The 10 Year Vision for Aboriginal Tourism in the Great Ocean Road Region

The state of play in South West Victoria in 2028

South West Victoria has a globally recognised brand (Aboriginal Great Ocean Road) as the ultimate place to go to experience living Aboriginal culture. It is a bucket-list destination on the Australian domestic tourism landscape and attracts international visitors who want to ‘experience more than the desert’ in Australia’s Aboriginal food basin.

Aligning with both the Aboriginal Victoria and Great Ocean Road brands, the Aboriginal Great Ocean Road brand stands for the history, stories and experience of Aboriginal living culture in the region; complete with a rich and market-ready product-set, and established access routes (air / self-drive; rail; pure self-drive and organised tours).

The Aboriginal Great Ocean Road brand is not just about the destination – it’s about a journey, not just to see, but to understand and be immersed in the experience. Living culture weaves together to connect cultural narratives and allow the full region to be experienced either as a cohesive whole or as linked-together sections of a greater journey (drawing visitors further and bringing them back).

Built around and along songlines that link the four major Aboriginal tourism sites (Naranna, the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre, Tower Hill, and Budj Bim), the area provides an experience to suit every audience. Whether a tourist only has a day or wants to spend a week in the area, there are offerings for everyone - from the “observers” who want to see Aboriginal culture outputs (art; dance; exhibitions); through the “intrigued” who want to have some experiences (such as bushwalks or bush food) to the “immersive” segment who want to spend time in high-concept, exclusive, profoundly engaging experiences to dive deeper into the culture and spirituality of the place.

Tourism infrastructure in the area is world class, and includes integrated VR and AR tailored to each location and product. Signage and spoken-word digital guides all tell the story of each site and link each narrative to the next. The revamped regional airport in Portland allows visitors to arrive and depart to allow longer stays with only a one-way drive there or back.  A set of guided tours departing from Warnnambool airport provide non-drivers the option of accessing Aboriginal tourism. Non-Aboriginal tourism businesses proudly display their accreditations to tell (some) of the stories of the area.

Visitors to the region arrive in five main ways – from the air (flying into or out of an upgraded Portland airport) from Adelaide and Melbourne; by rail; and by road from the east (out of Melbourne), west (out of Adelaide) and north. The road trips that are longer stays are self-driven or fly / drive, whereas many of the day trips remain as bus tour-groups.

For tourism operators, the Aboriginal Tourism Governing Board provides resources and support through its digital hub; education, training and mentoring through its association with the Murra Business School; access to finance through First Australians Capital; and negotiates with Parks Victoria to facilitate land for new Aboriginal tourist products to set up and trade on a lease arrangement. The Traditional Owner groups in the area all have ownership of the Aboriginal Tourism Governing Board, and Aboriginal tourism is a major employer in the region (of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people), making a significant contribution to the state’s economy.

Aboriginal tourism not only provides investments and jobs in the region, but through promotion of the brand, also brings new visitors to the area which grows the entire (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) tourism sector. The success of the brand and Aboriginal products are fundamental to the sense of pride amongst non-Aboriginal people of the region. Non-Aboriginal people are informed and embrace Aboriginal culture and are proud to showcase it to all their friends and family.

A dedicated tourism website provides the ability to map a journey, providing sample itineraries for different lengths of stay, interests and priorities. The website links to accommodation, dining and leisure options in addition to providing opportunities for smaller Aboriginal tourism operators to advertise their products. The website also drives engagement with ‘Uncle David’ and ‘Auntie Beryl’, virtual elder tour guides who can tell the stories of the area both during travel and at the sites themselves. ‘Uncle David’ and ‘Auntie Beryl’ are available in an app that can be downloaded prior to departure based on the itinerary, or can be streamed on-the-go using location mapping. This app can also interact with physical signage though near-field-communication or QR codes to provide more in-depth insight into each location. ‘Uncle David’ and ‘Auntie Beryl’, like all the physical and digital signage, are multi-lingual (as appropriate).

The ‘jewel in the crown’ is the world heritage listed Budj Bim, which is not only the source of the world-renowned smoked eel that graces the tables of Melbourne’s top hatted restaurants from its working eel-farm, but is also seen as the ultimate place to visit to understand and experience the Aboriginal way of life from 15,000 years ago to today. Budj Bim has a range of products that range from short self-paced tours (for the “observer” and “intrigued” segments) to week long stays on-country with an Aboriginal elder guide (for the “immersive” segment) to experience traditional life including catching and smoking eels, gathering bush-food and medicine and sleeping under the stars or in eco-lodges (when it rains).

Tower Hill is a Centre of Excellence, catering mainly to the “intrigued” segment – with bushfoods, arts and crafts, workshops and short eco-tours. It also houses an education centre which provides comfortable accommodation for overnight and weekend school tours, as well as the week-long residential programs.

Worn Gundidj cultivates and markets high grade Aboriginal food both as stand-alone retail products, and to high end restaurants in the region and beyond. The land not only provides these products but is a hub for gourmet travellers wanting to see and experience traditional land management practices. They run highly successful tours that include harvesting your own food followed by practical experiences cooking and eating it on site.

The Visitor Centre at the 12 Apostles provides both the furthest point of a day trip from Melbourne and a critical entry point for the longer-term visitor to the area. Comprising a curated museum display complete with immersive VR and AR experiences; a cultural centre with art, performance space and retail; and a café featuring bush-food, the experience is designed to showcase the songlines opening up from this site to the rest of the area.

Naranna Cultural Centre outside Geelong provides an introduction to the area. Popular with the cruise-ship market and with schools who see it as a foundational educational experience, it provides a broad-strokes, entry-level experience with art, dance, story, animals and retail. Critically, it showcases the benefits of a longer trip in the area and the experiences that are available as you travel deeper into Country.

A range of festivals and events throughout the year encourage year-round tourism. Each of the major Aboriginal tourism sites, along with all Tourist Information sites and other locations along the journey, carry a series of information brochures that can be collected in a single, branded folder called the ‘passport into living culture’. Each site carries unique stamps to ‘prove’ that the visitor has visited.

The region’s marketing campaigns are impactful and continue to increase demand for Aboriginal experience and product from the local, domestic and international tourism sectors.