Despite the major economic setbacks resulting from COVID-19, Queensland Tourism Industry Council’s (QTIC) Indigenous Working Group are pushing forward with their plans for a thriving Indigenous tourism sector.

Responsible for implementing the First Nations Tourism Plan in the state, the Indigenous Working Group is continuing to work with community and businesses to build momentum behind the industry.

Aiming to make Queensland the “number one global destination of choice for First Nations tourism experiences” by 2035, the plan outlines a number of benefits of First Nations tourism, including:

  • Revitalising and sustaining cultural heritage, language and traditions
  • Creating a vehicle for business opportunities and sustainable economic activities
  • Reconciliation through tourism
  • Self-determination and capacity building
  • Sustainability and caring for Country
  • Creating a source of diverse employment generation
  • Enabling visitors to develop an understanding of the unique relationship First Nations Peoples have with the natural environment
  • Developing sustainable communities.

These benefits aren’t without challenges, however. The Indigenous Working Group identified in their plan they must first raise and strengthen the profile of these Indigenous tourism experiences, upskill the workforce, and ensure quality and consistent tourism products, among others.

With the advent of COVID-19 halting international, national and even regional travel, these challenges have changed drastically.

QTIC Chief Executive Daniel Gschwind said the global pandemic has put all businesses on hold—Indigenous or not.

“The Working Group has been proactive in contacting First Nations operators to see how they are coping and [supporting] them as much as possible by linking them to government and industry program[s],” Gschwind said.

“We have seen operators adapt their business practices to be prepared and give confidence to tourists when they go out onto Country or visit galleries or share their knowledge and skills.

“We are hoping that a rebounding domestic market will generate the support necessary to kickstart … a range of new Indigenous products.”

Artist David Hudson with Queensland Minister for Tourism Kate Jones at the QTIC Destination IQ Event. Photo supplied by QTIC.

Queensland’s borders have been closed since March 26, with the State Government reviewing restrictions at the end of each month. Premier Annastacia Paluszczuk has indicated the state is unlikely to open its borders in the near future.

Indigenous Working Group Chair, QTIC Deputy Chair and Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Cameron Costello, stressed the importance of harnessing early what Indigenous Queenslanders have to offer.

“It is now even more important than before to build a better path for Indigenous aspirations in tourism to be made a reality,” said Costello.

“Queensland has an enormous opportunity to tap into the skills, knowledge and culture of Indigenous Queenslanders.”

“This crisis will bring more focus on what we have to offer locally, on what is important to our visitors and what brings us together as people.”

Costello said the First Nations Tourism Plan has been developed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people over the past year and is ready to prompt “real action and real progress” in the industry.

The first plan of its kind in Queensland, the Palaszczuk Government has supported the initiative by naming 2020 the Year of Indigenous Tourism in the state.

“Interest in genuine Indigenous products and experiences has definitely increased over recent years. At QTIC we have also worked consistently to bring more Indigenous people into the industry and into the mainstream tourism business,” Gschwind said.

“This has given us the confidence to work with Indigenous representatives from across Queensland to develop our state’s First Nations Tourism Plan.”

Gschwind said Queensland is uniquely placed to offer diverse tourism experiences as the state has both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples with “a diverse cultural wealth”.

“The diversity of experiences starts in the blue waters of the Torres Strait, the tropical rainforest, the Queensland outback, and the urban living in the [southeast] corner,” he said.

“We also have the dramatic environmental backdrop to many of the Indigenous experiences, like the Great Barrier Reef, that set a world stage for us.”

For now, Gschwind said the Indigenous Working Group will continue to work toward their vision of Queensland being the country’s number one global destination of choice for Indigenous tourism experiences.

By Hannah Cross