts and 30 extra tourism cadet positions.

There are a number of new indigenous tourism developments in the pipeline.

Moondance Lodge is looking at developing a indigenous camping experience in the region.

Also in the south of the state, Yuralyii Tours is looking to develop tours from Perth to the Mid West region, and Wiilmun Tours, a new business operating day tours from Perth to Collie.

In the north, plans are under way on the $5 million Roebourne Cultural Centre, with a number of indigenous people in the region expressing interest in develop tours from the centre once established. 

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