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Aboriginal tourism: Big opportunities


Aboriginal people have freehold ownership of half the Territory’s landmass.

In The Centre that includes the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges, currently on lease to the NT Government which is doing very little with this major asset.

The Ayers Rock Resort was bought in 2011 by the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) which established Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, based in Sydney.

The resort and Uluru had been handed back to its traditional owners in 1985 and 1986, respectively.

So where are the Central Australia based Aboriginal tourism entrepreneurs?

How can red tape be cut and the complicated permit formalities imposed on Aborigines to operate businesses on their own land removed?

We spoke to an operator active in the industry for some three decades. He wants not to be named.

What kind of people are interested in Indigenous tourism?

International tourists expect at least basic facilities wherever they are staying, even if they are quite simple, a toilet, shower, electricity, says the operator.

Setting up infrastructure like that in communities require a land use agreement via a land council. This can take a little or a long time.

The “back to nature” tourist segment is easier to accommodate.

The complexity of obtaining finance and the red tape to obtain permissions many be another barrier, along with legal and contractual issues, setting up a business, having insurance.

The types of land titles range from Aboriginal freehold, to native title areas and Crown land leases.

Native title holders seeking to set up a business form prescribed bodies corporate represented by the various land councils.

Where would visitors stay in a homeland such as Yuendumu?

Locals would need to be consulted, says the operator.

Who would be welcome? What would they show them? The stories they would be prepared to share? Areas that could be accessed.

Where would visitors be staying? In the community?

The operator says when he visited Yuendumu he stayed in the government visiting quarter.

Ultimately tourist accommodation might be some from of glamping tents, some distance out in the country.

The freehold land Aborigines gained under landrights since 1976 is inalienable – it cannot be sold. But any portion of it can be leased. Is there an established formula for traditional owners to set up a business on their own land, we asked the operator.

The land tenure is where the difficulty lies, not lack of interest in various tourism activities, he says.

Do land councils have a service in place for setting up a business, a template that can be followed, with the assistance of the land councils?

The operator says they help traditional owners with negotiations. Some of the people he spoke to were happy with the support they got, building relationships. 

If there are outside entities involved they have to go through the land councils to talk with traditional owners.

People can’t necessarily go to the bank and get commercial funds. They first have to get land use agreements through the land council to kick off their own operation.

Held and advice is available from the the ILSC, Indigenous  Business Australia and the NT Government.

Apart from Uluru, what Aboriginal tourism businesses are on Aboriginal land in Central Australia?

The operator named Rayleen Brown’s long established Kungkas Can Cook in Alice Springs, and a culture-based tour guiding business at King’s Canyon.  Others are Bobby Abbott and partner Mary Tupou (pictured) who are running the kiosk at Ormiston Gorge and are now leaping into the big time: developing 116 hectares in a magnificent valley in the West MacDonnells.

NT Government figures from July 2022 put the value of tourism at $655m, 2.6% of the gross state product, employing 6800 people, making up 5.1% of the NT workforce.

The pandemic decimated international tourism to nearly zero in March 2021 and it is recovering slowly.

The domestic market in that year dropped to 400,000 holiday makers from 700,000 in March 2020, but by September 2022 it had recovered to more than the record 2020 number.

Other stats:

• Participation in Aboriginal tourism (as of June 2019): All purpose visitors Northern Territory 16% domestic visitors, 67% International.

• More than 150 Aboriginal tourism experiences / products.

• 100 NT Aboriginal Tourism owned Businesses.

PHOTO at top: Sepentine Gorge, West MacDonnells.


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