Lessons from the Road: Pt 1 Indigenous Tourism Start Ups


There are common things indigenous clients say as they work through tourism business planning.  

If you are an aboriginal organization, family or person thinking about a tourism venture, here’s some classic things that many others have said and the kinds of responses I give.

We want to go slowly, and have a sustainable tourism enterprise.

Going slow early is sometimes a luxury an owner can’t afford. Things are generally slow in the beginning for a start up. Beginnings are marked by chaos as clients grapple with new things, take risks, implement business systems, websites, start to promote themselves and commit more. Unless there is plenty of cash around a business needs to get momentum going to generate income to start paying for the things needed to deliver tours or customer experiences efficiently. It’s the market that defines the demand, not the supplier. If demand for your tourism experience is high – which it can be for high-quality, immersive, indigenous cultural experiences – and the tour operator is going too slowly and not responding to enquiries or putting on enough tours, market interest may fade and move on elsewhere. Rather than ‘going slowly’, my advice is ensure there are strategies in place before-hand to avoid owner burn-out, to ensure there’s enough staff to deliver should demand grow earlier than expected and that you don’t overpromise and under-deliver. Early days are a balancing act, until reputation and brand are established.

Let’s do a bush tucker (BT) tour.

OK, so this is a bit sensitive.  But I’m going out on a limb here… oh and look what I found, a berry and a worm… lunch! Sorry that was bad.  After awhile in this game, bush tucker tours all start to look and sound the same. I’ve sold bush tucker tours to many a cynical tour agent and they just look at you with dead eyes that say,  Berries and leaves and stuff? Got it. Let’s move on.  I’m not being rude, this is the perception and in marketing this is what you are up against. There are a lot of them, and even if yours is completely different, people think they know what a bush-tucker tour is. To survive in nature, species develop distinct physical traits that make them look and act different to get more food, to avoid predators, to thrive.  The BT tour needs to evolve to generate excitement. Many tourists don’t know the first thing about native bush foods.  But some do, so be clear about who you are targeting. Is it school kids new to aboriginal culture and think grubs are cool? Or is it educated professionals who have done immersive indigenous tourism elsewhere and are looking for deeper levels of insight?

If your idea of a bush tucker tour is ‘stand up and show people berries’ and expect to make $100 per person a 1 hour chat, you need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe pop a few witchetty grubs in and chew on it. The market has moved on. Higher paying tourists want a deeper experience, looking at food’s healing properties, how it is collected, where it comes from, who you are as the guide and how you learnt your knowledge. You need to paint a picture with your words about your world. One of the best BT tours I did cost $60 for 3 hr night tour with native tea and scones, throw in some night vision goggles and an indigenous guide trained in conversation management.  This is After Dark Nature Tours in Manly, who incidently say nothing in their marketing about bush tucker or indigenous content and people loved it.

Stay tuned for the next instalment. Hopefully I haven’t shocked you too much. But sometimes it’s a good thing.


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