Community-Based & Indigenous Tourism: Challenges and Opportunities in Australasia

15 April 2022

As some of you may have heard, ATTA proudly announced, in October 2021, its participation in the newly formed Indigenous Tourism Collaborative of the Americas (ITCA) to support sustainable Indigenous Tourism development across the American continents.

Looking at Australasia, we can’t seriously talk about sustainable or regenerative tourism in this region and not take into account the critical part played by the local Indigenous communities, in promoting and reinforcing native culture. From aboriginals in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, iTaukei in Fiji, Samoan, Tongan, Papua New Guinea, home to over 600 distinct tribes, or the Ainu from Hokkaido in Japan, this incredible diversity is a big part of each destination’s DNA and based on recent surveys, there is a real appetite within the Adventure Travel industry for a more authentic and deeper local immersion with more empowerment opportunities for these communities.

How does the industry ensure sustainable and inclusive economic development and resilience for Indigenous tourism post-COVID-19 in the region?

To start conversations around this question and topic, the ATTA has been talking with various experts from the Indigenous tourism industry who attempted to bring answers and share their experiences. In the recording of our webinar, Meet the Experts: Indigenous & Community-based Tourism: Challenges & Opportunities, you will have the opportunity to find out more from diverse voices from the Oceania adventure travel community, including:

  • a destination (Tourism Australia), 
  • a global tour operator (Intrepid Travel), 
  • two local indigenous businesses from Australia (Walkabout Cultural Adventures) and Papua New Guinea (Indigenous Kokoda Adventures) 
  • and one of the founding members of WINTA also bringing the New Zealand and Maori perspectives. 

Read below to learn more about the speakers and webinar.

Nicole Mitchell, Director of Tourism Australia Indigenous Experiences, 

Nicole has been involved in promoting Indigenous tourism experiences for much of her adult life. Throughout her long career in tourism, specifically promoting Australia for over 25 years, Nicole has gained a reputation as a passionate advocate for the authentic and respectful promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

Joining Tourism Australia in 2016, she contributed to the formation of Discover Aboriginal Experiences (DAE), Tourism Australia’s flagship Indigenous tourism program. DAE is a collective of 45 businesses across the country, whose focus is on the consistent delivery of exceptional Aboriginal guided experiences that connect visitors to culture through storytelling. 

Our land has a proud history of the longest living continuous culture in the world, spanning more than 60,000 years, and tourism is a great way of ensuring the stories and culture of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continues to live on for future generations – and not just here in Australia but also among the many international visitors who are touched by these experiences and share their stories when they return home.”

Nicole has been directly involved with the development of Tourism Australia Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), a strategic document with practical plans for action. It is underpinned by key themes of Relationships, Respect and Opportunities. A RAP assists organizations to foster an enabling environment that promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' empowerment. 

“What has really excited me about working at Tourism Australia during the past few years is the commitment our leadership team has made to ensuring Indigenous tourism is one of our key strategic pillars. Our Innovate RAP is one part of this commitment coming to life.”

John Barrett, founding member of WINTA, New Zealand

John Barrett, is the founder of Kapiti Island Nature Tours in New Zealand, he is also one of the founding members of the Leadership Council of WINTA- World Indigenous Tourism Alliance. He recently retired as Director of Tourism New Zealand, New Zealand’s tourism marketing organization and served as past Chair of New Zealand Maori Tourism Council. 

John’s efforts and energy are focusing on Indigenous tourism and our role in re-setting the tourism sector with a focus on regenerative tourism, and the value in international Indigenous collaborations in tourism post COVID. John is also involved in supporting Indigenous higher education and conservation practice and education.

Jesse Leta, Founder of Indigenous Kokoda Adventures, Papua New Guinea

Jesse Leta is the founder of Indigenous Kokoda Adventures, the first wholly Indigenous, locally owned, led, and operated tour operator on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. While Jesse currently lives and works in Port Moresby with his family, he was born and raised in the village of Naduri so he is well acquainted with the continuing struggle to escape the cycle of poverty that still exists there. He has made it his life focus to change the current conditions on the Track. 

Education of the younger population (both boys and girls), equal opportunity for women and better employment conditions for the porters and guides are all qualities that guide Jesse’s decisions and actions. Jesse and IKA are also working with some of the local coffee growers from the Kokoda area and they have Indigenous Kokoda Adventures branded coffee available for purchase with the net proceeds going to the IKA Foundation to help fund the children’s education. 

“Our coffee is called Kokoda Luti which means heart of Kokoda and is named for our children because these children are the heart of the people that live along the Kokoda Track as well as the future of the communities that are located there.”

Juan Walker / Karanba, Founder Walkabout Cultural Adventures, Australia

Juan, a Kuku Yalanji man, from North Queensland, is the owner of Walkabout Cultural Adventures. Juan Walker brings expertise across Indigenous business, cultural tourism and education, working with government, corporate and the community sectors to increase cross-cultural knowledge and understanding of First Nation people’s connection to the country.

Juan has represented Australia internationally, as a cultural business innovator in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat and Tourism Australia, in Egypt and France. He is the recipient of significant awards for Indigenous Business, Cultural Tourism and Education. He is committed to sharing knowledge of Australia’s First People, acknowledging that increased understanding drives reconciliation.

Sara King, General Manager of Purpose, Intrepid Travel, Australia

Intrepid Travel has been engaged in sustainability for over 30 years and is today the largest travel B Corporation. Sara is responsible for delivering the company’s environmental, social and governance commitments, including as a signatory to the UN Global Compact and a certified B Corp. Her remit includes Reconciliation, Modern Slavery, climate change, gender equality, animal welfare and the Intrepid Foundation. Prior to joining Intrepid, Sara held a number of roles at the International Finance Corporation, which is a member of the World Bank Group, including a posting to Vanuatu where she delivered a national investment incentive scheme for tourism to promote collaboration, innovation, and sustainability.

Sara is strongly involved with Intrepid’s Reconciliation Action Plan, and her role is to ensuring the business is creating shared value for the community

Would you like to hear more from these ‘heroes’ of our industry?

Watch the recording from ATTA’s webinar Meet the Experts: Indigenous & Community-based Tourism: Challenges & Opportunities.