For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of conducting/hosting/motivating the Indigenous Tourism and Biodiversity Website Award and what strikes me is how different indigenous tourism experiences are around the globe.
There are intimate group tours and large-scale shows. There are businesses that focus first on art, sport or food and then the indigenous component and others that place their indigenousness at the forefront of what they offer visitors. There are museums and art centers that connect visitors and locals. Heed the Long Tail. Different approaches work with different groups. What are visitors seeking? What are locals offering? It depends who you ask.
Governments have a critical role to play in promoting this tourism niche, but let me mention an important caveat — far too often the leaders ‘check the box’ in which say the government has worked with its indigenous citizens but rarely do they connect with other programs in their own government and even less so with institutions and individuals beyond the immediate horizon.
Far too much ‘indigenous tourism’ (and the same goes for ‘responsible tourism’) remains in a silo. We need to embed indigenous tourism in travel planning at the professional level and in travel writing at the popular level. Success comes from listening to indigenous voices and inviting them into the conversation.
Tourism marketing is all about building relationships within the mainstream industry, and I have yet to see a government program that helps people develop and maintain these relationships.
So I have a few questions about the current state of affairs:
How many ‘Maya’ are leaders in the Mundo Maya? Who are the indigenous tourism operators in the USA? How are the Sami promoted in Europe? In Ecuador how can one visit any of the 200 indigenous tourism companies mentioned by Freddy Ehlers at the recent International Congress on Ethics and Tourism, organised by UNWTO?
What about Maori representation in New Zealand’s World Rugby Cup? It’s great that the matches begin with the teams welcomed to the field by a Maori warrior, but it would be so much more awesome if the sporting event showcased more indigenous culture. The best I’ve seen is Maori Television’s Bring Your Boots, Oz. Each episode provides a mix of Maori and English commentary about contemporary New Zealand and how communities are hosting the world’s elite rugby teams. That said, can we find the link to this program from NZ Tourism or any other site focusing on New Zealand?
I am a bit jaded. This week on Peter Greenberg’s website, I read Leslie Garrett’s essay Can ‘Aboriginal Tourism’ Be Authentic? with great interest. For my taste, the blog jumped around too much and was far too superficial. The photos embedded in the article were all taken from Flickr Commons and were simply a distraction. Please, no more photos of anonymous indigenous peoples in publications! Also irksome was the lack of differentiating that ‘Aboriginal’ in Australia means something quite different than ‘aboriginal’ in Canada.
Which leads me to related news of a new e-book available from Tourism Australia showing local indigenous champions, the businesses that are at least 50% owned by the indigenous peoples themselves. It’s great to see this proactive approach in getting the word out to potential visitors. It’s also gratifying to see that four of those mentioned have been nominees or winners(!) in the ITBW Award!