The importance of Indigenous products for regional tourism

Regional Australia is rich in Indigenous culture. People travel from across the world to see Stone Age paintings in a cave in France, which we also have here in Australia, together with the living descendents of the painters! If we can get it right, there is an opportunity for regional destinations to create rich, authentic, engaging experiences for visitors.

Adventure seekers, cultural enthusiasts, foodies and nature lovers can all connect with such experiences and appreciate the access to areas that are closed to regular tourists.

How can Indigenous experiences help grow regional tourism?
How can councils and destinations work with indigenous partners to develop products and experiences that will succeed?
And how can we drive demand for Indigenous tourism products?

Tourism Australia is promoting indigenous tourism products overseas, trying to drive international demand. How can regional Australia leverage this promotion?

Tourism Australia promotes 56 export-ready indigenous tourism products. Examples include festivals, art, interactive activities, tours, foods, healing and connection, expeditions, and sharing stories around a crackling fire, camping by a river under a canopy of stars. Products need not require physical infrastructure investment, simply sharing what exists – culture and stories.

Examples of great Indigenous Tourism Products

Some incredible existing Indigenous tourism products in regional Australia:

Standley Chasm
Explore at your own pace one of Australia’s most striking and significant ‘women’s dreaming’ sites where the Western Arrente peoples have lived for over 60,000 years, or immerse yourself in the stories told by local guides who will pass down their knowledge of the dramatic deep red rock of Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye) and its surrounding desert springs, wild flowers, bush tucker and medicine plants.

Tickle Belly Hill
Sit with Adnyamathanha elders beside a traditional story fire as they celebrate their culture through storytelling, song and dance connected directly to the Flinders Ranges, rounded out by three-course bush food dinner including kangaroo, bush tomato, wattle seed and native lime.

Brian Lee Hunter’s Creek Tagalong Tours
A Kimberley character with a personality larger than life, Brian’s tour showcases breathtaking scenery while providing insight into the country and culture of the Saltwater people of the Dampier Peninsula. Learn traditional hunting methods before cooking up the catch.

Sand Dune Adventures
Learn about culture, bush tucker, dig for fresh water and see one of the many Aboriginal Midden sites on the beach, all whilst riding a 400cc quad bike…culture and adventure combined!

Tilma's Kushla Gale with a Mandandanji man from Maranoa region around Roma, Qld. The Mandandanji do an amazing Welcome to Country that shares the meaning behind cultural elements. 

Tilma's Kushla Gale with a Mandandanji man from Maranoa region around Roma, Qld. The Mandandanji do an amazing Welcome to Country that shares the meaning behind cultural elements. 

And a couple of examples from Tilma Group’s clients:

  • a destination client has a bush tucker and medicine plant tour created by the knowledgeable indigenous guide
  • the Arakwal of Byron Bay provide tours and cultural education - they are an amazing success story!
  • an event client is Cully Fest Outback and Aboriginal Folk Festival, a three-day festival held this year in Toowoomba in November, where festival-goers can see how didgeridoos are made, learn to cook emu in a traditional Kup Murri, and taste Johnny Cakes, fried scones, bush herbs and other foods fresh from the fire.

How can we create more of these great experiences and celebrate the diversity and richness of our indigenous culture in regional Australia? There appear to be many challenges, but it's worth the effort if we can get this right!

Successful Indigenous Product Development

For product development there are many challenges. A 2013 study, Demand and Supply Issues in Indigenous Tourism, provides insights:

Demand characteristics

  • Less than 5% of international tourists want to experience an Indigenous activity while in Australia
  • Operators believe international tourists see Indigenous experiences as second only to Sydney attractions
  • The vast majority of international visitors do not leave the eastern seaboard
  • Only 25% for domestic respondents and 20% of international respondents have spontaneous/top-of-mind awareness of Indigenous tourism experiences – due in part to lack of product promotion
  • Preference for Indigenous tourism experiences is 12% and intention to visit is 2%
  • Reasons for not participating in Indigenous tourism include lack of time, involvement in other activities, and budget
  • Travellers are generally unwilling to pay for indigenous experiences, generally citing ‘free’ or up to $100, even for options such as full day tours and accommodation

Results are similar for Australia’s top visitor market, the Chinese:

  • Chinese visitors cite lack of information/promotion, safety and comfort concerns, and language as barriers to participating
  • Inbound tour operators identify language, cultural barriers, product availability/awareness and standard, timing, pricing, interest, logistics, location and access as barriers to participating
  • 50% of inbound Chinese tour operators and 50% of Chinese experts believe experiencing Indigenous art and craft is very important to Chinese visitors, and 59.5% of tour operators and 79% of expert informants believe visiting an Aboriginal site or community is important to Chinese visitors, though Chinese visitors themselves rate the importance of such experiences very low.
  • Chinese visitors have greater intention to participate when prompted about specific Indigenous tourist scenarios, with a motivation of an interest in Aboriginal history, culture and traditions (54%). However, the most cited barrier is a lack of interest in the products presented (65%).
  • To be included in a Chinese tour company’s itinerary, tour operators and expert informants suggest Indigenous tourism businesses should provide Aboriginal cultural shows; bush tucker/story telling; guided nature/environment tours with an Indigenous guide (maximum one hour); cultural centres (where visitors can get a lot of information/experience in a short time); and art/craft, rock paintings, carvings, and an opportunity to try painting. Further suggestions include: location in close proximity to cities; brochures and interpretation in Chinese; souvenir shopping opportunities.

Recommendations for regional destinations:

  • Help Indigenous tourism operators access demand data to develop products that meet visitor demand
  • Develop products in regions of high visitor traffic, and integrate small and start-up businesses into local tourism distribution channels to increase product awareness
  • Develop strategies to overcome low levels of interest and participation in Indigenous tourism, as well as marketing targeted at domestic market
  • Undertake realistic assessments of product gaps around tourist flows and demand patterns to move away from supply-led, ‘build it and they will come’ approaches to product development


Managing Director Linda Tillman asked on LinkedIn about this issue and it generated a lot of passionate discussion amongst from industry experts in Australia and NZ with experience on this issue about Indigenous tourism. Join the conversation - we'd love to hear your thoughts! What's your take on this issue?

What's the right way to develop Indigenous tourism products in regional destinations, creating rich experiences that connect visitors with our land and people?

Kushla GaleComment