For a long time, Aboriginal tourism operators were not acknowledged as a segment of the tourism industry - these operators often struggled on alone without a support network. Information for visitors and for the travel industry about Aboriginal cultural experiences were fragmented and difficult to access.
In 2000, the Olympic games in Sydney raised federal government awareness of the strong demand from overseas visitors to experience the aboriginal culture. As both national and state governments lacked information about this, they decided to stage a National Forum to gather more knowledge on the sort of experiences which were available.
A selection of 25 Aboriginal tourism operators from Broome and Perth were nominated to represent WA at the Forum. This was the first time that operators from the south had met with operators from the north and they discovered that the challenges they were experiencing in entering the tourism industry were very similar.
It was the operators themselves who approached the government to seek assistance in establishing a network that would support and equip them with a voice in the industry. The Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council (WAITOC) was established, with 12 members from a variety of Aboriginal language groups. The council went from strength to strength, slowly making inroads to the mainstream tourism industry to be heard and taken seriously as a unique and valuable component of the Australian tourism experience. This resulted in the council becoming an incorporated Association in May 2002.
WAITOC is now the peak non-for-profit organisation representing Aboriginal tourism in Western Australia with close to 200 members and a steady growth of newcomers every year.
WAITOC started to promote its members in the international arena through comprehensive marketing campaigns and key trade shows such as the Australian Tourism Exchange. WAITOC also held the first Australian Indigenous Tourism Conference (AITC) in 2004, which has now become a national event and the only conference which focusses exclusively on Aboriginal cultural tourism matters. The AITC is held biannually and offers the opportunity for Aboriginal tourism operators to network with each other and learn about the latest trends and opportunities.
WAITOC was also a founding member of the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance which was launched in 2013. Indigenous tourism carries time-honoured values of hospitality embedded in ancient cultures. Host-to-guest relationships among Indigenous communities worldwide demonstrate values of welcoming, respect, sharing and protection. The World Indigenous Tourism Summits, staged in 2018 in Waitangi - New Zealand, 2023 in Perth - Australia, and 2024 in Taiwan, bring together friends and allies from diverse parts of the tourism industry, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous tourism operators, academics, government representatives and youth. Speakers and delegates at this forum discuss the role Indigenous values and wisdom can play in building a kind of tourism better equipped to survive in the future, asserting Indigenous rights in our home countries, and nurturing a growing awareness of the need to unite and engage in the equitable development of Indigenous economies.
2023 marks WAITOC's 20th Anniversary and the celebration of over 40 milestones - paving a strong path of corporate and promotional achievements which have placed a firm footprint for Aboriginal tourism within the broader industry and formed strong foundations from which to grow and flourish into the future.
For more information - please browse our 20th Anniversary Booklet.