The Long Run and The Conscious Travel Foundation Indigenous Tourism Webinar
The Long Run and The Conscious Travel Foundation recently hosted a webinar on indigenous tourism. The session facilitated an open and honest dialogue exploring the importance of respectful collaboration with indigenous communities, how to develop and promote these experiences in an ethical way, and how interactions with indigenous culture and community enriches travellers. We’re delighted to share a summary of the call and recording below.
Huge thanks to our moderator, Nina Karnikowski, and panellists:
- Tara Kennaway, Product Manager, Intrepid
- Nadine Toe Toe, Kohutapu Lodge & Tribal Tours
- Elisa Spampinato, Community connector and storyteller
- Uncle Mark Koolmatrie, Kool Tours
“A few years ago, I started noticing something. Whenever I had a truly authentic indigenous experience my experience was much richer and more nuanced and the stories I was writing went in that direction, too.” — Nina Karnikowski, writer, and facilitator.
- Elisa Spampinato shared that the definition of community-based tourism is when a community decides what to offer, when to offer, and to whom. The community are the protagonist of the product, they own it, and the benefit goes directly to the community. Community-based tourism is not a product but a way of doing tourism – it can be luxury or budget and work in any setting.
- Nadine Toe Toe explained motivations for establishing a tourism product. It is unashamedly to give back to the community and the land, and particularly to offer something to young people. She explained that this concept of giving back and sharing wealth was embedded into her indigenous culture — for example, for centuries, those that had richer land would rotate with those that didn’t.
- Nadine and Mark reiterated that the landscape for indigenous tourism is changing, and they hope it is becoming less tokenistic. For years products had been developed by and for non-indigenous people. This motivated Mark to establish an authentic product. It’s infuriating that these inauthentic products are still selling themselves as indigenous experiences, and tourists often don’t realise.
- All panellists agreed that visitors are looking for transformational moments rather than token experiences. The ‘aha’ moments often come from spontaneity — when an experience is given space and time to flow naturally rather than scripted or curated. This is often the difference between authentic and in-authentic experiences.
- In Nadine’s culture, the word Manaakitanga summarises this nicely — it means to uplift the spiritual power of community and visitors at the same time.
- Tara has witnessed an increase in demand and Intrepid are working to provide travellers with the opportunity to engage with indigenous communities throughout the world.
- Tara also talked through Intrepid’s approach when incorporating indigenous experiences. It’s important to remember there’s no one size fits all. This is about listening and forming trusting relationships so it can take time. Tour operators also need to consider what experiences are sustainable and feasible for the community to repeat — there’s a lot of truth-telling involved, and that can be exhausting.
- It’s also important to shake up stereotypes and make the benefit and scope of these experiences broader. For example, there are lots of indigenous experiences to be had in urban environments.
- The panel agreed that it’s critical for tour operators to recognise what stories they can share, and what are not theirs to share. Stories need to come from those that own the stories and only they can decide what and how they are shared.
- Mark and Nadine agreed that the responsibility to educate travellers about expectations falls to the suppliers — indigenous cultures are living and breathing. Nadine comments, “We’re not a show, a song, or a dance, and if travellers want to see that, they need to go elsewhere.”
- Destinations and national tourist boards need to step up and promote more authentic indigenous experiences. They are the ones shaping how and why people come to a country and what expectations they have.
- To close, Mark shared the beautiful concept of Miwi. Miwi is deep in our stomach, it is something that is self-directing us, it is our connection with the soul and what’s around us. When visitors see that in action, they are moved and that changes them.