Letting go of tradition will move Aboriginal tourism forward

Marketing Indigenous tourism opportunities creates a tension between respecting cultures and responding to market demands. Mike Tamaki, co-founder of Aboriginal cultural experience, Spirits of the Red Sand, argues that letting go of some traditions will ensure that Indigenous cultures thrive.

Around the world, we see countries promoting Indigenous cultures as part of their tourism, and in many instances, Indigenous people are used as the face of a country in its tourism marketing efforts.

Unfortunately, in many cases, Indigenous people have been systematically excluded from both the benefits of tourism as well as any control over it. Not only is that a loss for Aboriginal communities, but it also doesn’t give visitors to Australia a genuine experience of the culture. In recent years, however, we’ve seen Indigenous communities becoming more involved in tourism and promoting their own history and culture, both to regain control of their stories and to provide tourists with a more authentic experience.

The growing global interest in Indigenous culture has also led to demand for products involving Australia’s First People. There are many tourists who seek spiritual experiences and adventure, keen to discover more about Aboriginal history and culture. In 2015, Tourism Australia launched its ‘Aboriginal Australia: Our Country is Waiting for You’ campaign, in an effort to boost the number of international visitors who participate in an Aboriginal cultural experience.

There are several benefits to investing in Indigenous tourism. It creates jobs and revenue for Aboriginal communities, where unemployment is often high. And it’s a way for us to preserve and protect the country’s cultural resources. Indigenous tourism also has the potential to create great social impact in Aboriginal communities.

To be successful, Indigenous tourism organisations need to manage tensions between their own culture and identities and what the market demands. Unsurprisingly, many people experience ideological tensions when trying to preserve cultural integrity, while selling what is marketable.

I personally faced this conundrum when first starting out in the tourism industry, but quickly decided that if I didn’t fully commit to providing authentic experiences, my products risked being tokenistic, and wouldn’t give visitors the understanding and appreciation of my culture that was needed.

I once had a driver who refused to take a busload of tourists onto sacred land – not an uncommon experience. But this was part of the tour and it allowed the guests to experience and appreciate the true beauty of the native land. So, thankfully, we convinced him to continue driving.

When promoting a cultural experience from a marketing perspective, there are undeniable trade‐offs between economic reward and cultural preservation. To create a fully immersive cultural experience, we need to be flexible and let go of certain traditions. Transforming traditions to make them more accessible to others isn’t a new concept, and is also practised in other contexts.

There obviously needs to be a balance. I’m not suggesting that tourists should be allowed to climb Uluru just because there is a demand for it. Cultural values must continue to be observed.

But we must also move forward to ensure we are making the most of tourism opportunities, improving the livelihood of Aboriginal communities and ensuring they are being recognised and understood.

Embracing the tourism opportunity doesn’t just make Aboriginal culture more accessible for international tourists, but also for other Australians. And it’s worth letting go of a little bit of tradition for.

Mike Tamaki is co-founder of Spirits of the Red Sand, an Aboriginal interactive cultural experience based in Queensland


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.