Tourism’s important role in ‘Closing the Gap’

Sarah Gardiner, Griffith University, on beach with Gold Coast high rise skyline in background.
Dr Sarah Gardiner believes the future of commercial tourism rests with young entrepreneurs

Australia’s first dedicated Indigenous theme park attraction highlights the strong role tourism can play in helping to ‘Close the Gap’, researchers at the Griffith Institute for Tourism believe.

Tourism lecturer, Dr Sarah Gardiner, says the Dreamworld Corroboree project, which opened on the Gold Coast on Friday, is a showcase that can be followed by tourism operators around the country.

MW.webSenior lecturer, Dr Michelle Whitford (left), said the initiative can potentially open the minds of visiting tourists to the extent of Indigenous product to be experienced in Australia.

Dreamworld Corroboree, the first leisure attraction to include a reconciliation action plan, involves an interactive walk-through experience celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, wildlife and stories.

The educational display has been in development with elders from tribes around the country for more than seven years, and also involved the academic input of Dr Sarah Gardiner as part of an Australian Government TQUAL Grant.

“This is an important step,” Dr Gardiner said. “Indigenous tourism has been an issue for Australian tourism because the message to the international market about Indigenous culture is often not a positive one.”

“This initiative also demonstrates the part that tourism can play in ‘Closing the Gap’.

“In addition, it is a fantastic setting where Indigenous people in Australia can see their culture genuinely represented.”

Dr Michelle Whitford has previously been part of a University of Queensland study of Indigenous tourism, funded by Indigenous Business Australia and the Federal Government.

“Tourists, both international and domestic, are really quite unaware of the Indigenous product that is out there,” Dr Whitford said.

“Through this project, tourists have easy access to Indigenous product that hopefully will trigger spin-offs where tourists are a little more adventurous and visit outback regions to extend their Indigenous experience.”

Dr Whitford reiterated the importance of education in developing Indigenous tourism and associated products, and encouraged a move away from an ‘If we build it they will come’ approach to Indigenous product.

“In a tourism context I think we can look at ‘Closing the Gap’ via education, right across the board. I think we need to look at increasing education in Indigenous tourism, education for the tourism operators themselves, education for government and, importantly, education for the tourists.”