IF THE level of interest at a recent national Indigenous tourism conference is anything to go by, Indigenous participation in the Western Australia tourism industry is set to grow.
More than 1,000 delegates participated in the three-day conference in Perth.
The organisers, the West Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Committee, were surprised by the response.
“The board members of WAITOC decided it was time to get out there and to really find out what the level of interest amongst Aboriginal people and what their understanding was of involvement in the tourism industry,” WAITOC deputy chair Karen Jacobs said.
“They were blown away. They had no idea the tourism industry was so huge and so diverse and could literally cater for whatever capacity there was.”
In terms of WA’s tourism industry there has long been an established Indigenous sector, particularly around the north west.
However, Ms Jacobs said until recently some of the older operators had not actively promoted themselves.
Now, though, she said WA was “head and shoulders above the rest of the country”.
“Actually the whole State all up is being very pro-active in promoting involvement in business to the point where we’ve got other States looking at what we are doing and wanting to identify the models that we are using so that they can put them into practise,” she said.
This is not to say that it is all smooth sailing from here.
Ms Jacobs acknowledged this, saying indigenous operations were currently in an “incubation stage” but predicted the industry would probably stand alone in about two to three years.
Some operators are still heavily dependant on government wage subsidies while others were experiencing flat periods.
However, some operators are making profits up to $200,000 per year.
Ms Jacobs said recent increased government support of the industry was enabling WAITOC to deliver programs to benefit the sector.
She said they were currently doing a lot of work with indigenous operators to boost business skills.
“A lot of indigenous operations are still seen as unreliable and not punctual whereas all the members that we have, that is the one thing that we make sure that they are all aware of,” Ms Jacobs said.
“We certainly have the opportunities out there but it is a matter of changing a lot of attitudes.”
WAITOC is also working with mainstream operators who are eyeing off the Indigenous market.
“But they can’t do it unless they are an Aboriginal or employ an Indigenous person,” Ms Jacobs said.
“That is something we are looking at, at the moment with product development and partnership arrangements.”
Canning River Cruises is one operator that recently reached agreement with local Perth Aborigines to develop its heritage tours.
In exchange for the Indigenous cultural information the company gave an undertaking to develop employment opportunities for the Aboriginal group.
Proprietor Alistor McCormack urged other small businesses to embrace Aboriginal business.
“I think businesses have to be aware that it is a way of the future and be supportive and take up the challenge,” he said.
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