Tourism Goes Indigenous

  • by Neena Bhandari (sydney)
  • Wednesday, April 04, 2012
  • Inter Press Service
Projects with the Maasai in Kenya are some of the 'best practice' examples of indigenous tourism. -  Isaiah Esipisu/IPS Projects with the Maasai in Kenya are some of the 'best practice' examples of indigenous tourism. - Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

At the first Pacific Asia Indigenous Tourism Conference (PAITC) held on the traditional land of the Larrakia people in Darwin, Australia from Mar. 28-30, participants noted the rising demand for indigenous tourism and the need to ensure sustainable and equitable business partnerships that respect indigenous intellectual property rights, cultures, traditional practices and the environment while simultaneously enriching visitor experiences.

With one billion people expected to cross international borders in 2012, tourism will create 1 in 12 jobs worldwide and generate trillions of dollars in exchange and investment, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

As Anita Mendiratta, managing director of the international tourism and economic development consultant firm CACHET Consulting said, 'Tourism increases understanding, destination competitiveness and creates an incredible sense of local pride as, ultimately, people are inviting the world to visit their home. (Thus) it is an incredibly powerful form of diplomacy.

'But the tourism industry with its incredible rate of growth and opportunity also has a massive responsibility to make sure that it is a healthy growth,' she added.

Mendiratta warns that tourists can unwittingly cause grave damage during their travels; sometimes this could be a simple ‘cultural offence’, at other times a complex disruption of the entire value system of a destination, where locals are literally forced to sell their 'souls'.

'We should be sure that the indigenous communities we are trying to promote need or want this and not just from the point of generating revenue,' Mendiratta, author of ‘Come Closer: How Tourism is Changing the Future of Nations’, told IPS.

'It needs to elevate their sense of worth. They need to feel respect and dignity and know that their involvement will help to build the indigenous culture even further.'

She said projects with the Maasai in Kenya and the Bushman in South Africa are some of the 'best practice' examples of indigenous tourism being brought to life in ways that not only build global tourism but also indigenous communities.

Including indigenous voices

The conference, attended by 191 participants from 16 countries, issued the Larrakia Declaration on the Development of Indigenous Tourism, which recognises that whilst tourism provides the strongest driver to restore, protect and promote indigenous cultures, it has the potential to diminish and destroy those cultures when improperly developed.

'In some ethnic communities in China and in other countries, it is the non-indigenous parties that promote indigenous tourism and utilise the attractiveness of indigenous people to achieve their own interests, normally for economic profits. A balance of interests between stakeholders needs to be addressed as otherwise (there might be) tensions between indigenous people and the non-indigenous parties', Jingjing Yang, an international doctoral student at New Zealand’s Waikato University, told IPS.

Her ethnographic research focuses on the impact of tourism on ethnic (indigenous) communities, specifically the Kanas’s Tuva and Kazakh peoples’ settlements in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

New Zealand is perhaps a world leader in indigenous tourism, where the industry has acted as a catalyst for preserving Māori culture and engendering a sense of pride in the youth, who are learning history, legends, language, music and arts.

For example, the well-known Māori haka is a fierce dance-chant that has become internationally recognised among sports fans that follow New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks.

Many countries across the Pacific region are learning from New Zealand's successful model in taking indigenous tourism from the margins to the mainstream.

'For the first time, the indigenous people have a traveller genuinely interested in hearing their story and willing to pay for it. People want to have an authentic local experience and the greatest challenge for indigenous tourism is how to gear itself for that kind of demand,' Mike Tamaki, director of Global Storytellers, told IPS.

Tamaki got involved in indigenous tourism 30 years ago. He claims that, though his people (Māori) have great ideas and extend exceptional hospitality, they have no money.

'This has been a disadvantage in terms of development of indigenous experiences worldwide, as indigenous people find it difficult to market their ideas into a product.'

Over a century ago, the tangata whenua or the indigenous Māoris, began guiding visitors to snow- capped peaks, across lush-green undulating terrain, to crystal clear waters of the rivers and geothermal hot spots.

Today, a new generation of Maori are leading overseas travellers through Aotearoa or Land of the Long White Cloud, the Māori name for New Zealand, as forest, rafting and fishing guides, entertainers and artists, transport operators and Marae (meeting place) hosts.

A leading academic in the field of traditional medicine, Gerry Bodeker, a professor at Oxford University, suggests expanding the scope of indigenous tourism. He says indigenous people have preserved thousands of years of generational knowledge about plants and natural ingredients, which can be a treasure trove for the global wellness industry.

'In 2011, the global wellness economy was valued at 1.9 trillion dollars. This money can go back into the development of indigenous communities and it is happening where corporate ethics are aligned with indigenous priorities and development. Asia is in the forefront of this kind of approach.'

'It is also happening in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and Australia', Bodeker, chair of the Global Initiative For Traditional Systems (GIFTS) of Health, Oxford, told IPS.

He elucidated his comment with examples of wellness resorts such as the Six Senses Spa in Hua Hin, Thailand, which is committed to investing back into local village communities that provide the herbs, local produce and workforce for the spa; The Farm in San Benito in the Philippines, where each doctor volunteers a day each week to provide healthcare services to rural low-income communities and train local healthcare workers; and the Sambunyi Spa in Malaysia, which buys its products from a local women’s cooperative supporting single mothers and commissions them to cultivate and supply spa products.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?

Other options