Indigenous tourism is a phenomenon specific to the post-colonial w

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The aim of the thesis is to discuss the issues connected to Indigenous tourism in Australia with focus on non-Indigenous tourists who travel to meet Indigenous cultures1. Indigenous tourism is a phenomenon specific to the post-colonial world: tourists from former world empires travel to their ex-colonies attracted by the vision of exotic and unknown cultures (Craik, “Peripheral Pleasures” 1). Although this fact is commonly acknowledged by the public, not many understand the significance of Indigenous tourism in the area of cultural studies. The range of matters of discussion Indigenous tourism studies cover is extensive; it includes economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental issues. For instance, the evolution of relations between Indigenous peoples and settlers in post-colonial countries could be analyzed in great detail when one focuses on Indigenous tourism and the perpetuation and/or discontinuance in preserving the colonial orders.

Indigenous tourism is a ‘special interest’ tourism; its essential components are: first hand, authentic and usually intimate contact with Indigenous peoples whose ethnic and cultural backgrounds are different from those of tourists (Weiler and Harron 84). Indigenous tourism affairs are location-specific, or rather, culture-specific; the history has shown that various Indigenous groups have reacted to tourism in various ways. The approaches of Indigenous communities towards tourism are influenced by a number of factors such as: former experiences with Western world, size of Indigenous population, sedentary or mobile lifestyle, diversity of Indigenous languages in an area, etc.

In Australia, Aboriginal issues are a very delicate subject. Since the time when British colonial settlement was established, there probably have not been better conditions for the debates about reconciliation between the original inhabitants and British ‘newcomers’ to be initiated than now. Up to the 1970s, the contact history of Australia was rather dim; the policy of separation was replaced by assimilation and the lifestyles of Aboriginal peoples were significantly modified to fit the image of a civilized society. Although the stereotypical preconceptions anchored in the colonial era have still prevailed among non-Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal peoples can speak openly for themselves today. Thus, to open Aboriginal communities to international visitors seems to be a way to initiate debates about Aboriginal issues in international and consequently in national forums.

Naturally, the overall analysis of Indigenous tourism would require a holistic approach; all the aspects of life in Indigenous communities are influenced by tourism and are interwoven: economic and educational issues, marketing and preservation, land ownership and traditional lifestyles. However, the thesis does not aspire to be a comprehensive study, its scope is limited to the cultural sphere. The aim of the thesis is to demonstrate and describe the significance and importance Indigenous tourism has for Aboriginal communities in terms of culture (which includes art, traditional way of life, rituals, and identity).

Hollinshead argues that tourism serves as a tool for international understanding and re-imagination of the state history (“Indigenous Australia” 302). His view is shared by a number of scientists (Higgins-Desbiolles, Parsons), but many oppose it claiming that tourism is a mere continuance of colonialism (Craik, Johnston). The thesis attempts to show both the deficiencies and benefits tourism introduces to Aboriginal cultures. First, the motivations tourists have in mind when traveling to meet Indigenous cultures will be analyzed; second, the stereotypical and discriminatory practices in the promotion of Aboriginal communities in the international tourist market will be presented. Third, the link between promotion and tourists’ expectations, and how these contribute to the creation of a promotional destination image will be discussed. Further, authenticity of Indigenous tourist products will be examined and the relationship between traditional culturesand today’s global consumerism will be defined to show that dynamism is an important characteristic of culture and not its destruction. Finally, attention will be paid to reconciliation and the identity of Aboriginal peoples as affected by tourism. The discussion of all these issues should lead to a conclusion that when operated carefully, Indigenous tourism can serve as a means to reconciliation.
1. The Concept of Indigenous Tourism

Before beginning to analyze Indigenous tourism, it would be certainly useful to define the concept of Indigenous tourism more specifically. As was mentioned above, Indigenous tourism is a “special interest” tourism where Indigenous culture, economy, ecology, medicine or sacred systems are the core elements. Generally, it includes any “[t]ourist activit[ies] in which indigenous peoples are directly involved either through control and /or by having their culture serve as the essence of the attraction” (Butler and Hinch 9). Thus, the range of tourist attractions and venues that could be labeled as Indigenous tourism products is considerably wide: from a simple act of purchasing an Aboriginal-made souvenir at the airport to a participation in walking tours with Aboriginal guides.

According to Healy, Indigenous tourism projects “vary in form, embracing cultural institutions, performances, display, exhibition and service provision; they vary in scale, ranging from an Aboriginal Park Ranger conducting tiny tours to the mass tourism of Uluru-Kata Tjuta; they vary in terms of actual Aboriginal involvement, ownership and control” (56). Also, eco-oriented tourists are often attracted to Indigenous localities, since these are believed to be the least spoiled areas in the world where the ecosystems have not been disrupted by industry. Ecotourism is defined as “[a] form of tourism inspired primarily by the natural history of an area, including its indigenous cultures” (Ziffer 6). Ceballos-Lascurain lists the activities that are recognized as typically ecotouristic: “traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objectives of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas” (qtd. in Boo xiv). Indigenous people are greatly respected for their sensitive approach to nature. They are believed to know how to take proper care of resources and live in harmony with land at the same time.

To sum up, Indigenous tourism is any tourist activity where the experience of Aboriginal culture is central. Tourist businesses that are owned or run by Indigenous people who do not focus on the specificity of their culture, but on mainstream tourist activities also belong to Indigenous tourism. However, these are not discussed in the thesis.

It is very important to mention the fact that Indigenous communities are very diverse and specific. No matter where they live, groups from various parts of the world or clans occupying two neighbouring regions, all of them are unique and their distinctiveness should be recognized and respected. Thus, to generalize insensitively and refer to all Indigenous peoples as a homogeneous group would be an immense mistake.

It should be emphasized that there are more than 700 different nations in Australia (Nielsen 213) and as Craik says, “different groups are responding [to tourism] in different ways” (“Peripheral Pleasures” 14). However, some generalizations and similarities could be found among Aboriginal communities. Mainly, these are embedded in the colonial experience with the British who introduced to Australia completely different set of values as the only one legitimate. In those times, it was problematic and undesirable to identify as an Aboriginal person openly. Nowadays, when Indigenous tourism is based on Aboriginal identity, Aboriginal peoples are eager to express it openly and to show the world the uniqueness of their cultures. Also, given the relatively low governmental involvement in tourism which is dominated by private companies, Aboriginal communities could act for themselves and to operate their businesses in the way that respects their traditions. As Parsons summarizes: “Cultural tourism has become a currency for Indigenous peoples to realise their land needs and to re-connect with their cultural heritage” (25).

What makes the Indigenous peoples of Australia really unique is the span of their history on the continent. Aboriginal peoples are the oldest civilization ever, their presence in Australia dates back to the era between 60 000 and 50 000 B.P.(Roberts, Jones and Smith 153), some believe that the date 40 000 B.P. is more precise (Rickard 62). In the 1770s, they had lost most of their freedoms with the arrival of European explorers and the consequent establishment of British settlement: the monetary values, legally-acknowledged individual ownership, the concept of terra nullius, forced assimilation policies, and the resettlement of Aboriginal peoples to missions all contributed to the deterioration of Aboriginal communities (Australian Heritage Commission 207). The injustices of the past had not been debated for a very long time and the outcomes of the ill-treatment of Aboriginal peoples have not been fully compensated up to day. Through tourism, Aboriginal peoples are given the chance to re-tell the history, re-create their identity and re-claim their heritage that was damaged by the colonial political system. In Tourism White Paper, this approach to tourism was also supported officially by the Australian government, which believes tourism is able to provide employment and social services to local communities, and to mediate better international understanding.

Obviously, the expectations for Indigenous tourism are very high: “tourism is increasingly viewed … as a means by which ... [marginalized] peoples aspire to economic and political power for self advancement, and as a place of dialogue between and within differing world views” (Ryan C. 4). Grossman goes even further and claims that mankind reached “a moment in history when a new indigenous critical space is opening up where many new indigenous intellectuals are generating whole new ways of seeing and projecting indigenous Australian history, culture, identity, and knowledge” (qtd. in Hollinshead, “Marketing” 283). It is time to “[start] breaking barriers that have been in place for decades” (Bennett and Gordon 365). Clearly, big changes that Indigenous tourism should bring are eagerly awaited.

Now, why is it that the public debate about Indigenous issues in Australia commenced as late as at the end of the 20th century? Aboriginal peoples started to be visible internationally in the 1980s, when Australia experienced a boom of international visitors (Pitcher, Oosterzee and Palmer 9). Tourism operators did not fail to seize the opportunity and incorporated elements of Aboriginal culturesinto their promotional campaigns.

To address as many visitors as possible, the most alluring elements of Aboriginal cultures have to be employed; the focus is on the otherness and exotic appearance. The contemporary “willingness to engage with the Other” (Hannerz 239) introduces “extensive patterns of mobility, a stance of openness to other and a willingness to take risks, and an ability to reflect upon and judge aesthetically between different natures, places and societies” (Lash and Urry 256). The otherness generates traveling, and in case of Indigenous tourism traveling can be defined as the quest for exotic experiences. Recently, the interest in Aboriginal cultures has been growing rapidly.

Consequently, the issues such as inadequate social services and health care, low levels of education, lack of practical training, unemployment, and dependency on welfare in Aboriginal communities have been debated. As mentioned above, the Australian government expressed their belief that tourism is a cure to all of these. Similarly, Aboriginal peoples hoped they could restore their dignity, self-reliance and self-respect, that had been destroyed in the colonial period by entering tourism industry.

Yet, the statistics seem not to affirm that these expectations would come true. On one hand, it is undeniable that “tourism is one of Australia’s largest economic activities ... Inbound tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange, replacing mineral and agricultural commodities” (Waitt 146). On the other hand, it seems that Aboriginal tourism, although flourishing, cannot compete with the mass entertainment. At least, such is the current situation: “The much used ‘80% interest in Aboriginal culture’ for marketing to the international markets is not reflected in the degree of visitation to even well-established Aboriginal tourism enterprises in Australia” (Schmiechen and Boyle 68). ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) and the Office of National Tourism stated that “[a]lthough Aboriginal cultural tourism enterprises have a high marketing profile, their estimated annual value is $5 million, far less than Indigenous owned mainstream tourism enterprises which have an estimate annual value of $20 to $30 million” (qtd. in Pitcher, Oosterzee and Palmer 2). Obviously, miracles cannot be expected from communities’ participation in tourism. Many have voiced their doubts about the impact tourism has on Aboriginal groups. Tan sees Indigenous tourism as the “Trojan horse” that is a colonial tool that penetrates Indigenous cultures (qtd. in Johnston 66). Johnston shares this opinion and claims that “no other industry [than tourism] so flagrantly prospers off colonialism” (229). In addition, there are voices that believe Indigenous tourism is dangerous to Aboriginal communities not because it imitates the colonial model of power distribution, but because it introduces commercial and material interests into Aboriginal cultures: “Are we not globalizing a very specific way of thinking? Water used to be considered sacred across cultures. Now we are pricing water in order to protect it, because the value of respect is no longer there” (Toepfer qtd. in Johnston 66). Globalization and homogenization of cultures is the threat to traditional Aboriginal cultures as well. The question is whether Aboriginal peoples wish the traditional social systems and cultures to be maintained.

In conclusion, the engagement in Indigenous tourism should not be seen only as salvation or doom. When planned carefully, it has a great potential to bring many positive changes to communities. Butler and Hinch introduce their publication with the following words: “...debates about indigenous tourism have flourished including those as fundamental as whether indigenous tourism represents an opportunity for indigenous people to gain economic independence and cultural rejuvenation to whether it presents a major threat of hegemonic subjugation and cultural degradation” (2). Nothing could be closer to the truth. Tourism is widely debated and no clear conclusion has been arrived to yet. As Butler and Hinch observe: “A symbiotic relationship is possible to the extent that cultural survival contributes to economic success and economic success contributes to cultural survival” ( 3). Nevertheless, to reach this balance is a very delicate task.

2. The Motivations of Visitors to Participate in Indigenous Tourism

It is the aim of this chapter to describe the motivations of tourists who decide to travel to/within Australia and participate in activities Aboriginal communities are involved in. To define their motivations is central for further understanding of the process of composing a destination image and the promotion of a destination, since motivations represent the very basis in the process of traveling. When one attempts to analyze the promotion and marketing that stimulate tourists expectations, it is important to focus on motivations in the first place. In this chapter, various reasons for travel to Aboriginal destinations will be mentioned, and the specific needs of people who participate in Indigenous tourism will be explored: Are tourists motivated by the stereotypical preconceptions about Aboriginal peoples? Or do they long for a real experience and are they able to respect the dynamic changes in Aboriginal cultures? First, the fascination by spirituality will be focused on, then the nature- and adventure-based motivations will be discussed, and finally, the fascination with the unknown Outback will be described.

To begin, it is necessary to stress that mass tourism is a relatively new phenomenon of the last few decades and is very important for Indigenous tourism as will be shown below. Certainly, tourists did exist before and some of their motivations have not changed until nowadays; yet, at no time in history were tourists so numerous and tourism so profitable. In the past, there were pilgrims and participants of the Great Tours. These traveled to get religious and educative experience. Of course, pilgrims still exist today, and people still travel to educate themselves and broaden their minds. What is considerably different today are the motivations of average mass tourists.

Today’s travelers do not seek education and spirituality primarily; they long for the escape from everyday routine and struggle to get away from their prescribed roles (as sales accountants, fathers, neighbours, gentlemen) for a while. Such is the effect of globalization and materialism on people’s behaviour. Tourists search for unique experiences which would be utterly different from what they usually encounter in their lives. Tourism has become an “escape” activity (Rojek 55). People leave (at least in a figurative sense) material products to search for emotional products and new identities instead.

Naturally, with the mass tourism, the backward processes emerge and alternative approaches are created (Dewailly 42). Many tourists do not search for sterilized ‘sun and beach’ products anymore. Instead, they seek new experiences offered by a more sophisticated market (Knowles et al. 15). As Ryan and McKenzie observe: “There has been a marketed shift to ‘active’ or ‘experience’ holidays and a growing interest in cultural, educational and historical travel destinations” (60). Alternative lifestyles are sought by tourists and the discovery of new cultural and historical concepts encourage their creation.

Another of the typical features of modern life in Western civilization is the determined search for spirituality, as if people were exhausted by consumerism which surrounds them at every moment. In such case, traveling can serve as a means to self-discovery and self-actualization (Waitt 146). Nowadays pilgrims head to Australia to celebrate the supernatural dimension of a landscape. Knowles describes this phenomenon as ‘geopiety’ (qtd. in Digance 145),; the fascination by nature goes so far that the whole new cult of a landscape was created. In this case, the relationship between tourists and Aboriginal peoples is usually not harmonious: those who are attracted by Indigenous sacred sites come and “tap into this spirituality, sacredness, and tradition ... without the confines existing within those traditions” (Digance 149). Sacred sites are perceived by visitors as places of metaphysical importance, as if they did not belong to this world and were somewhere in-between for anyone to use them. The opposite is the truth. These sites belong to and are active entities of Aboriginal life. By not respecting the limitations this fact introduces to the visitors, Aboriginal culture, religion and values are openly discredited.

Naturally, the Australian landscape does not only symbolize spirituality. Its vastness, hotness, and severeness evoke physical effort one must go through when trying to explore and conquer it. The fact that this land has been inhabited by Aboriginal peoples only enhances its exoticism and mysteriousness. Many are tempted to discover its secrets and seize the harsh land to ensure their physical and mental strengths. Such a tourist feels as if he or she were “a border-crosser, nomad, wanderer, diasporic, exile on permanent detour, ... a trekker, a drifter, an itinerant, a road-runner” (Healy 55). These terms are often used in advertisement; all the products of everyday use employ the philosophy of “dwelling-in-travelling” (Lury 84): Ikea sells African rugs, McDonald Mexican tortillas and the sport equipment producers encourage the consumers to go beyond the physical and mental limits. Thus, an adventurer who is surrounded by this propaganda feels like answering “the call of wild” (Healy 65).

Craik suggests that today’s tourists follow the example of famous explorers of the past: “Since travel was an important part of nation building, cultural development and the expansion of empires, modern tourism seems to perpetuate that process. This is reinforced by the use of the term tourist ‘operators’ which underlines the inherently extractive and exploitative form of the activity” (“Peripheral Pleasures” 2) and thus “tourists become homogenised as explorers and voyeurs” (13). Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to recognize all tourists as exploitative. Although many are tempted to ‘compete’ with nature or to witness a “real” Aboriginal ceremony, they do not necessarily have a negative impact on host communities.

Many are also fascinated by the cultural memory of a landscape (Schama qtd. in Digance 145) which reflects the history of the existence of Aboriginal peoples. Some believe that now, they have the very last chance to encounter unspoiled original cultures of Aboriginal peoples. Logically, this presumption is false; however, tourists often perceive Aboriginal communities as living in primeval world. These misconceptions make some tourists behave as if they were the protectors or saviours of Indigenous peoples and so they participate in Indigenous tourism with the aim to support poor communities. Healy observes that in such cases, a tourist feels “intellectual responsibility and authority, which often takes the form of patrician preservationism; a sense that those who are toured needed to be saved from themselves, or saved from a rapacious industry” (60).

Surprisingly, the opinions of tourists generally oppose the idea that tourism is a means to progress and well-being, they support conservation and protection. One of the most radical groups is ecotourists; those who would like nature and cultures remain unaffected and pure. They support conservation and reject mass tourism. It is a paradox that “tourists [are] attracted to the very cultural and natural resources which require protection” (Gale and Jacobs 57), but their presence at protected sites was proven to have a negative impact on them. It is important to realize that progress (political, technological, and economic) is vital for the survival of Aboriginal cultures, and not the stubborn preservation of old traditions and orders. Tourists’ concern can open new spaces for progress.

Now, it is time to move to domestic tourism. It is remarkable that the “mysterious” Outback attracts international visitors as well as domestic Indigenous tourism. How come that a landscape the locals are familiar with evokes the same needs in their hearts as in foreigners? Whitakker says that “dying for [the spiritual quest] is tantamount to being a true Australian” (318). The idols of the colonial period such as bushrangers and explorers still motivate Australians to get out to the wilderness: “Uluru (or the Rock) echoes the unspoken call for many Australians to escape to the Outback, supposedly ‘Australia’s geographic and spiritual or emotional centre’” (McGrath 115). Not only do the Australians want to experience the Outback life, but they also long for something “more real”, something which is “off the beaten track” (Gale and Jacobs 59). Centre is not out-there, centre is beyond the out-there for many.

Concerning the issue of respect to Aboriginal cultures, the results of Pearce and Lee’s research suggest that host-site involvement motivation and nature-related motivation are more important for experienced travelers rather than inexperienced visitors (qtd. in Hall, Introduction to Tourism 96). It may well be that the more experiences a tourist has had with the local cultures, the more respectful he or she becomes. The more people know, the more sensitive and sympathetic they become. Tourists are a very diverse group and to find common features in their behaviour is a hard task, but it is clear that information is the key to understanding.

However, to conclude, the primary motivation of the majority of travelers (which means mass tourists) is to experience something unusual – to encounter “the Other”. It is an unfortunate inclination, since it does not respect the diversity of Aboriginal peoples who live on the continent. The simplistic obsession with anything that is different and exotic stimulates Indigenous tourism, but does not request any specificity of a place and culture. The further from home a tourist is, the more interested he or she is in the local cultures, because what is remote must be really unique according to tourist agencies. The fact that in tourists’ home country many Indigenous cultures exist does not appeal to them. The otherness and distance play the vital role when it comes to making a decision about the travel destination. It could be said that mass tourism has reduced cultures to “places to visit and come back from” (Lury 75). Nonetheless, even such superficial motivations of tourists can contribute to the revival and redefining of Aboriginal cultures and histories.

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