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News Article

A new Indigenous tourism ‘voice’ would bolster visitation to Great Barrier Reef

Published:22 May 2020

Queensland urgently needs an advocacy body for Indigenous tourism to help Great Barrier Reef tourism recover after COVID-19, according to new report by the First Peoples Think Tank hosted by CQUniversity Australia.

The report notes there are at least 70 Traditional Owner groups with rights and interests in sea country along the length of the Great Barrier Reef but also feedback that the availability of Indigenous experiences along the Reef is patchy, leading to a ‘gap in the storyline’.

Key report recommendations include:

- clustering of Indigenous tourism businesses for consistent product delivery;
- a consistent logo and accreditation system;
- signage to boost heritage visibility of culturally significant locations;
- guidance on navigating the new realities of social media driven tourism;
- a forum to push back against fake Indigenous artworks and souvenirs; and
- improved networking between Traditional Owners, Regional Tourism Organisations and mainstream tourist operators.

The report notes a possibility that the pandemic recovery could focus tourists more towards ‘slow tourism’ and exploring local travel opportunities, which the Indigenous tourism industry is well placed to take advantage of.

“Just as First Nations artists have flourished due to Indigenous governance on the Australia Council, deep structural changes can help Indigenous tourism onto a more sustainable footing,” says lead researcher on the report, Kirsty Galloway McLean.

“These changes could include a statutory body to create, promote and market the Indigenous tourism brand in Queensland, as well as to advocate, to set industry standards for businesses to aspire to, and to oversee appropriate management training.”

Associate Professor Henrietta Marrie AM, an Aboriginal Australian from the Yidinji tribe and leader of the First Peoples Think Tank, says “all tourism and events in Queensland take place on the traditional estates of our First Nations peoples; but where is our voice in this industry?”.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 has been disastrous for the tourism industry, and its impact on vulnerable Indigenous Australians who depend on tourism for their livelihoods has been catastrophic.

“While Indigenous tourism operators on the Reef are particularly vulnerable at this time due to their often remote locations, health sensitivities and travel limitations, on a positive note the report also observes that the competitive advantages of Indigenous Reef tourism include their unique product, traditional knowledge and advantages of the natural location, which remain unaffected by COVID-19.”

The First Peoples Think Tank has released the report - Great Barrier Reef Indigenous Tourism: From Policy to Practice - analysing the opportunities and barriers for Indigenous tourism in the Great Barrier Reef region. The report was carried out for the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP).

The report provides new research assessing Indigenous tourism engagement and experiences along the Reef, including outcomes of surveys of Indigenous business owners and Regional Tourism Organisations.

In addition, numerous original case studies of Indigenous-owned tourism-related businesses are presented, including the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Kubirriwara Cultural Education Centre, Mandingalbay Indigenous Tourism Precinct, and Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel.

First Peoples Think Tank: CQUniversity’s First Peoples Think Tank carries out multidisciplinary evidence-based research on key Indigenous environmental, social and economic issues to provide intellectual and policy leadership. The Think Tank is led by Associate Professor Henrietta Marrie AM, an Aboriginal Australian from the Yidinji tribe, directly descended from Ye-i-nie, an Aboriginal leader of the Cairns region. Henrietta was the first Aboriginal Australian to be appointed to a United Nations agency; her life story was dramatised in the 2018 play Bukal, and in 2018 she was named one of the ‘Queensland Greats’.  Current Think Tank research is focusing on ‘Indigenous livelihoods in peril’ and, in addition to the Indigenous tourism report, other key research projects are addressing Indigenous fire management and institutional racism in health care.

The Great Barrier Reef Indigenous Tourism: From Policy to Practice report includes:

* a study of best practices and recent trends in Indigenous reef tourism around the world;
* an analysis of the national and regional policy environment in the GBR as well as the structure of the tourism industry and its impacts on Indigenous tourism;
* outcomes of new research that assesses Indigenous tourism engagement and experiences along the Reef;
* recommendations to address opportunities and barriers for Indigenous tourism in the GBR region that address Traditional Owner groups, mainstream tourism stakeholders and enterprises, industry bodies, and regulatory and government management authorities; and
* a short section addressing the impacts of novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The report was published by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre on behalf of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Tropical Water Quality (TWQ) Hub. ISBN: 978-1-925514-50-6.