Tourism. It’s one of Australia’s largest industries.
Before COVID, it injected $152 billion into the economy annually and accounted for 1 in 13 jobs.
After COVID is a different story.
A ban on in-coming international travel, and repeated lockdowns of the local population have taken a toll on the Australian tourism industry.
But, with a massive 95% decrease in international departures since early 2020, domestic tourists have a big incentive to explore the incredible destinations and cultural experiences they have right here on their doorstep.
Welcome to The Business of Tourism podcast brought to you by the Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW Business School. Please share, rate, review and subscribe on your favourite podcast platform.
Australia is home to the oldest living culture on Earth - Indigenous culture - which is central to its national identity.
In this episode, we’re exploring the rise of Indigenous tourism. You’ll hear about how 60,000 years of continuous Indigenous culture is shaping new and exciting experiences for travellers and tourists, and the huge opportunity this presents to transform the domestic tourism market.
First up, we’ll be hearing from Phil Lockyer, Head of Indigenous Affairs at Tourism Australia.
Phil, a proud Noongar man from Western Australia, is speaking with Nick Wailes, Senior Deputy Dean and Director at AGSM. They’ll discuss the crucial role of Indigenous experiences in shaping the future of Australian tourism.
We’ll also take you to the AGSM New Tracks Indigenous Leaders Festival held earlier this year, where you’ll hear about how a new Indigenous-led tourism initiative on Sydney Harbour is taking shape.
First up, it’s Phil Lockyer in conversation with Nick Wailes. Enjoy listening.
Phil, thank you for joining us. I thought I'd ask first about your role at Tourism Australia, as head of Indigenous Affairs. Is it a new role?
Yes it is. Thanks Nick, and thank you for having me on the podcast. Tourism Australia in 2020 committed as one of our strategic pillars, to be a champion for Indigenous tourism, and wanted to look at reconnecting with the Reconciliation Action Plan programme, or RAP.
As part of that, I was then employed in this role in February, to help deliver on our RAP, to help develop it, and also bring to life the strategic commitment around championing and advocating for Indigenous tourism.
Great. It's fantastic to see the organisation is making a commitment to that.
Clearly there isn't a lot of tourism going on at the moment, but there has been significant growth in tourism, and domestic tourism, and particularly Indigenous tourism. Do you think that's something to do with the pandemic, or do you think there was something driving it beforehand?
I think that's a contributing factor. As we know, tourism is one of our largest industries. Prior to the 2019-2020 bush fires, it's worth $152 billion annually. It's one in 13 jobs. Every dollar spent in tourism generates 82 cents into different parts of the economy.
Indigenous tourism has grown significantly over the last number of years. 1.4 million international tourists enjoyed an Indigenous experience in 2019 and that has grown each year.
Obviously, the bush fires, and then flowing into COVID, that has had an impact on the ability of international tourists, to engage with Indigenous tourism experiences, but I guess what that has allowed is for domestic travellers, the Australian population who are jumping in their cars, driving and seeing different parts of the country, who are travelling to parts of the country they potentially haven't been to before, are actually engaging and experiencing the great diversity that we have in our country in relation to Indigenous cultures.
Phil, what do you think? You're talking about growth from an international perspective, but also a domestic perspective and people being interested in the Indigenous experiences as part of tourism.
What do you think is driving that?
Well, I think that there is a sense that for Australians, there is this deep, rich culture. The world's oldest living culture, 60,000 years. I think that a lot of Australians have felt that, to connect with these experiences, you have to travel a long way, to say NT, or The Kimberley. It can often, in their minds, feel like it's expensive. They don't know how to go about doing it. I think there's a real desire for Australians to have a really authentic experience. They're just not sure how to go about doing that.
I think with COVID, and people obviously not being able to travel internationally, they've had more time to think about how do they want to invest their money? They want to have an experience, a cultural experience different to what they normally have in this country.
The best way to do that is to engage with Indigenous culture. I think because they've got the money to invest in travelling in Australia, the time, and the desire to do more than just drive up the coast, drive into the hinterland, but actually engage with a culture that they're less familiar with, but is part of the Australian cultural fabric, I think has provided a real opportunity for people.
I think it's something that has always been there, but has potentially been a lack of awareness and understanding of how to connect with it, how close those cultural experiences can be, and how really rewarding and immersive they can be from both an individual perspective, and from a family perspective, how the experiences can really benefit all segments of the travelling market.
Yeah, maybe that's a silver lining from the pandemic that Australians have discovered this fantastic culture that is here, and that we're so lucky to be part of.
Maybe if we just turn now to international tourism. You talked about a growing interest in Indigenous experiences from international tourists. What were the impetus for that growth?
For many travellers from places like Europe and the United States, they want to engage in a different cultural experience. Being able to meet and engage with people who have a connection to culture, to country, to landscape. Many international tourists come to this country wanting to engage with nature, and fauna, and the beautiful landscapes that we have here.
In doing that, they really want to engage in a culture different to what they might be familiar with. That is obviously Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. In places like the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, but also we're finding more and more, those experiences can be had in all parts of the country, in the coasts of New South Wales, in Tasmania, regional Victoria.
there's just this desire for international tourists to see a part of this country that they see as being truly reflective of the landscape.
Makes sense that international tourists, that's what they would be interested in. They're going to Australia. They want to find out about another culture, but for a long time, they didn't exist. Those options weren't available.
What's changed in the tourism industry here, that it's actually cottoned onto that, that it might be desirable?
I think obviously there's been a lot of work done over the last say, 10, to 20 years from the state tourism offices in relation to developing product, to working in partnership with Indigenous communities. The marketing and branding of, and the stories we tell about our country has highlighted that more, but I think Indigenous people ourselves are taking real ownership of the way in which they want to build success for them individually and their communities.
Tourism does provide that opportunity for a whole range of communities across the country, who want to build economic opportunity. They've been able to potentially work in partnership with larger tourism businesses, be supported by said tourism offices to actually create opportunities for people to engage in the stories they have to tell.
That's the really exciting thing about the growth of Indigenous tourism is the ability for local communities to tell their stories, and engage, and also build economic success and a base.
I'm interested in the way that an organisation like yours would work with an Indigenous tourism operator. What are the frameworks and the support that you are providing, and the industry's providing to allow that organisation to develop?
Sure, well, Tourism Australia's role is, as a marketing agency. We brand the country, internationally. Over the last 18 months, we've been working domestically on a holiday here. This year's campaign is our Umbrella Campaign. As part of that, we have an Indigenous programme called, Discover Aboriginal Experiences, or DAE, which looks at a range of exceptional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism products located in destinations in all corners of the country.
A lot of these operators are Indigenous. Some are non-Indigenous owned. They're really seen as some of the highest quality products that can provide both an immersive experience, or a shorter-term cultural experience on country.
That could be in an urban setting like, Sydney, or Melbourne. That could be up on the reef in North Queensland you know, in red desert country like, Central Australia, the Kimberley, Kakadu, but also in coastal areas like Margaret River, South Coast as well.
Our Discover Aboriginal Experiences programme is our key flagship programme to support and to promote a variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences across the country. We actually do that in partnership with the state tourism offices.
Is there a way that you as an organisation can start promoting best practice, or showing people what great looks like, so that the tourism operators can continue to upgrade their experience?
Well, we think our Discover Aboriginal Experiences operators are the example, and the benchmark of what great can look like. Obviously, there's a range of other really great, hundreds of great experiences as well, that are not part of our programme, but we think it's important in partnership with state tourism offices, who do that development work, who do that marketing, who do that product identification and work with communities on developing tourism products, our role is, to really market that.
What does tourism mean for an Indigenous community, or an Indigenous entrepreneur? How can it be beneficial?
The loss of culture has had obviously a highly significant impact on Indigenous communities across the country, so the ability for Indigenous people to be involved in tourism, if that is something that's a priority for them in their community, then it actually creates that strengthening of culture, the connection with non-Indigenous people, the ability for non-Indigenous people to better understand the history of this landscape, the 60,000 years of this country, and the jobs that are created for older people, younger people to really be involved in an industry, which is growing, and where there is high demand for authentic and often immersive Indigenous experiences.
It's growing each year, but the benefit to communities, I think often can be immeasurable, because obviously, it's not just the economic impact, it's the cultural impact of and mental health impact of being able to share stories, share culture, and have an economic future.
I think the way you talk about how the economic and the cultural benefits intertwine, I think that's a really powerful message.
We know in the past, there has been some criticisms of exploiting Indigenous culture, by not actually including Indigenous people. It feels to me that what's going down now in tourism is very different to that, that there are Indigenous people involved. There's a real change in attitude.
Is that your experience?
Well, I think what's important is that the consumer, and the travelling consumer knows when they're not getting a fair dinkum, authentic experience. I think often, the marketplace can decide that, but I think obviously, in terms of say, Indigenous art, and the sale of Indigenous art, there have been legislation by government over the last number of years to help try and rectify that.
But, I think what's important is, when Indigenous people have a level of control, whether they're the business owner themselves, or they form really important, meaningful partnerships with, let's say larger tour organisations, then that's when I think we're getting the best outcomes, and the best product for travellers to engage with.
I think that speaks to itself, in terms of what travellers then engage with. I think there's potentially going to be experiences that are potentially not as authentic as others, but I think that, because there's been such a growth in really immersive, really authentic and high quality Indigenous experiences that, that's where the market goes.
You talked a lot about the immersive experience, and the growth of immersive experiences in tourism. I wonder if you could think of an example that illustrates what is one of those great immersive experiences?
Sure, a couple would be down in New South Wales, South Coast, so Yuin country, just past Nowra, you've got Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Awareness, run by a great guy, Dwayne Bannon-Harrison, and he runs a couple of night immersive experience, there on country, learning about Yuin culture.
I think the great thing about this experience is that, it's only a few hours from Sydney, it's a coastal community, it's a region that's got a really strong connection to local Yuin culture and language. That would be one.
In Tasmania, out of Launceston on Lutruwita country is Wukalina Walk, which is a three day immersive experience, where you're walking on country.
We know Tasmania has got lots of great hikes and walks, and here is one where you can do led by Palawa guides, traditional owners over country, for a number of days. They're two really great, immersive experiences.
But then again, you can also have great cultural tours in Sydney, and in Melbourne, in places like Port Stephens, north of Newcastle. You can be involved in great sand dune adventures, where you're on Worimi country, on quad bikes, learning about culture.
Up on Gumbaynggirr country in Coffs Harbour, with Wajaana Yaam, and you've got paddleboarding, where you can spend half the day paddleboarding through Coffs Harbour, through the waterways, learning about Gumbaynggirr country.
Also, similar up in at Kuku Yalanji country, up in the Daintree Rainforest, we've walkabout adventures and ‘one walker’ where you're out in the main groves, where you're hunting for crabs, learning about Kuku Yalanji language. That's the type of experience which is different, up in the Daintree, out of Port Douglas, that you potentially would have from a non-Indigenous tour operator.
Obviously, there's also some really amazing immersive experiences you can have up in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and obviously as we know, in Northern Territory, whether it's Nitmiluk tours in Katherine, SeaLink tours going to Tiwi Islands, which is a great day tour, and a number of companies that go out to Kakadu.
Also some great ones over in Western Australia as well, around Shark Bay and up in Narangba, tours up in the Pilbara region.
I think these immersive experiences, whether they're a day, or whether they're a couple of nights, can be had in all corners of the country. They can be action-oriented, aquatic, or they can be sitting and listening.
You must feel very happy to be in this role now, Phil?
Do you know what? I'm really passionate about, and what I think is exciting, and what we're going to see over the next 12 to 18 months differently is, the way in which we talk about this country. The great role that we play at Tourism Australia is, I like to say we're the big cheerleader for this country. We've got a big megaphone, when talking to people overseas around why this country is such an amazing country for people to come and visit, for people to come and stay with us, for us to share and enjoy.
But, I have felt that we haven't necessarily spoken to the depth of diversity, and to the warmth, and to the humour, and to the sense of community, and trust that the Indigenous experience, and 60,000 years of culture can provide.
That's what we have been doing, and we've been doing for a couple of years through our Discover Aboriginal Experiences programme, but being able to speak internationally to the depth of diversity of this country, I think is really exciting.
I think that's just very exciting to hear you say that, but also, this ability of Indigenous tourism operators to tell stories, and to tell stories about their country, and about their history, and also about the recent history of Australia, tell me about why that's so important, being able to tell the story about tradition, but also now.
Well, I think Reconciliation Australia does a barometer each year, and one of the questions they ask is around are you proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures?
I think last year, 64% of the general community said they were, and that increases each year. I think there's a sense that non-Indigenous Australians, so whitefellas in this country want to feel that we are connected, and we are reconciled in a way that can help overcome the challenges of the past, so there can be a healing process for all of us.
Many non-Indigenous people don't have personal connections with Indigenous people, so being able to engage in a tourism experience, which helps better understand their country. If engaged in an experience that is potentially somewhere where they live, then they're getting a better sense of their sense of place, and their sense of connection to what this country is about.
Most Australians live in large, urban settings, on the coasts, mostly in the southeast corner. We know it's a big, big country. We've lots of beautiful, diverse landscape, and I think there is a real desire and yearning for non-Indigenous Australians to get out there and engage with it in all of its forms, in all of its glory.
Being able to sit there and have a yarn with traditional owners, cultural custodians, the holders of knowledge in all corners of the country, I think really connects non-Indigenous Australians to this country, and to this landscape in a way that I think most people in this country are really yearning for.
I definitely agree with that. You talked about your role being developed as part of the Reconciliation Action Plan of Tourism Australia, and it seems that the organisation has made a significant commitment, but you've been around, and you've been observing reconciliation action plans for a while. What's your view of them, and how are they working, and what are the challenges around that process?
Well, thanks Nick. Yes, I've been involved with the RAP programme in my previous roles at IAG and Commonwealth Bank, and I think they're deeply meaningful. I think when an organisation commits to a RAP, what they're doing is, saying that these are the things we want to do, to engage our business with Indigenous people, Indigenous communities. We're going to do this both in partnership, in collaboration, and to the benefit of Indigenous communities, but also, we're going to do it because we see the value it brings to both our business, to our employees, and to the country as a whole, and our community.
When an organisation is at its best with the RAP programme, then I think it's delivering real outcomes. I think there's been about 1,200 RAPs delivered over the last 20 or so years, many of them around education, employment ... I think the growth we are seeing inIIndigenous enterprise, Indigenous businesses, I think the RAP programme is a real benefit to that, the greater connection point, greater understanding that non-Indigenous people have with 60,000 years of culture. The RAP programme I think is a component to that. I think it's greatly beneficial.
Obviously, like anything, a RAP is only as good as the passion, and the commitment of the organisation that's delivering on it. I think you've also got to be true to the values of what you're trying to achieve as a business and what you're trying to achieve in partnership with the Indigenous community.
What can the tourism industry do in general, to help Indigenous people create effective tourism businesses? Do you think there's a role for the industry as a whole, to start building that capability?
I think definitely, Nick. I think the tourism industry to be fair, is probably a little bit behind some other industries in terms of partnering with Indigenous communities. Obviously, some businesses have been doing some great work, but I think it's about where the tourism business operates. They could operate in a specific part of the country.
How can they then build links in with that community? How can they build partnerships with that community? What's really important is, being able to have a conversation about the needs of that community, the aspirations of that community, and what they want.
Then, through that conversation, and that process, potentially identify where there could be a tourism lens, which a business can involve themselves in. I think potentially, often businesses, and it's not just tourism, talk to Indigenous people, businesses, and communities and go, "This is what we're looking for. Can you help us?", as opposed to really understanding the needs of that community, and building trust with that community, and those individuals, and then identifying from there, what might flow from there.
Because, when you can build that trust, build those relationships, sit down, have a yarn, understand who they are, what their motivations are, you being able to share that, then you're going to build something far more meaningful, and far more authentic, and far more based on joint aspirations and needs.
You know, not every Indigenous person, Indigenous community, wants to work in tourism. They have other goals, aspirations. There are some stories, there are some places that are too sacred to share. That's fine as well.
I wonder if I could ask you to look ahead five years from now, and think what do you think that will look like, and what are you excited about?
Well, in five years, I'll be excited, because we're going to have more international tourists coming into this country from all our markets, and going, "We've booked an Indigenous cultural experience." They're doing that in all corners of the country. That's the outcome I think we all want to see. We want to see people coming in and doing the Opera House, and doing the great sporting and cultural events, going up to the Daintree, and not just going to Uluru, and Kakadu, but doing cultural experiences in all corners of the country, and seeing it as a great thing to do within their itinerary, and that it becomes a really standard thing.
Also, for more Australians to be engaged in connecting with an Indigenous experience, potentially close to where they live, or in the state where they live, and whether that's a jump in the car and go for a drive for a day, or jumping in a plane and having an immersive experience in a different part of the country. That increase I think is almost a given over the next five years.
Whenever anyone is seeing marketing, or branding in every corner of the world on this country, they know that there are a diverse range of experiences to engage with, with the world's oldest living culture.
That sounds like a really exciting future. Phil, it's been a really interesting conversation. Thank you so much for your time, and I encourage everybody listening to this, to go out and look for immersive, authentic Indigenous experience for your next holiday. That just sounds like a wonderful thing to do so Phil, thank you so much.
Thank you Nick, for your time, and thank you for inviting me.
So now we’ve heard about some of the custom tourism experiences built and designed by Indigenous people and communities, how industry bodies or tourism adjacent organisations work to support them?
The story that you are about to hear is a story of a community coming together to bring Sydney Harbour’s rich Indigenous history to life through a new tourism venture.
Once the pride of Sydney Ferries’ fleet, the Lady Northcott was destined for the scrapyard. But then Transport NSW’s Mark Champley, in collaboration with Indigenous-led community organisation, Tribal Warrior, saw the potential for the ship’s second life as an Indigenous Tourism experience at sea.
Let’s go to the 2021 New Tracks Indigenous Leaders festival and hear from Kamilaroi man Mark Champley, on the journey of the Lady Northcott Ferry.
On the 5th of January, 1975, a disaster happened in Hobart, Tasmania, and this disaster had a direct result on the Sydney Ferries fleet. I'm Mark Champley, and I'm going to tell you the journey of the Lady Northcott.
Back in January 1975, a freighter hit the Tasman Bridge in Hobart, Tasmania, causing it to partially collapse and kill 12 people. Seven people were crew members, and four vehicles with five people inside fell 45 metres to their death. This also disconnected the eastern suburbs of Hobart to the town City of Hobart and caused a number of social issues.
Because the bridge was going to be closed for quite an amount of time, there was a request put out to the national: "Does anyway have any ferries that are available?" New South Wales sent down two ferries, the Kosciuszko and the Lady Wakehurst. The Lady Wakehurst was the sister vessel to the Lady Northcott. The Lady Northcott, at the time, was still in the shipyard up at Newcastle, but because the Lady Wakehurst was on the Manly Ferry route, there was an issue with that. So they released the Lady Northcott from Newcastle, brought it down to Sydney in 1975, and began its first voyage as the Manly Ferry Service. It remained there until 1977 when the Wakehurst returned to service and replaced the Lady Northcott on the Manly Ferry run.
In 1977, the Lady Northcott then became a ferry for the Inner Harbour, doing the Mosman, Neutral Bay, Taronga Zoo runs. Sometimes out to Balmain. It was used for the morning and afternoon harbour cruises. Some charter vessels at night as well, and also backed up the Manly Ferry Service. When there was a breakdown, a ferry needed to go for fuel, perhaps, or drills, the Lady Northcott would replace that. So, it was a very versatile ferry.
In 1988, I joined Sydney Ferries and started my career there after two years in the merchant navy. When I arrived, I was really surprised to hear that there had never been an Aboriginal engineer or master, skipper, at Sydney Ferries in its almost 125 years. There really were very few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deckhands as well.
Then, in the '80s and '90s, some other vessels came into service leading up to the year 2000 Olympic Games. A number of the Lady Class vessels were retired. Many of them were just broken up into scrap. The last two ferries surviving was the Lady Herron and the Lady Northcott. In 2017, the Lady Northcott had its last ferry service from Manly to Circular Quay. After that journey, it was then retired to Balmain Shipyard.
In 2015, I left Sydney Ferries after a long career there. I'm really proud to say when I left there were 5% of the workforce were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people and, for the very first time, the ferries were flying Aboriginal flags during NAIDOC week. So I really feel like I made a difference, but, unfortunately, there still wasn't an Aboriginal master or skipper within the business.
Fast forward to 2019, Transport released its first Reconciliation Action Plan. It was a wonderful event, we launched it up at Newcastle, but there was some really hard commitments. Then our Aboriginal community within Transport were out thinking of what we can do to support our RAP. I was on the Reconciliation Advisory Committee, and I built strong relationships with a number of senior leaders including the then-secretary of transport, Rodd Staples.
What happened, in 2019, I was just walking through my home and I, by pure chance, and I know the ancestral spirits were guiding me…on the news they were showing the Lady Northcott being towed out of Sydney Harbour up to Newcastle. When I saw that, I went straight to the computer and I sent a long email off to Rodd Staples, giving him the history of the Lady Northcott and how, two years prior, I did raise this with the dep secretary, asking if Transport would consider giving it to Tribal Warrior. At the time, we didn't have a RAP, and I don't think there was really a lot of appetite, but times had changed. We now had a RAP, and we had strong commitment from our leadership but also our Aboriginal leadership within Transport.
Rodd Staples agreed. That takes us up to where we are. But I wanted to share with you, in the same year, 2019, Sydney Ferries had its first Aboriginal engineer and skipper in over 150 years. That tells me that things are changing.
Now that Lady Northcott has made her journey to Tribal Warrior, what does the group plan to do to transform her into an Indigenous cultural experience at sea?
Shane Phillips, highly respected Aboriginal leader and CEO of Tribal Warrior spoke with the New Tracks audience of his vision for Lady Northcott’s future, under her new identity Wirrawee.
We are going to turn that into an iconic-looking vessel. the general sightseeing tour, two hours around the harbour, leaving from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour, the two most frequented place for tourists, and we'll do the two-hour cruise around the foreshore." If you're going to premium, you go upstairs, we're going to do an augmented reality version where people can see the landscape and the stories that people can talk about around the foreshore. We want it to be a cultural centre as well so it has something that's there.
If you get a charter where there's catering and stuff, that gives us some room. I'm there. We'll have five or six staff; five or six families that get an opportunity to work on a iconic vessel. We've got families around there, in the ferries all around, that are working on the harbour as well, which we rotate through our shifts as well.
We're going to dual-name it Wirrawee (girl); a local dialect. This artwork's going to be a wrap that's going to go on it. There's a few versions of what we've got of it, but definitely the upper deck is going to do something which is completely unique. The iconic painting, everyone said to us, "Let's get some amazing artist to do it."
We said, "All right, we'll get a local artist, but we're going to get the kids to be part of that artwork." This is just something we looked at.
We know that 2,000 schools in Sydney basin alone, and in the curriculum they're meant to do some stuff. We tell a unique story on Sydney Harbour about the foreshore: who was there, also what the places, where the iconic places are like the Opera House, Jabugadi. There's some amazing stories there, and it's all connected to their curriculum. So we're thinking if we can take 10% of that market, that really has the chance to help us.
We think that business can work. That's not even including the actual charters. I'll tell you now, charters are where a lot of the fat are in the business for us. qIn the maritime industry, we've trained over 3,000 crew, and lots of them are working in places all around the country. But here we've got, there's a big community of mob out there, working on the harbour.
We want to do something that's going to bring everyone together, as well. I think that's really important. When we're out there, we want to make sure people all feel part of something and everyone knows that we're all welcoming. We're making sure that they know how proud we are of our people because all the families that come through and learn about all the cultural stuff.
What we do, and the mentoring part of it, the mentoring part is the why. The commercial arm of that, that's what we do, but this is the reason why we're doing it. It's about getting our young ones focused on rebuilding themselves and families connecting themselves culturally.
The Lady Northcott gives Tribal Warrior significant opportunities to expand its reach in the community as a domestic tourism operator. What a fantastic story to round out this episode on The Business of Tourism.
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