Australia’s first exclusive Indigenous resort has successfully opened 120 km south of Alice Springs within the Titjikala Aboriginal Community. Gunya Titjikala is the vision of Mark Provost, Managing Director of Gunya Tourism – an idea sparked by a round Australia trip with his wife and 3 small children.
“The kids didn’t have one authentic interaction with Aboriginal people even after travelling over 5000kms from Sydney all the way to Broome”, says Mark. “That was the whole idea behind the trip. So I chose to place my kids in an Aboriginal school for four months to learn about this amazing culture and to make new friends.”
Departing international visitors often make the same complaint – that there is little opportunity for interaction with Aboriginal people in their own environment, according to a recent tourism study.
After visiting many Aboriginal communities, Mark was shocked to see the conditions in which most of these Aboriginal people lived and when he returned to Sydney, he had some lengthy discussions with friend and associate, David Liddiard of NASCA (National Aboriginal Sports Corporation Australia). Together they developed a tourism resort business model, called the company Gunya Tourism and aimed to create jobs for Aboriginal people within their home environment as well as capturing the demand for Aboriginal interaction with tourists.
Formed after nine months of negotiation with the elders of the community, Gunya Titjikala is a joint venture between Gunya Tourism and the Titjikala Aboriginal Community. Each has 50% ownership in capital, profit sharing and management committee seats. Mark believes that the business model offers a pathway to economic dependence that provides employment, social stability and the preservation of culture and traditions. Titjikala Aboriginal Community Chairman, Phillip Wilyuka says the venture is for the young people of their community, with profits going to health, education and school retention initiatives. It is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the community’s culture, landscapes and language to international visitors, he says.
At the Gunya Titjikala Resort, guests stay in Deluxe Safari Tents elevated from the desert floor on timber beams. The tents are the best in the world, sourced from Africa, says Mark. They include a private ensuite with freestanding bath, eco toilet, Titjikala toiletries, contemporary furnishings, an esky mini-bar fridge, king size bed (which can be separated into singles), and timber verandah that overlooks the wonders of the Simpson Desert.
There are no tour constraints and schedules. Programs are based around guests’ desires and wishes. During the day, guests can learn the daily survival knowledge of the local Aboriginal people, visit the local Titjikala Art Centre, go on Bush Tucker Gathering tours, climb Chambers Pillar or make up their own personalised trips with the local male and female Titjikala guides. When dusk falls, a big camp fire sets the scene for guests to enjoy their gourmet meal prepared by a resident Bush Tucker Chef. Local elders make a special visit around the camp fire to share dreamtime stories.
“We have only been opened since 1 September and the feedback from our guests has been incredibly positive. They enjoy the authenticity of the product and the fact we only employ local indigenous labour” says Mark.
Micro-businesses have developed as a result of operating the Deluxe Safari Tents and adventure excursions. There are sponsorship opportunities and Gunya Tourism is currently targeting large corporations to help fund these.
“We are looking for sponsorship to buy two Toyota Troop Carriers for the community to enable the locals to operate the business that conducts the transfers and tours for our guests” says Mark. “There is also the fabulous opportunity for corporations to sponsor one of the five tents. This involves purchasing ten prepaid room nights for a 12 month period. It is a great opportunity as we have high wealth individuals staying in these tents and it is an opportunity for our guests to read about your company’s support and passion on Indigenous affairs”.
Who visits the resort? There are 3 major market segments attracted to Gunya Titjikala.
“Our major market is high-end Inbound (international), corporate meetings, events and bonding trips, and the affluent traveller. We have had a diverse range of people staying with us from international models, famous celebrities, property developers, multinational CEOs and bankers. But we have also had your average traveller seeking a real and completely authentic interaction with the local people of Titjikala in an unspoiled and raw location” says Mark.
How was the Joint Venture financed?
“The banks laughed at me when I said I wanted to develop a resort within a remote Aboriginal community” said Mark. “Yet I was determined not to get government funding as the government has a tendency to place too many expectations and restrictions on projects developed with their money, let alone whether the funding comes off at all.”
The corporate world was the answer and fellow visionary and philanthropist, Bill Moss of the Macquarie Bank, saw the many benefits this tourism project could offer the remote community of Titjikala. Bill took one look at the proposal, commented on what a great Indigenous initiative it was and the capital was available in a matter of weeks. Construction of the resort was with Bill’s personal money.