Posted by Ana Ximena Alvis on 18 March 2019 | Comments



This week’s “Harmony Day” on March 21 (commenced in 1999), is a day when all Australians celebrate our cultural diversity. This day is often celebrated by Indigenous Australians and people from a range of cultures within communities.  Ecotourism Australia wants to promote the work in Indigenous tourism in Australia and around the world.

To achieve this goal, we need to understand what Indigenous tourism is. Quoting the Indigenous Tourism web portal (2008):

“Indigenous tourism is tourism that directly engages Indigenous people, either by allowing them to manage a site or making Indigenous culture the focus for a destination. An Indigenous-focus tourist is generally an international or domestic tourist who participates in or undertakes at least one Indigenous tourism activity during a holiday, such as visiting cultural sites or Indigenous communities, experiencing traditional dances, arts and crafts, and travelling to remote Indigenous areas.”

According to The United Nations Economic and Social Council, it is estimated that there are around 400 million Indigenous peoples, or five percent of the total world population, spread over 90 countries.

Indigenous tourism can be an opportunity for Indigenous people to show their culture, nature, traditions, and so on, in a respectful manner if managed correctly. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) – with whom Ecotourism Australia has just formed a partnership -  is correct when it says: “As one of the most thriving economic activities, tourism is well placed to contribute to Indigenous people in improving their livelihoods. If managed responsibly and sustainably, Indigenous tourism can spur cultural interaction and revival, bolster employment, alleviate poverty, curb rural flight migration, empower women and youth, encourage product diversification, and nurture a sense of pride among Indigenous people. However, this type of tourism also raises a series of ethical, social, economic and human rights-related challenges that need to be addressed by the sector.”

Working with Indigenous people in tourism can be a very rewarding experience.  One of the key elements is to take the time to learn all you can about their culture, traditions, rituals, family priorities, etc., specially if you have staff in your business with Indigenous heritage, is important that you sit down with them and discuss all the differences between cultures. This can help you understand for example, why they may need a number of days off to attend family matters like funerals or other family rituals. 

Ximena Alvis RaramuriMexico6

Raramuri community in Chihuahua, Mexico. Image credit: Ximena Alvis


If you want to start a project with Indigenous peoples or in their territory, you will need to understand and follow the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) principle:

“In 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recognizing their rights and making specific mention of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as a pre-requisite for any activity that affects their ancestral lands, territories and natural resources.”

Following FPIC is crucial to ensuring that Indigenous peoples are well informed of any project or tourism activities on their lands, giving them the power to authorise them and be part of them, benefit from them and ensure that these projects or activities are being respectful with their culture, beliefs and environment.

In the end, it is an exercise of communication, learning from one another, being respectful with everyone’s beliefs, culture, environment, and sharing the same goals of the project.

If you want to get involved with Indigenous tourism in Australia, Ecotourism Australia offers a ROC Certification program. This program encourages the tourism industry to operate in ways that respect and reinforce Indigenous cultural heritage and the living cultures of Indigenous communities.

ROC certified tourism operators are committed to protecting cultural authenticity and integrity, developing sound business practices, environmental protection and acknowledging Indigenous people’s spiritual connection to the land and water.

For more information about ROC Certification, visit our certification website.

Has your business had experience in working with Indigenous people? We’d love to hear about it. Any lesson learned is worth sharing!



-          Tourism Australia 2008, The Indigenous Tourism Web Portal, located at, accessed June 2009.

-          UNWTO Panel on Indigenous Tourism: Promoting equitable partnerships

-          Free Prior and Informed Consent An indigenous peoples’ right and a good practice for local communities

-          Aboriginal Cultural Tourism Business Planning Guide. Checklist for Success. Author: Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC (AtBC)



[Header image picture credit: Kimberley Wilderness Adventures]

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