Understanding the barriers to a sustainable Indigenous

Understanding the barriers
to a sustainable Indigenous
tourism sector
Dr Lisa Ruhanen, The University Of Queensland
Dr Michelle Whitford & Dr Char-lee McLennan, Griffith
• Globally tourism has been advocated as a socioeconomic opportunity for Indigenous peoples
• Federal and State governments have focused on
Indigenous tourism since the mid 1990s
▫ Business and regional development, (rural)
employment, culture and community
• Marketing and point of difference for the
tourism sector
• Some 300+ Indigenous tourism businesses
• Governments continue to report high levels of
visitor interest in Australia’s Indigenous tourism
• Demand for Indigenous tourism has been in
decline for the past decade
▫ GFC, declining inbound and domestic visitor
• Size of the visitor market estimated to be 2%
= 100,000 of the 5.5 million international visitors to
Aim of the study
• Gap analysis of supply and demand for
Indigenous tourism in Australia
• Explore Indigenous tourism operators
perceptions of the opportunities and barriers to
developing a sustainable tourism business
Research Methods
• Mixed methods
• 1357 international and domestic tourists
conducted at four locations in Australia
• In-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face
interviews with 34 Indigenous tourism operators
▫ 10 locations across Australia – mix of urban and
• 34 Indigenous tourism operators
▫ Owners, managers
▫ Sole operators, company, independent statutory
authority, not-for-profit
▫ Tours, accommodation, gallery, cultural centres,
retail, hospitality
• Average length of operation 14 years
• Number of employees – 1 to 80, + casual
• 200 – 5000 visitors received annually
Theme: Macro Environment
• Economic environment
▫ “I've tried to adjust and readjust and readjust my
prices…but I'm getting so close to my…purchase price…but
it just gets to a point where you can't do anything about it”
• International visitor numbers
▫ “we are more than 50% down on what we should be at the
moment…but the volume is way down on both - way
• Competition
▫ “my biggest issue is…with xxxx opening; the awareness of
that is brilliant”
▫ “quite a bit of accommodation has been taken up by people
involved in mining and gas exploration. That only puts up
the pressure on the prices, the room prices”
Theme: Internal Environment
• Sourcing, training and retaining appropriate staff
▫ “finding the people with the degree of skill and the
degree of commitment”
▫ “we employ Aboriginal guides where we can…that's
one of the big problems I have with the whole thing.
We can't get Aboriginal guides. I train Aboriginal
people in tourism and have for many, many years
and trained many, many people. Just getting them to
stay is virtually impossible”
• Meeting government regulations (i.e., permits,
• Remote and rural constraints (i.e., increased
operational costs)
Theme: Sector challenges
• Seasonality and external weather forces (i.e.,
cyclones, floods, etc.).
• Staffing
▫ “the lack of ready, willing and able cultural
Aboriginal people”
• Marketing
▫ “obviously trying to get more people through the
door, more exposure”
• Lack of sustainable funding support
▫ “we would really like to diversify our funding
sources further to make us more independent”
Theme: International market
• Lack of promotion and awareness
• “I guess some people, maybe they just don't know what an
Indigenous experience is”
• Market is cost sensitive
• “maybe they don't want to pay for it. My tours aren't
cheap…because I run small groups”
• Lack of available and reliable product
• “I’ve even had international tourists travelling through the
north of Australia, travelling through Alice Springs,
wanting to do an Aboriginal tour and they still can’t find
• Accessibility
• “many Indigenous experiences are in regional and remote
areas, access is hard”
• Lack of interest/superficial experiences
Theme: Domestic market
• Racism and negative perceptions
▫ “I try not to get into negative, stereotypical stories or
anecdotes because they're often in the minority. But there's
no doubt that there are attitudes and preconceptions of within Australian mainstream society”
• Negative media attention
▫ “if they believe everything they see on television, they
would probably run a mile”
• Lack of awareness
▫ “I think most Australians, most of the domestic market,
don't even think that having an Indigenous experience is a
• Lack of interest
▫ “they’re not all that interested in finding out about how
rich the culture is”
Theme: Market demand
• Low awareness of market demand and patterns
▫ Visitor motivations, preferences and demand
▫ Indigenous operators believe Indigenous tourism
experiences to be nearly as popular amongst
international visitors as visiting Sydney
attractions, less than 5% of international tourists
cite Indigenous experiences as an activity they
want to experience while in Australia.
Study recommendations
• Understanding the market
▫ Identify knowledge needs of operators, as well as the
uptake and usage of tourism market data
▫ Assess communication channels = meet operators’
knowledge needs
▫ Identifying, interpreting and/or collecting relevant
data sources
• Sustainable businesses
▫ Assess product gaps vis-à-vis tourist flows and
demand patterns thus moving away from supply led,
‘build it and they will come’, approaches to demand
driven product development
▫ Development in urban centres and surrounds to
capitalise on existing visitor traffic
Diversified product opportunities
• Declining visitor demand
• Range of macro, internal and sector specific
• Barriers to international and domestic demand
• Low awareness of visitor demand
• Recommendations
▫ Understanding the market, sustainable businesses,
diversified product opportunities
Dr Lisa Ruhanen –
[email protected]
Dr Michelle Whitford –
[email protected]

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