A growing number of overseas visitors are looking to explore Australia’s unique indigenous experiences, with Tourism Australia recognising the potential for indigenous travel experiences to “set Australia apart from other destinations across the globe in an increasingly competitive global travel market.”
According to Tourism Research Australia, the number of indigenous cultural tourism visitors – those who “participate in at least one indigenous tourism activity during their trip” – has grown by an average 9% per year since 2013, reaching 963,000 last year.
However, Tourism Australia advises that those promoting these itineraries need to ensure that the trips are not only respectful of indigenous cultures but also remain authentic without promoting stereotypes.
Tourism Australia has a dedicated program, Discover Aboriginal Experiences, to promote Australia’s indigenous tourism experiences to the international travel market, comprising 43 export-ready tourism businesses, offering more than 130 different experiences around Australia.
Through the array of activities and tours offered through Discover Aboriginal Experiences, visitors can taste bush tucker, experience the healing powers of nature, discover ancient rock art, take a dot painting class, or enjoy outback dining under the stars.
Apart from the obvious success measures of visitor numbers and economic turnover from Aboriginal cultural tourism, there are social benefits for communities that comes with preserving and maintaining unique cultures in a living context.
The tourism promotion body also actively promotes Discover Aboriginal Experiences through a range of trade, marketing, and distribution activities and resources, including fact sheets, an extensive collection of images and videos that can be downloaded free of charge, and training modules to help educate travel advisors.
Sharon Tidbury, President of New York City-based Australian travel specialist Aspire Down Under, told the Skift website that her agency is experiencing a “definite interest for an aboriginal experience as part of an overall itinerary to Australia by our travellers alongside iconic landmarks and wildlife encounters.”
Tidbury estimated that 70% of her agency’s bookings include an aboriginal cultural touring experience, and this aspect has increased over time “as aboriginal cultural offerings have increased and become more prominent.”
According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, aboriginal art, craft, or cultural displays are the most popular activity among indigenous tourism visitors. The latest analysis shows that 47% of international visitors saw an art, craft, or cultural display, 29% attended a dance or theatre performance, 27% visited a cultural center, 25% a gallery, and 21% a site or community during their indigenous-focused holidays.
Tidbury said Aspire Down Under appreciates support it receives from Tourism Australia through the Indigenous Champions program, which has assisted in bringing more aboriginal-owned companies to the international market and providing training for their unique tour offerings.
NSW promotes aboriginal tourism through its Aboriginal Tourism Action Plan, designed to support the development of indigenous tourism experiences, products, and businesses. Specifically, the plan aims to ensure a greater understanding of the richness of aboriginal culture and to bring economic and social benefits for aboriginal operators and employees in the tourism sector.
In Queensland, Tourism and Events Queensland focuses on “driving demand through efforts in indigenous tourism experience development and marketing,” according to its mandate. This includes working in partnership with government and the private sector to create an environment conducive to stimulating indigenous tourism product and event development, tangible business growth opportunities for existing operators, and expanded employment opportunities across the industry.
The Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Tourism Strategic Plan aims “to guide the strategies and actions for a dedicated focus on the development of the aboriginal tourism sector in the Northern Territory”.
With aboriginal ownership of approximately 50% of land and around 84% of the coastline in the Northern Territory, there is a wealth of opportunity to provide visitors with aboriginal tourism experiences,, with the Plan advising “research indicates that there is a gap between the market demand for and supply of aboriginal cultural experiences in the NT, despite market perceptions that the Northern Territory is the foremost provider of aboriginal cultural experiences in Australia.”
For its part, Tourism Australia will continue working through its Aussie Specialist Training program, which has 32,000 registered travel advisors, to promote “Australia’s rich and diverse aboriginal tourism experiences, and shares an insight into aboriginal culture, including key destinations, suggested itineraries, and fact sheets.”
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