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Growth of small tourism businesses vital to Queensland economy

Queensland’s peak industry body for tourism, the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC), has acknowledged the economic value of the state’s small businesses and their contribution to the $23b tourism industry at the commencement of Small Business Week (16 to 21 May 2016).

Chief Executive Daniel Gschwind said nine out of 10 businesses in Queensland’s tourism industry are classified as ‘small’ organisations with 15 or fewer employees.

“Encouraging the growth of small tourism businesses is a key priority and should be an ongoing focus of local, state and federal governments,” Mr Gschwind said.

Small tourism business Ingan Tours, a QTIC member organisation based in Tully in Far North Queensland, has celebrated steady business growth since its inception five years ago but continues to face ongoing hurdles with paperwork and bureaucracy.

Ingan Tours Managing Director Sonya Jeffrey said the biggest operational challenge faced by the 100% Aboriginal-owned business is ‘government red tape’.

“We are currently faced with having to deal with three separate levels of government in order to remain compliant as a tour operator,” Ms Jeffrey said.

“The amount of permits and accreditations that we need to keep on top of each year is huge - as a small business the costs and application processes are extremely time consuming and costly.”

Ms Jeffrey said Ingan Tours started with one tour guide in 2011 delivering Indigenous tourism experiences and has grown to employ five local people from the Tully community.

“The directors of Ingan Tours have invested into marketing our business internationally as it made sense to invest in the tourism distribution channel to promote Ingan Tours to key travel wholesalers in order to further grow the business.

“Continued growth of the tourism industry is critical to Ingan Tours. We chose this industry to increase employment opportunities for local Indigenous people in our community.  Growing up and living in a small town sometimes means there is limited job opportunities and we’re hopeful that tourism employers can change this situation.”

Ingan Tours has aimed to remain sustainable and keep overhead costs low by maximising the attraction of the natural environment and rainforest.

“Three quarters of world heritage rainforest sits in Tully's back yard, beautiful places that are untouched and fit perfectly with nature-based experience seekers,” Ms Jeffrey said.

“We capitalised on our natural resources by combining our cultural and environmental knowledge and used this as the unique selling point to brand and market Ingan Tours. We created a unique Indigenous experience for our customers with minimal impact on the environment using only what the natural environment provides.”

Ms Jeffrey said owning and operating a small business is hard work and her advice to other small tourism business owners is to truly understand the demands of working in the tourism sector.

“Working in tourism is highly rewarding, however being self-employed results in sacrifices needing to be made in order to be successful.  Tourism is a seven day per week job - I know because I have lived and breathed Ingan Tours for five years and there have been many hurdles along the way.

“My advice to anyone thinking of starting a small business, particularly in the tourism sector, is to self-assess your abilities as a person before you begin the adventure. For example, ask yourself if you are hardworking, are you passionate about running and owning your own business, are you committed and do you have the financial capacity to get your business off the ground?

“Take advantage of the resources available to help potential business owners in the decision making process. I attended many workshops and networking functions and sort professional advice from other tourism operators who were ‘export ready’ and had much experience in working the tourism scene.  I have never looked back - only forward and we will continue to move forward.”

Sonya Jeffrey is a panelist for the QTIC World Environment Day luncheon: "Making our natural assets work for Queensland: how to grow and protect nature-based tourism". On Friday 3 June, Sonya will be joined by Dr Steven Miles, Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef; Brett Godfrey, Co-owner of Australian Walking Company and former Managing Director of Virgin Australia, and Graham Turner, Managing Director Flight Centre and Co-owner of Spicers Retreats.

Ingan Tours is one of many Queensland tourism operators, many of which are small businesses, representing the state at the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) being held at the Gold Coast, 15 to 19 May.  ATE is Australia’s largest annual travel and tourism business-to-business event, bringing together Australian tourism businesses in a forum to promote their products directly to tourism wholesalers and retailers from around the world.

Ms Jeffrey is a member of the QTIC Tourism Indigenous Employment Champions Network, a group of volunteer tourism operators working to increase operators’ awareness of how to encourage and maintain increased participation of Indigenous Australians within the mainstream tourism industry.

Ingan Tours won Bronze at the 2013 Queensland Tourism Awards for the Indigenous Tourism category.

Tourism contributes $23 billion in expenditure to the Queensland economy and employs more than 230,000 people.

QTIC is the peak industry body for tourism in Queensland, acting as “The Voice of Tourism”. QTIC is a private sector, membership-based organisation which, since 2001, has worked to influence and shape the state’s tourism business environment.