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‘Startup Weekend Cairns – Tourism’ showcases Indigenous ingenuity

Held at the end of May, Cairns’ Startup Weekend – Tourism & Hospitality spawned a range of ideas on how to improve Far Northern tourism, many of which were centered on showcasing local Indigenous culture.

The event was launched at the International Terminal of the Cairns Airport on Friday May 29th, with keynote speeches from Queensland Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Curtis Pitt MP, Cairns Mayor Bob Manning, and Singularity University’s Dr Clarence Tan, who gave the event’s newcomers a glimpse into some of the world’s best emerging startups.

A high proportion of the 21 ideas pitched at the launch were focused on Indigenous tourism, as were two of the four award-winners.

The overall winner of the weekend was an app called AppOriginee, which will allow tourists to tap into authentic Aboriginal stories and tribal nuances relating to the exact locations they visit.

The team, which included three-time Startup Weekend Cairns winner George Corea, designed a platform that provides FNQ tourists with a more authentic and memorable experience than what’s available at some of the run-of-the-mill ‘cultural centres’ selling miniature souvenir boomerangs.

Team QRAE (Queensland Rainforest Aboriginal Experiences) worked on creating a hub for Aboriginal tour operators offering educational and tourism experiences.  The team formed by combining individual pitches, with members deciding to join forces rather than compete against each other.

QRAE’s Roger De Vos said that the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the weekend turned out to be a great way of getting to know potential business associates within a short amount of time.

“Everyone’s outside their comfort zone and you spend every minute together,” De Vos said. “It’s a great way of discovering everybody’s strengths and weaknesses and seeing how well you can work together under pressure.”

Some of the other ideas workshopped at the weekend involved coordinating feedback from Chinese visitors, getting tourists to support environmental causes, and remote transport solutions.

Winning team AppOriginie designed an app to provide access to authentic Indigenous culture and knowledge for travellers. Photos: theSPACE

Winning team AppOriginee designed a platform to give travellers access to location-specific authentic Indigenous culture and knowledge. Photos: theSPACE

The weekend had initially been scheduled for March but had to be postponed due to a cyclone threat (which also meant coordinating again with official guests and speakers to find a new date).

The organisers were at one stage concerned about getting the numbers the second time around.  Ultimately, the event attracted 53 registered participants, 10 of whom were sponsored by the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP).

A representative from the FNQ Regional Office of DATSIP described feedback from the event as “amazing”.   She said that the people she’d spoken with were energetic and enthusiastic, with some saying they intended to continue with their startups and others deciding on who else they might bring to future events.

Minister Pitt also took the opportunity to enthusiastically highlight Queensland’s $40 million Business Development Fund, saying that, “…we want to take the brilliant ideas of locals in the early stages of a new business and help turn worthy concepts into commercial realities”.

The event also provided an opportunity for would-be entrepreneurs as well as existing business owners to network with others in the Far North Queensland tourism/hospitality sector.

“Startup businesses are creating massive disruption in the way business has traditionally been done,” theSPACE’s Business Innovation and Training Consultant Damian Zammit said.  “We need to get on the front foot of these global changes and explore new revenue streams for two of our key regional industries – tourism and hospitality.”

The event followed other themed Startup Weekends across Queensland, which have addressed education in Toowoomba, health in Brisbane, and rural innovation on the Atherton Tablelands.

The next Cairns Startup Weekend will be held in November to coincide with Global Entrepreneurship Week.

About Karen Ross