Debbie and Josie speak with Dianne Dredge about the Islander Way regenerative tourism project on Flinders Is, Tasmania, Australia.
Dianne explains the innovative, emergent, community-led approach to co-designing a visitor economy with the community that respects the community’s values, contributes to a resilient economy, and that takes responsibility for the impacts of tourism on the natural environment.
"Let's do community consultation in a genuine way, and really experiment with what the solutions might be as well. So this regenerative tourism Living Lab is not only just about delivering a framework for Regenerative tourism, it's actually trying to unleash the local creativity of local people to find solutions and find ways that they can actually benefit from tourism as well, because quite often tourism is done to them, rather than with them."
In 2019 the 'tipping point' for the Island was identified: "if the population continues to age, if there's less people on the island, then it's going to actually reach a point where the local economy is not going to be able to sustain the social and economic economy, the social services that it needs."
Dianne describes how the comprehensive data collected through the community consultation process allows tourism to be considered in a bigger system to identify what is really needed to help address this tipping point. Before you can actually be a good community to host visitors, you have to have a sustainable, resilient local community.
Community consultation has identified 7 directions for the future of tourism on the Island. So far, emerging business ideas identified through the project focus on waste and circular economy, food security and tourism experience.
Show notes and links
Learning from a Regenerative Living Lab | https://www.islanderway.co/post/learning-from-a-regenerative-living-lab
The Islander Way project | https://www.islanderway.co
The Tourism CoLab | https://www.thetourismcolab.com.au
Dianne Dredge | https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianne-dredge
FTI Consultants, Study of Economics, Business and Social Structure on Tasmania's Flinders Island (the 'Tipping Point' report) https://www.flinders.tas.gov.au/client-assets/images/Learn/downloads/Council%20Reports/2019.03.31%20-%20FTI%20Consulting%20'Study%20of%20Economics,%20Business%20&%20Social%20Structure%20on%20Tasmania's%20Flinders%20Island'.pdf
This podcast is created for Designing Tourism by Debbie Clarke and Josie Major from GOOD Awaits. Audio Production is by Clarrie Macklin. Check out their podcast: https://www.good-travel.org/goodawaitspodcast
Music by Judy Jacques, The Mesmerist; Wybalenna Prayer from Making Wings © 2002 with kind permission of the artist.
Extract from the Islander Way read by Jana Monnone co-created by the local community with Brand Tasmania as part of the Flinders Island brand story.
Original photography by Sammi Gowthorp.
The Islander Way project is funded by the Tasmanian Government. We also acknowledge our partners, Flinders Council, Visit Northern Tasmania and The Tourism CoLab and the support of Flinders Island Business Inc.
If you'd like to provide feedback on this podcast, we'd welcome your comments at email@example.com
Jana Monnone 00:14
Welcome to Latitude 40: Redesigning tourism on a small island.
In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We acknowledge the palawa people of the trawulwai nation, and recognise their continuing connection to the land, waters and culture of the Islands. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.
The first thing you will notice on Flinders and the Furneaux group of islands is the breathtaking scenery. In every direction, what you see is like nothing else in the world, it's deeper than quiet beaches and coastlines, mountains and mist. These islands have a rich and dark history, and an intensely passionate community that wants to reckon with its past and build the right future together. No one is here because it is the easiest place to live. Everyone is here because it's different. When something works on these islands, it tends to be small and special. As the rest of the world chases growth, we chase meaning. We have a complex relationship with change, because we understand what it can bring. It's different here. And we make different invitations to visitors for an unforgettable time on Flinders Island. Learn to be one of us for a few days a week, or the rest of your life. Slow down, listen, get lost, contribute. Don't try to change this place. Let this place change you.
Josie Major 02:31
I'm Debbie Clarke, and I'm Josie major. We're honoured to be your hosts for this Latitude 40 series sharing the stories of the Flinders Island community and the Islander Way regenerative tourism Living Lab.
Dianne Dredge 02:56
I'm Dianne Dredge and I'm the Director and founder of the Tourism CoLab. And also another company called Designing Tourism. And Designing Tourism is the company that we're delivering The Islander Way regenerative tourism living lab through. I'm originally trained as an environmental planner, I started my career in North Queensland working with local communities and helping them develop their kind of connection with tourism. And this was in the sort of early 1990s as tourism really started to take hold in North Queensland in Australia. But in those days, there wasn't a lot of places to actually learn about tourism. And I ended up going overseas and studying with some amazing people in Canada, at the University of Waterloo before following that kind of research trajectory. And I became a professor of tourism and policy development. And I spent 18 years in that space. But prior to COVID I really kind of got a little bit frustrated that you can research but nothing was really happening. And because I was bringing together both a very deep practical experience about how to deal with communities how to do community engagement, and how to kind of unleash their creativity. So the work that I'm doing now in the Tourism CoLab brings together you know, the sort of environmental planning and urban design work that I did previously. It brings together community consultation. It brings together my knowledge of policy and planning work, as well as the governance work that I did when I was working in Europe. So, bringing all of those together and really putting a practical lens on things. I really wanted to drive change and drive a kind of a tourism and visitor economy that really embraced and unleashed the Creativity of local communities. So that's how I kind of got into this space of starting the Tourism CoLab.
Debbie Clarke 05:07
It's great to hear all of that background and depth of experience that you're bringing into this project, Diannne. So tell us about what's happening on Flinders Island with the Islander Way project.
Dianne Dredge 05:18
So the Islander Way is a, what we're calling a regenerative tourism Living Lab. Even though we know that tourism is actually part of a much bigger system, it's good to focus on this because the tourism activity that was happening in 2019/2020, as a result of COVID, there was a lot of over tourism, and this project kind of came about because of this need to look at the relationship between tourism and the local community. So this Living Lab is kind of a culmination of a lot of work that I've been doing over the last 20 years, but really sort of shifting the way that we work in tourism. So taking an experimental approach. So instead of, for example, going in and saying we can do a plan, you develop a plan, which is usually you know, takes two or three months to develop. If you need to do community consultation, community consultation is really with key stakeholders. And key stakeholders are often simply industry people rather than a broader sort of cross section of the community. So we wanted to go in and really sort of embrace what real community consultation would be like the people who work in the industry, both on the island and off the island. They're all part of the bigger community. So we thought let's do community consultation in a genuine way, and really experiment with what the solutions might be as well. So this regenerative tourism Living Lab is not only just about delivering a framework for Regenerative tourism, it's actually trying to unleash the local creativity of local people to find solutions and find ways that they can actually benefit from tourism as well, because quite often tourism is done to them, rather than with them. And, you know, it was quite clear to us that there was such ingenuity and such love and passion of the island, that they actually wanted to embrace tourism, and, you know, host guests, and that they wanted the guests to be gracious in the way that they were received on the islands. So they wanted to really develop this relationship. So the only way to really do this is to, to guide and to walk with the community to be able to develop this better relationship with tourism. So in a nutshell, what I'm saying about this regenerative tourism Living Lab is that it has a number of different kind of elements to it. One is a very deep community engagement exercise. The other component is to deliver what we're calling a kind of an incubator or accelerator programme, where we’re identifying community led projects, as well as business projects. These might be business projects that are existing, or they might be new, or they might be just sort of light bulb moments, but getting people to really capture those and think about them, and think about how they might become part of the tourism industry in the tourism offer. You know, it's about unleashing and getting them to own that little part of tourism that they can contribute to as well. And then the final component is really about building capacity. So that when we actually leave the island and leave this, we've actually got a number of projects that will be ongoing, and they will continue to deliver into a visitor economy that the locals own. So those three kind of components are what the regenerative Living Lab offers.
Josie Major 09:17
Wonderful, thank you for giving that overview because there's so much depth to the process that you're going through. And it really is such a unique way of doing this work. And we're so excited to see, you know, what's coming out of it and what will continue to come out of it.
Dianne Dredge 09:35
Can I tell you about the “tipping point” and because this is so a really important study was done in 2019, which is colloquially known as the tipping point. Report. It was a study done by FTI consultants, and it really raised Very important concerns for the islands. So the island has a population of, well, it's about 1000 people in the 2016 census, and this report that was done was looking at the future economy of the island, the population was ageing. And with that, there was a reduction in the number of working age people on the island. So this report that was done really looked at, oh, there's this tipping point, that if the population continues to age, if there's less people on the island, then it's going to actually reach a point where the local economy is not going to be able to sustain the social and economic economy, the social services that it needs. And so what are they going to do about it? So this study was done. And it's very, very highly regarded in at the state level. And at the local level, and it really did raise a lot of alarm bells, but was then COVID hit and everybody busied themselves with COVID, and all sorts of other things. And nothing was really done. The recommendations in this report were broad, you know, and it just recommended another four studies around, well, let's look at the regulation and how that might be stymieing economic development, or let's look at the problem around housing and how a lack of housing is not helping, you know, the growth of the economy. So there’s just kind of more studies, they suggested. But the thing is, over this period, where everybody was working on COVID responses, the population continues to age, and the working population proportion of the working population continued to decline. So the way that they address that is that they bring in more people from, you know, the mainland, or from the big island of Tasmania, they bring those in as fly in fly out workers. So now there are fly in, fly out, nurses fly in fly out infrastructure workers. And it's all heading in this direction, where the social and economic system on the island is close to that tipping point where it's no longer going to be sustainable, or resilient. And tourism is part of a balanced economic future. And the community consultation that we did, without a doubt suggests that tourism is part of this broad, balanced economic future. But we need to really start to look at the tourism development in terms of how we're going to use the visitor economy to stimulate the local economy, how are we going to stimulate it? So local kids, when they finish high school, some of them want to stay, but there's nothing for them to do? So how can we actually really use tourism as part of this within a very balanced way? So I think that was actually really key. And the work that we've done just recently, has suggested that that ageing of the population has slightly accelerated so at the moment, there are around 37% of the population, that is over the age of 65. When you take out the population that's presumed to be sort of retired, as well as the population that's under 18. So assuming they're at school, you've actually got about 30% of the population that's working age. That's pretty serious. So we do have this issue, and we really do believe that tourism is part of, you know, this, this future. And nobody can really deny that everybody kind of goes, “oh, okay, that's really interesting”. So, you know, they're coming together, because this is a shared problem. And the urgency of this problem is, we really only have a few years before this becomes a very expensive place to live. We're going to see a decline in services, and so forth.
Debbie Clarke 14:33
That's really fascinating. So it's an ideal opportunity for tourism to serve a purpose of community well being and recognising that tourism doesn't exist in a silo, that it really is embedded in everything that happens in the community.
Josie Major 14:48
Could you talk to us a little bit about the specific community some of the specific community engagement processes that you've been through and perhaps how the community has responded to those.
Dianne Dredge 15:04
The community engagement exercise has been a real up and down process in many ways, both for the community and us. But that is the nature of community engagement: it can, when you're doing it well, be quite a demanding, and sometimes quite emotional, because you're really starting to build that connection with the community. And of course, that sort of unleashes a whole lot of empathy for the different stories. So when we started this project, we wanted to just move through a process where we were building awareness. And then the next kind of element of that is that we tried to dig a bit deeper and get people to engage in information. And now we're sort of in a phase where it's a two way process and people providing information back to us. And we're giving them comment, and we're trying to, you know, build a kind of engagement, where they're building capacity. So that depth of the way that we go through the community consultation gets deeper and more complex. And of course, people don't start at the beginning, and come out at the end, people drop into the process when they've heard something that make sense, or they can see a connection with themselves. So you've got to manage that process where, you know, we don't necessarily get all the people we need at the beginning. But we're now starting to get people who've got particular skills, you know, who are having light bulb moments. So it's this kind of journey that we're going through. So what we did, you know, the very beginning, when we were trying to really just raise awareness, we had a project launch. So launch usually happens at the end, you know, and in my experience, when I've been working in destinations, launch happens when the marketing project is ready to go, and there's this big launch and you invite in, you know, influencers and marketers and people who can help you launch this kind of this way that you're moving in the future? Well, we had a launch for the community. We celebrated local food, and we had a, you know, a party for the people. But what we didn't expect is that people had been subjected to this over tourism and this kind of tension that had developed over the previous year. That oh, my gosh, if people had had, if they had had rotten tomatoes and eggs in their pockets, then they would have thrown them at us, it was quite quite a nerve wracking event really, because we were there to build, you know, community, and they were just so over tourism. So we realised at that point, we have a lot of work to do. So we launched at the community event, these postcards, and the postcards worked in a way that they reminded people that this project existed, and we put these postcards all around the island, in, for example, Bowman’s store, or Walker's the supermarket or in various other places across the island. So people remember, oh, that's The Island Way. Not everybody's ready to lean in at the same time. And so, you know, they would be shopping and they would see postcard and they would go okay, and they would take it home. And so we've been continuously getting these postcards back for the last couple of months, we've got about 120 postcards, and some people have written in really fine, small font, and it's like covered in points. And then other people have just written one thing. But so far, we've got about 1090 comments back on those postcards alone.
Debbie Clarke 18:48
Did you have direct questions on the postcards that you were asking specifically about tourism?
Dianne Dredge 18:54
We did have very specific questions. So we had questions for visitors, because of course, the postcards will, you know call the attention of visitors. So we wanted to get some feedback from visitors. And we also had a number of the postcards that ask questions to the community. The questions that we asked community were really around. So what is your relationship with tourism? What do you think about tourism? What are your positive thoughts? What are your negative thoughts? And what you would like to see? So we kind of had the how do you feel about it? So really tapping into the heart because we really felt it was important for people to heal and to acknowledge the difficult times that they had had with visitors and with you know, some of the antecedents. But it was really important also to leave them with a positive postcard where they could think positively about the future and what they loved about the island.
Debbie Clarke 19:56
What were some of the responses that you got? Are you, can you share those yet or not?
Dianne Dredge 20:01
So, we've done this data dump, there is over 1000 comments, or what we're calling these data touchpoints. And it's actually really interesting because we've, we've started to engage in those, but really try to also bring the other data that we've collected as well. So it was very important to us to build our understanding of the relationship between the residents and the tourists, and the residents and tourism on the island. So we also did a couple of other things. So before we've analysed those postcards, we also did an online survey, where we got about 150 odd responses to that. And as part of that online survey, there were three open ended questions. Now usually open-ended questions, people just kind of like, you know, I don't have time, it was amazing the response we got so out of those 150 odd online surveys, around 130 people wrote pretty much essays on, you know, in the open-ended question, what they felt about tourism, what they wanted for the future, what they liked what they didn't like. So we use that, we used the postcards. And then we also supplemented these with over 100 interviews with people who just reached out to us and said, we'd like to tell you our story, or we'd like to share this with you, or we have an idea about this. So we just really listened, it was really important with the community engagement that we listened, we didn't judge, we didn't diagnose. And some people needed to tell their story three or four times because it was clearly something that they needed to tell. So in a normal consultation process, you know, you're kind of in and out, and you don't have time to actually engage or to build that. And so that's the privilege that we've really had on this island to listen to these stories to build empathy. And we have got some really interesting data that's coming out of this. The seven directions that are emerging out of the community consultation process, are really actually quite interesting. And we've already shown them to a couple of the workshops that we've been running, and everybody is saying, “well, yeah, of course, it makes, you know, it is common sense”. But just seeing them all on one slide makes everybody go, “ah, yes, that's what we want”. So these seven values, the first one is actually about embracing Island values, really defining them and embracing those values. So in any decisions that are made around marketing, or development, really are influenced by a clear understanding of what those values are. The second one is about hosting visitors. So people don't want to talk about tourism, they prefer to talk about hosting visitors, and that kind of relationship between the host and the guest, being a good gracious host, and the welcome that the visitors, sorry, the residents want to provide. So it's really about building that relationship. The third one is about developing visitor experiences that reinvest back into the island. So instead of visitor experiences that are just kind of superficial and you have this experience and you leave, it's about developing products and services that are intrinsically part of what the community would like to share with you. And they're incredibly proud about their islands. So what is it that they want to share? So that's number three about products and experiences that reinvest. The fourth one is about the scale and character of development. So this is really just about acknowledging that it's small scale, low impact. They don't want big, fancy glittery development, it's just about small scale and reflecting what's already there. Number five is about aligning visitor management with visitor behaviour. And you know, how you do that within an organisational sense. So, you know, what are the roles of the local council or Parks and Wildlife Service or even the local chamber of commerce, you know, what are those roles? And how can those organisations work together to align their visitor management, so there's no gaps and holes. Number six is about innovation. And I think this one's really interesting. There's a need to unleash new ideas and also to unleash new leadership. So the leaders and the people who've been trying to find the solutions for so long, you know, sometimes it's it hasn't been working. So finding those new ideas, creating those conversational spaces, so that people can cross pollinate their ideas and new skills, new capacities, new light bulb moments can actually start to emerge. So that's number six. And number seven is obviously the final one. It's about regenerating the island’s assets. So a good place to live is a good place to visit, a good place that's flourishing, that you've got a good level of economic and social development where people feel the community feels prosperous, then that's a good place to visit. And that's what they would really like to achieve. So those seven directions, make perfect good business sense. But we can actually really align those and show where they've come out of the data. So evidence based means that any decisions that counsel or any marketing decisions can be based on the evidence that we've got out of the community consultation process.
Josie Major 26:12
Yeah, that's so interesting, because those are so you can see how those could align with other places and other communities that are going through a similar thing. And yet, they're perfectly unique to Flinders in lots of ways as well. And the way that they've come through that data and evidence, I think that's so interesting.
Dianne Dredge 26:32
What is really interesting here is that it allows us to think of tourism in this bigger system and to say, okay, community, so we've had this issue with tourism, but what is it you really need? What is it that really will help you address this tipping point? What is it that you see as the issues that really, because before you can actually be a good community to host visitors, you actually have to have a sustainable, resilient local community. So we asked people, what is it that you think needs to be done, and people like, this was really interesting, because we initially thought you know, people were saying visitor experiences and this and that, but actually, people were saying we have a waste problem. We have, whatever comes to the island stays on the island. They still have an open pit (dump), you know, on the island, in fact, they need another one. Recycling is not something that's easy to do, because it's hard to get, you know, recycled materials off the island, people, so people are really passionate about, you know, recycling and waste and circular economy. And the other issue was food, because when you get a lot of visitors that come to the island in high season, then the food supply chains and the logistics, because most of the food is brought, you know, to the island, through either air, freight or boat. But when you have high season, that logistics kind of process gets upset, because you know, you've got more demand. And then you have this scarcity mindset set in where locals go, ah, the barges in, we've got to go and buy food because otherwise it'll run out. And so you get these highs and lows. So then you need to, you know, get more cold storage on the island, you know, to stock up. And so there's some kind of disequilibrium that starts to emerge around food.
So when we started to ask people, What are you know, these kinds of questions around food and waste really started to be the ones that bubbled up to the surface? So our challenge is, so how do we link these to tourism. But it's perfectly obvious to us that you can't not address these issues if you want a robust, sustainable visitor economy. And so we've really - these projects that are starting to emerge -do have a visitor element, because we also see that there's a rise in the conscious traveller, the traveller who actually wants to, you know, have less of an impact, but wants to tread lightly. And when you come to the island, the number of visitors that we had writing on postcards, “You still have an open tip, do something about your waste.” So the visitors were also really interested in this. So the kinds of projects that are coming out of this are projects to develop, reuse, you know, to do things, arts and cultural products with waste, sculpture, gardens, all sorts of things like that. So there is a way that we can incorporates circular economy into visitor experiences, we just have to listen to the community, and they're coming up with all these ideas themselves, because there's such a rich arts and cultural commitment here, you know, the people the way they think. So that's really exciting on one hand, and then the food people, it's like, why couldn't we, you know, produce at a very local scale, you know, fruit and vegetables so that we can put into local plates, you know, and local food, so very small scale. But again, it's about, you know, a real Flinders approach to the food problem.
So one of the really interesting things is, even though this is you know, precisely about trying to develop a relationship with tourism, one of the areas that we were surprised that there wasn't enough, or there wasn't a strong kind of feedback, we asked people how they could contribute to tourism. And that was actually really quite, people were quiet, they didn't really come up with too many ideas. And we had to kind of really work on this question. But we've now got this third area that's emerging around visitor experiences. And this is not visitor experiences that require big infrastructure or, you know, that are kind of the traditional way to develop products and services. We've asked people, what are their stories? What do they do? What would they like to showcase? And so we're getting a lot of micro and small businesses going well, you know, what I think I could interpret my place or I could tell my story, or, you know, we could put a social share meal on every so often. We've got events, we've got, you know, photography, walking tours, and things like that. So very small scale, people thinking about what they could do to help host gracious guests. So it's very much built around that micro social entrepreneurship, as a way of giving people the confidence to be able to build into the visitor economy. And that's really ground up, that's not getting people from a way to plonk an idea on the island, but to get the community to own, to showcase to interpret, and to share the island that they're proud about.
Josie Major 32:36
That's awesome. I think that what I'm hearing through everything that you're saying is just this, this interconnectedness of everything on the island and the community themselves recognising their own and interconnectedness. And throughout this process, starting to see those connections between what I do and what that means for tourism and, and what happens with tourism affects my specific situation. And we, we know that this is an emergent type of regenerative process that you're going through. And so there's not necessarily you don't necessarily know what the outcomes are going to be. But we'd love to know sort of what your image is, is what success looks like for this project, like when you can step back from the island and say this is I've done a good job. What does that look like?
Dianne Dredge 33:27
I think that's a great question. Ultimately, at the end of this project, what we would like to have achieved is to help the island heal from some very difficult times that they've had with respect to tourism, we'd like to have built a collaborative approach to tourism rather than everybody working on their individual ideas, what we would like to do is to have achieved an understanding that where they collaborate, and they can support each other, then that systems change or that you know, the tourism system will be stronger, it will be more robust, and it will be more consistent. They will be offering products and services and experiences that are really consistent with where they want to go in the future. And I think the real big difference here is that we're trying to also deliver a legacy. So a lot of what happens with consultants is they go in, they do a report, everybody says thank you or not, and they put it on the shelf and a couple of years later they'll come back and you know dust the dust it off and go ‘Well what did we achieve or maybe not a lot.’ So what we're trying to do here is set up a number of projects that will actually be able to live on so a project as a circular waste lab connected to tourism, a project around a visitor hub that supports new product and service development, and perhaps another project in food that helps, you know, link the food system into the tourism system as well. So that long term legacy. And I think what's really important here is to note is that this is not a really big, difficult to scale project. You know, it's a number of simple steps that we need to go through. It's about building community engagement, setting the direction, building the capacity through an incubator programme, and really catalysing that systems change by funding projects that are systems oriented rather than an individual pick your winners. So that's what we're really trying to achieve and the impact will speak for itself.