Encyclopedia of Tourism

Living Edition
| Editors: Jafar Jafari, Honggen Xiao

Aboriginal tourism

  • Raynald Harvey LemelinEmail author
  • Freya Higgins-Desbiolles
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-01669-6_1-1

Aboriginal tourism is defined as special events (corroboree, dances, festivals, pow-wows), experiential tourism (guided hikes, interpretation, wildlife tourism, applied activities), arts and crafts, museums, historical re-creations, restaurants, accommodations, and casinos that involve aboriginal cultures and are offered by or are located in aboriginal communities and/or lands (Getz and Jamieson 1997). It can also include memorials and commemorations at battlefields and contested terrains and opportunities derived from the comanagement of protected areas. Ownership (in part or whole) by aboriginal communities or businesses or by not-for-profit entities is an essential component of these tourism products (Kapashesit et al. 2011).

Framing aboriginal tourism

As Lemelin and Blangy (2009) explained, the term aboriginal tourism can be problematic with some scholars arguing that the terms aboriginal, indigenous, Indian, or native are colonial terms possessing little if any meaning for the people so labeled. Other scholars suggest that the term is a reclamation of identity, traditional knowledge systems, and rights. It can also serve to remind federal governments of their responsibilities to colonized populations. This is a contested context and it is not the intent of the entry to delve into this subject. This terminology has been in use because of the legal standing “aboriginal” has in Australia and Canada and the fact that it is commonly used in tourism studies.

Aboriginal tourism has received increasing attention in the literature ever since the publication of Tourism and Indigenous Peoples (Butler and Hinch 1996). Industry bodies also researching this subject include Aboriginal Tourism Canada, New Zealand Māori Tourism, and Indigenous Tourism Australia. Additionally, not-for-profit organizations such as Indigenous Tourism Rights International, Survival International, and smaller grassroots bodies have advocated for indigenous rights in tourism. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets the context for such efforts. This document highlights their rights to remain distinct peoples while also promoting their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them (United Nations 2007). This declaration stands to transform research into aboriginal tourism demanding such rights as prior, free, and informed consent and the right to benefit from tourism. Despite the emergence of international policies, collaborative research, and aboriginal scholars in tourism and its related fields throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, documenting aboriginal voices through authentic and empowering dialogue within tourism remains somewhat elusive (Nielsen and Wilson 2012).

Management of aboriginal tourism

Most recently, the focus is on aboriginal-driven projects which deliver outcomes for the concerned communities (Nielsen and Wilson 2012). A representative example is the work of the late Randy Kapashesit and colleagues (2011). It argues that tourism utilizes the traditional skills of the people, bolstering self-worth, and is consistent with the values and other economic activities of the host community. This approach fosters a positive vision of aboriginal tourism, which generates capacity building, respect, equity, and empowerment. Respect and sensitivity for local cultures is fostered by educational and interpretive programs and codes of conduct. Equity and empowerment can come through multiple approaches, including proper tourism contracts originating from legal land title, and a commitment to develop businesses that are owned and/or co-owned by tribal communities. These new developments invite a new research orientation or approach which is collaborative and empowering for both aboriginal communities and researchers.

Despite the development of aboriginal peoples in the management of protected areas, lodge and hotels and tourism offerings, and the emergence of aboriginal scholars in tourism and its related research (Butler and Menzies 2007), collaborative efforts between researchers and aboriginal communities (Kapashesit et al. 2011), and the documentation of aboriginal peoples as tourists (Peters and Higgins-Desbiolles 2012), the needs and priorities of non-aboriginal people largely drive tourism developments. Thus, aboriginal voices in aboriginal “tourism literature remain elusive” (Nielsen and Wilson 2012: 67). However, because of the changes resulting from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous communities and peoples will demand better inclusion in all aspects of indigenous tourism policy, planning, decisionmaking, and operations; this dominance of non-aboriginal peoples and interests is no longer tenable. This will be the most significant factor influencing the future of aboriginal tourism and its research.


  1. Butler, R., and C. Menzies 2007 Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Aboriginal Tourism. In Tourism and Indigenous Peoples: Issues and Implications (2nd ed.), R. Butler and T. Hinch, eds., pp.15-27. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  2. Butler, R., and T. Hinch, eds. 1996 Tourism and Indigenous Peoples. London: International Thomson Business Press.Google Scholar
  3. Getz, D., and W. Jamieson 1997 Rural Tourism in Canada: Issues, Opportunities, and Entrepreneurship in Aboriginal Tourism in Alberta. In The Business of Rural Tourism: International Perspectives, S. Page and D. Getz, eds., pp. 93–107. Toronto: Thompson Business Press.Google Scholar
  4. Kapashesit, R., R. Lemelin, N. Bennett, and G. Williams 2011 The Cree Ecolodge: A Regional Tourism Catalyst. In Polar Tourism: A Tool for Regional Development, A. Grenier and D. Müller, eds., pp.155-178. Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec.Google Scholar
  5. Lemelin, R., and S. Blangy 2009 Introduction to the Special Issue on Aboriginal Ecotourism. Journal of Ecotourism 8:77-81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Nielsen, N., and E. Wilson 2012 From Invisible to Indigenous-Driven: A Critical Typology of Research in Indigenous Tourism. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management 19:67-75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Peters, A., and F. Higgins-Desbiolles 2012 De-marginalising Tourism Research: Indigenous Australians as Tourists. Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Management 19:1-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. United Nations 2007 United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf (3 September 2013).

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raynald Harvey Lemelin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Freya Higgins-Desbiolles
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Outdoor Recreation Parks and TourismLakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada
  2. 2.University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Department of TourismUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand