A group of images showing the experiences on offer

Welcome to Country success journey

The beginning

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures. This connection to Country and the generosity of communities wishing to share their cultures is reflected in the quality of experiences and tours provided across the country.

Welcome to Country is inspired to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to increase employment and economic outcomes. The tourism sector and the experience sector more broadly present an opportunity to deliver on this purpose and met a growing demand for First Nations’ experiences. Designed as a central ‘market-place’ it provides a platform for communities to access and tap into travellers. For travellers it provides a trusted source of high quality experiences.

First Australians Capital provided the seed funding and infrastructure for two years to incubate and scale Welcome to Country until it was ready to be launched as an independent Aboriginal-led for-purpose organisation.

Travellers not only want authentic experiences, they also increasingly want to know their dollars are supporting communities. Social impact is becoming an important driver for decision making by travellers. We wanted to provide a platform where we connect communities with people who want to purchase these experiences.” – Jason Eades, CEO, Welcome to Country

The journey

The first priority of Welcome to Country was to launch the online marketplace to allow travellers to book tours and experiences. Focusing on businesses that are either owned and operated by Aboriginal and Torres Islander people, or are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (but non-Aboriginal owned), Welcome to Country now has 67 experiences listed.

In December 2019 Welcome to Country beta-launched its tourism marketplace in the Northern Territory. The beta launch was designed to test the business model and discover and resolve any technical or operational issues whilst preparing for the national launch of the business. Unfortunately, the beta launch coincided not only with devastating bushfires across Australia but then with the COVID-19 crisis – creating an exceptionally challenging environment for a new tourism business.

Despite this background, the first experience was booked soon after launching. The customer said they chose to book with Welcome to Country as they believed in the business’s social purpose.

More tours are added every month – with current opportunities ranging from experiencing the world’s oldest living culture by quad biking or paddle boarding in NSW; art galleries and immersions in NT; a premium 4-day walking tour in Tasmania; scenic flights in SA and many more – all from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned or operated businesses.

More recently, Welcome to Country has expanded into virtual experiences. These virtual experiences are unique online sessions or workshops designed and hosted by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from their home, business or on Country. Virtual experiences offer unique perspectives on life experiences and the world we live in and create opportunities to share specialised knowledge with a broad audience not only in Australia but across the globe.

New operators are always welcome. To get onto the marketplace, the first step is to lodge an expression of interest via the website. This requires some initial information about the operator and their experiences. After lodgement one of the team makes contact and talks through the process and what is required in further detail. Welcome to Country is committed to making the process as seamless and easy as possible.

With such an unprecedented launch environment (bushfires and COVID-19) Welcome to Country has also pivoted to showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander products. Products are sourced from artists, art centres and manufactures who have licence agreements with artists and pay fair royalties. Every purchase made through the marketplace supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, art centres and communities helping to deliver on Welcome to Country’s social purpose – to create jobs and positive economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The vision

Welcome to Country is in the start-up phase and has mapped out a 5-year journey to sustainability of the marketplace.

The current focus is to continue to build upon the current platform and to enhance user and operator experience in the marketplace.

This will enable them to build the customer base and expand the number of experiences that are available in order to achieve and maintain sustainability for the marketplace with a balance between the audience size and number of experiences available.

The impact

Welcome to Country’s purpose is to address employment and economic outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Welcome to Country has developed a theory of change that outlines the logical link between our activity and the purpose they seek to achieve. With less than a year in operation, the impact on the sector has yet to be measured. However, Welcome to Country has already directly created jobs within the organisation and procured goods and services from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses – all with the aim of achieving the social purpose that is the foundation of the organisation.