As the CEO of Welcome to Country, proud Aboriginal man Jason Eades works to advocate for Indigenous affairs in every facet of his life. Get to know this tour de force.
Tell me about Welcome to Country.
The initial idea was about how we might use technology to assist Aboriginal businesses to grow or establish themselves. There are lots of different ways people can book Aboriginal tourism experiences but there was no single dedicated platform. That’s the unique thing about Welcome to Country; we’re solely focused on connecting travellers with Aboriginal tourism operators.
Can you give me a couple of examples of experiences?
There are two extremes. Sand Dune Adventures is very popular. It’s near Port Kembla, NSW, and has exclusive access to particular dunes; it’s about the thrill of riding quad bikes up and down the sand hills but also has Aboriginal knowledge and culture incorporated into that. I love that most people wouldn’t equate it with an Aboriginal experience. On the other end, we have tours in Arnhem Land going out onto country for five days living with the community, fully immersive experiences.
You launched in December 2019 as the bushfire crisis worsened. Then came COVID-19. How did you tackle those challenges?
We started to think about what we could do from an experience point of view and that became our online experience program. But when we had a deeper think we landed on opening an online store selling Aboriginal-made products. It launched in August 2020 and demand was incredible. Our primary objective is to deliver economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Having both experiences and products on the platform helps us to deliver on that.
Why is it important that Indigenous tourism experiences are owned and operated by Indigenous people?
In the past, there have been lots of tours about Aboriginal people and culture delivered from an outsider’s perspective. But you can’t learn what it means to walk on country and listen to country without engaging directly with the people. From a practical point of view, by spending on these tours, you’re putting money back into communities so they can make decisions for themselves and, ultimately, lift themselves out of disadvantage. Tourism is one of the very few sectors you can do that all over the country.
Do you think COVID-19 has changed how Australians view travelling in their own country?
It forced us to slow down and when we didn’t have the ability to interact face to face, we realised how much we valued it. Curiosity was sparked and people began asking, “What else could I learn about my own country?” You don’t need to travel huge distances to connect.