Changing climate threatens First Nations’ tourism

When it comes to climate change, John Barrett suspects the tourism industry has been left behind.

The New Zealand tourism operator put out the call for Australian First Nations tourism businesses and bodies to join in a draft statement on climate change at the recent World Indigenous Tourism Summit in Perth.

For centuries, the Barrett whānau (family) have lived on Kāpiti Island, 40 kilometres north of Wellington. Their ancestors arrived in the 1820s.

Now Mr Barrett and his family run Kāpiti Island Nature Tours to showcase the island’s rich cultural history to guests.

Mr Barrett is worried climate change will impact the land his family have lived and worked on for generations.

“(Climate change) has put us on high alert. And what’s put us on high alert is recent events in Aotearoa were significant floodings occurring in several parts of the country,” said Barrett.

Read more in Cosmos: Lismore preparing for higher floods under climate change

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“Observing that and observing what’s happened in the wider Pacific region, and the wider Asian region, Africa with the recent multi-layered cyclone there, it just seems like a no-brainer that we’re on high alert.

“I’ve been coming to these conferences here for over 15 years, and it’s been discussed that we’re at lower levels but increasingly over the last 15 years, to a point where everybody must be aware of the impacts that climate change is having.”

Speaking at the World Indigenous Tourism Summit, Barrett explained how important his business had been in creating financial independence for his family.

“We’re in this business essentially to provide social and financial independence for our family and our wider family,” he said.

“We’re also finding our family and our wider family have been drawn back to this place because it’s where our strength comes from.

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“I’ve seen employment on so many occasions and our youngsters feel the benefit from being on the land and taking part in something that’s useful and meaningful.”

He wants the tourism industry to continue being a worthwhile and meaningful thing for his family, but believes this could be lost if climate change continues to impact them.

So, Barrett says, he is calling on First Nations tourism businesses and bodies to make a difference by coming together to make a draft statement on climate change.

“What’s clear is there’s enough support in the room to do something, to make a statement that Indigenous tourism people are passionate about making sure we don’t absolutely destroy our planet,” he said.

“We’re contributing to it. How do we reduce our contribution? How do we encourage other people to reduce their contribution?”

The World Indigenous Tourism Summit concluded on March 16.

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