Entrepreneuring indigenous tourism
One of the unique businesses to come out of the University of Adelaide's graduate enterprise programs is Diverse Travel Australia, a small but thriving tourism provider specialising in Aboriginal and nature-based travel in Australia.
Graduate Diploma in Business Enterprise graduate, Caroline Densley, is still reaping the benefits of her time with the Thebarton Campus's Business Initiatives for Graduates Program, now the Graduate Entrepreneurial Program.
Now a commercial tenant at the Thebarton-based Adelaide University Research Park, Caroline finds the continuing network of former students and the University's Office of Industry Liaison provide a highly valued support base.
Caroline Densley's passion for indigenous culture was sparked by 10 years travelling the globe that gave her an appreciation of the many cultural influences that make up our world.
Back in Australia and with her new qualifications and a fledgling specialist travel business set up with fellow graduate and then active business partner Kristi O'Brien, she set out to win the trust of Aboriginal people, travelling to remote areas and working closely with indigenous communities around Australia to acquire detailed knowledge and understanding.
Today, Diverse Travel benefits from the advice and guidance of Aboriginal cultural expert and part-owner of the business, Joc Schmiechen, a Senior Research Fellow in Indigenous Tourism at Charles Darwin University.
Diverse Travel Australia now provides and promotes Australian Aboriginal cultural tours to a largely international market. Wherever possible they use only Aboriginal-owned and operated companies and indigenous guides.
Indigenous tourism has its challenges. "The remote locations present their own difficulties, although we have so far never lost anyone," says Caroline. "A lot of our success comes from the quality of our pre-departure information for our clients --comprehensive protocol and cultural outlines which cover things like taking photos, caring for the country, why someone may not look them in the eye. We try and give people the background and understanding they need to get the most out of the experience. It's also about knowing how to manage these experiences."
Diverse Travel's client base is 95% international, mostly individual tourists from the US and Europe but also small special interest groups like the Swedish Wine Society which brings a group to South Australia every two years and a group of Shamans and healers recently out from the US to do a tour of the Pitjantjatjara lands, with a focus on spirituality and healing. Domestic indigenous travel is still very small but growing, and the company is now starting to break into the backpacker market.
Diverse Travel Australia's work with Aboriginal tour operators over the years was recognised last year with Caroline's appointment as South Australian representative of the Australian Government's AusIndustry Business Ready Program for Indigenous Tourism. Through this program, Caroline is responsible for mentoring ten indigenous tourism businesses in South Australia.
"The mentoring involves helping them increase their skills and understanding of what it means to be in business and understanding the tourism industry, what the market wants and ensuring their product is market-ready. We also assist them in seeking loan support," said Caroline. ■
Story Robyn Mills