Survey finds indigenous tourism has an image problem

Indigenous tourism is suffering from an image problem, with a general perception of being staged, commercialised and designed for overseas visitors, according to research company TNS’ Domesticate report.  

The study found indigenous tourism suffers from an association with a limited region of Australia, its perceived image as staged and the legacy of past transgressions.

TNS director of travel research Jo Farquhar said: “For Australians, the term ‘indigenous travel’ is so strongly associated with the outback that we are unlikely to look elsewhere for this type of holiday. Most of the people we spoke to struggle to name any indigenous experiences in coastal or city regions, and do not seek these experiences when travelling outside of the outback.”

She added potential customers also worry that a tour or product branded as an indigenous experience might be in-authentic, over-commercialised or staged, especially if it is outside the outback.

There is a perception that these experiences are largely designed for overseas visitors, who are unfamiliar with the culture and wish to see the stereotypes,” Farquhar said.

“In addition, many are saddened by the transgressions of previous generations and aware of the continuing inequalities and issues – holidaymakers do not want carry this sense of powerlessness into their experience.”

Farquhar added language, tone and imagery must reinforce the authenticity of the experience and it must be positive and forward looking to appeal to the domestic market.

Domesticate is a qualitative study into the motivators behind domestic travel. It was conducted in November 2010 using video ethnography, online bulletin boards and focus groups.

0 thoughts on “Survey finds indigenous tourism has an image problem

  • March 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    This is not an unexpected finding. I`ve heard the same comments for many years from some of our international guests,as well.

    While I know of and have experienced some of the low-key,indigenously operated tourism experiences AND the more stereotyped operations in the Cairns region, I believe it`s a matter of horses for courses.

    Taking the Cairns experiences as an example,certain demographics are in-country for a short duration trip and often are reluctant to travel to a location where they may get their hands/feet dirty or have to manage natural terrain. The more stage-managed operations, complete with body paint,lap-laps and non-culturally specific artefacts (eg. didgeridoos) is perfect for this group: they see fire-making,traditional dance and are entertained by indigenous performers.

    The fact those performers may be from Darwin, NSW or the Torres Straight doesn`t detract from their experience. They can show their friends back home pictures of the unique Australian indigenous folks playing a didge and doing the shaky knee: poifect!

    However, those tourists with a thirst for authenticity,longer duration stays and a more adventurous disposition are catered for by tours bereft of facepaint and lap-laps,where the traditional owners of the land interact with smaller groups in a much more hands-on experience.They are on their own clan territory and are relaxed and natural.

    The folks that hear about these smaller,more intimate tours and go on them are rarely disappointed with this more genuine experience.

    The problem is that each experience HAS problems!!!

    The larger,stage managed operations are exactly that: too staged for those searching for authenticity. However, they are extremely reliable and easily accessed and well advertised, due to economies of scale.

    Those owner-operated indigenous experiences suffer from a lack of a decent marketing budget (once again,economy of scale) and can prove to be unreliable (due to flooding,inaccessability and lack of tour numbers,as the case may be due to the marketing problem!) but deliver an authentic and humbling experience.

    When it comes to the “White Australian guilt” problem,well,that`s a case for a psychologist,isn`t it? Personally,I feel guilty we`ve spent untold billions attempting to right past wrongs and seem to have wasted 9/10`s of it!

    Indigenous tourism operations owned and run by that area`s traditional people is the future I`d like to see supported as much as possible,but only if such new operations are mentored by successful non-indigenous tourism operators until all opening kinks were ironed out. Too easy to throw money at folks who don`t have any previous experience with a business and then blame them for wasting it when it fails.

    As I mentioned at a Cairns backpacker industry meeting yesterday, indigenous tourism is one of the most important drawcards for many backpackers (as well as more traditional markets) and we have only scratched the surface of this amazing,and truly Australian,attraction.

  • March 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Wise words Scotty! Here her!


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