Curating Bespoke Experiences - Cultural Tourism in Australia

Tourists visiting Australia are increasingly wanting to engage with the arts and cultural landscapes of the cities of which they’re visiting. With the birth of social media, and the ease of booking holidays online with services like Airbnb, people are seeking out more than just the regular tourist hotspots. People no longer want to just take photos in front of landmarks - there’s a craving for adventures and souvenirs that actually engage with the local culture in curated and bespoke experiences. 

Enter cultural tourism. 

But what is cultural tourism? Well, it’s going a little bit deeper than the usual surface level experiences that were the norm in the past when traveling - making a more meaningful engagement with the arts and culture of a city you’re visiting. This might mean going to a gallery or museum, attending a festival or cultural event, taking part in a First Nations cultural activity, going to a concert, or attending a workshop. And this isn’t only happening in Australia either, it’s a trend that’s on the rise globally. 

Australia is rapidly developing as a creative destination hotspot - a report by the Australia Council for the Arts says that international arts tourism has grown at a higher rate than overall international tourism over the last five years. Creative Victoria says that in the year ending in December 2017, Victoria had 2.9 million visitors, and 66% of those visitors visited a museum or art gallery. They also show that cultural visitors stayed longer than the regular tourist, meaning that they’re putting more money into the economy. 

The National Gallery of Victoria was the most tagged art gallery in Australia on Instagram in 2017. Image Credit:    The National Gallery of Victoria

The National Gallery of Victoria was the most tagged art gallery in Australia on Instagram in 2017. Image Credit: The National Gallery of Victoria

The National Gallery of Victoria was the 10th most tagged Australian location on Instagram in 2017, but the most tagged art or cultural institution, with the remaining 10 locations on the list being places like Bondi Beach, Brisbane’s South Bank, or the MCG.

Due to the success of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), international visitors to Hobart have increased by 92% over the last 5 years, while the national increase of international visitors in the same period was only 47%. MONA and Dark Mofo have certainly put Hobart on the world’s stage for art festivals. 

Tourism to Hobart has risen considerably over the last 5 years due to MONA. Image Credit:    MONA

Tourism to Hobart has risen considerably over the last 5 years due to MONA. Image Credit: MONA

The point I’m trying to get across with all these stats is that the demand for cultural tourism and arts and culture experiences is real, it’s growing, and I’m in the thick of it. 

As well as Art Pharmacy Consulting, I’m the founder and director of Culture Scouts. We aim to give tourists and locals a different view of the city and regional areas, taking people on cultural walking tours throughout the suburbs that regular travellers may miss. We stress the importance of walking on these tours because it means we’re actually out on the ground walking through the suburbs with the artists and creatives, visiting their galleries, studios, and local hangouts - experiences that you don’t get anywhere else. 

The Culture Scouts Street Art Tour exploring the grungy streets of Newtown. Image Credit:    Culture Scouts

The Culture Scouts Street Art Tour exploring the grungy streets of Newtown. Image Credit: Culture Scouts

A Culture Scouts tour group in the heart of Sydney’s Darling Square. Image Credit:    Culture Scouts

A Culture Scouts tour group in the heart of Sydney’s Darling Square. Image Credit: Culture Scouts

Culture Scouts isn’t only tethered to Sydney, we head interstate to Dark Mofo each year. Image Credit:    Culture Scouts

Culture Scouts isn’t only tethered to Sydney, we head interstate to Dark Mofo each year. Image Credit: Culture Scouts

Our guides are all practising artists, chefs, architects, botanists, journalists, historians, the list goes on, and they’re local to the suburbs they’re guiding their tour through. There’s an authenticity there that I think people are craving as they travel now. The growth of Airbnb Experiences are another example proving that it’s this hyper-locality that people really want. Our guests are walking away from our tours feeling as though they’ve done something exclusive, and have explored or discovered a suburb the way a local would. 

Also, by being on the ground and exploring smaller boutiques, studios, cafes, and bars with international visitors, we’re putting more money into the local economy. There’s a real sense of fulfilment felt when our guests are purchasing artworks and goods directly off the artists and makers, rather than feeling like they’re being taken for a ride by the regular tourist traps.

A sneak peak into an artist’s studio while on tour with Culture Scouts in Marrickville. Image Credit:    Culture Scouts

A sneak peak into an artist’s studio while on tour with Culture Scouts in Marrickville. Image Credit: Culture Scouts

Just some of the yummy local tasters a bespoke tour can cater for when discovering local cafes. Image Credit:    Culture Scouts

Just some of the yummy local tasters a bespoke tour can cater for when discovering local cafes. Image Credit: Culture Scouts

A sneak peak into an artist’s studio while on tour with Culture Scouts in Marrickville. Image Credit:    Culture Scouts

A sneak peak into an artist’s studio while on tour with Culture Scouts in Marrickville. Image Credit: Culture Scouts

This sense of authenticity is especially prevalent when seeking out experiences with First Nations People. For many tourists, their only exposure to Indigenous culture can be really superficial. In an interview with ABC Radio National, John King from the Australian Tourism Export Council says that there’s strong evidence suggesting that tourists are seeking out this authenticity when on holidays in Australia, and are disappointed by these superficial experiences. According to Brian Lee, an Indigenous tourism operator in WA, a large part of this push for authentic experiences is happening from domestic travellers as well. 

One of the many fantastic initiatives I’ve discovered when being out and about on tour is Yerrabingin, Australia’s very first native rooftop farm! They grow a huge range of edible Indigenous plant species, with the aim being to engage with the local community and tourists, with a series of workshops focusing on Aboriginal culture and arts, native permaculture, and environmental sustainability. It’s a prime example of an experience that normally wouldn't really be associated with tourism in its traditional sense, but sheds light on Australia’s First Nations culture. You can read more on Yerrabingin or have a look at their workshops here

Australia’s first edible, native rooftop farm, Yerrabingin, located in Sydney. Image Credit:    Yerrabingin

Australia’s first edible, native rooftop farm, Yerrabingin, located in Sydney. Image Credit: Yerrabingin

It’s all well and good to visit Sydney and spend the day on the harbour with the Bridge and the Opera House (and I’m by no means saying don’t do that, it’s gorgeous down there!), but it’s not how the locals generally live and it isn't wholly representative of what Sydney has to offer. Australian Tourism stats for 2019 claim that while the Sydney Opera House draws 8.3 million people a year, most travellers are only interested in visiting the exterior and are not overly concerned with attending an event inside the building. It’s this rise of cultural tourism that will start to shift the view of places like the Sydney Opera House away from being a landmark that you visit and take a picture of, to visitors actually entering and engaging with what is a cultural institution for Sydney. 

It’s time for the arts industry to capitalise on the changing trends of tourism happening at the moment. If people are seeking out these experiences, and they are, there’s a market for the taking. More collaboration between the worlds of art and tourism would only mean greater benefits for both parties. Art Pharmacy Consulting and Culture Scouts are here to bridge that gap. 

Sydney is a city of villages - each suburb has its own character and personality. Keep an eye out for our next article on cultural tourism and it’s focus on the subcultures in Sydney and how they mingle in this melting pot of a city. What do you want to see and hear? What would you like to know more about? Let me know on my LinkedIn or through the Art Pharmacy Facebook page.