VENTURING TO THE TOP: ECO CERTIFIED OPERATOR'S SECRETS OF SUCCESS
Spirits are still, understandably, running high at Venture North Australia (VNA) as owners Hugh and Aaron Grange have recently returned from the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards in Canberra, where they were awarded gold in the category of Cultural Tourism.
We wanted to congratulate this outstanding Northern Territory business, who are Advanced Ecotourism and ROC Certified, on their win at these prestigious national awards. The business was eligible to enter this category as it won the 2019 NT Tourism (Brolga) Award for Cultural Tourism, which in turn qualified them for the national award.
The Cultural Tourism award specifically recognises 'tourism operations that foster a greater understanding and appreciation of authentic culture, history, heritage and/or the arts' and, as the Ecotourism Australia community is dedicated to continuous improvement, we thought we would take this opportunity to chat to Aaron and share with you some insights into how they sustain best practice within their business.
EA: Congratulations on winning gold for Cultural Tourism at the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards this year! What does this award mean to you?
VNA: Thank you! To win this national award is special, it’s acknowledgment for us and all our staff that we are doing a really good job. Our guides and staff often work long hours, going above and beyond so this award provides some recognition for this.
EA: With such consistent successes over the last few years at the national awards, what do you believe gives your business the edge with the experiences you offer?
VNA: We’ve been operating in the NT for 15+ years now and have developed some really strong relationships with many TO’s [Traditional Owners] and their families. This has allowed us access to places (particularly in Arnhem Land) which aren’t open to the general public where we are able to offer our guests some really amazing one-on-one cultural experiences.
EA: What are the challenges you face as a tourism operator in Northern Australia?
VNA: Being a seasonal business means staff turnover is something that is hard to avoid so providing the best possible workplace is definitely a focus for us. This year it looks like the bushfires and now COVID-19 will have an impact so we’ve been putting some strategies in place to tackle that.
EA: What are the biggest lessons you have learnt from building an ecotourism operation in the Top End that has such a strong focus on showcasing culture?
VNA: It takes time, especially working in some Indigenous communities so don’t try to rush it. We know now it might take 3 or 4 years to get say a ‘bush tucker tour’ from idea to offering it to our guests but that’s just the way it is. Another learning has been outsourcing, you can’t do it all, focus on what you are good at/have time for and pay others to do the rest – don’t burn yourself out!
EA: What advice would you give someone at the beginning of their ecotourism journey?
VNA: There is lots of support for tourism businesses out there, often it’s free so make sure you use it all! Work with your local tourism bodies, STO’s etc. go to the meetings and be involved. Also carve out a little time each week to work on the business, rather than just in the business (and stick to it!).
EA: What has Venture North set their sights on to strive for in the future?
VNA: Our goal is to employ more local full-time Indigenous guides throughout the season. Although we subcontract lots of Indigenous guides, we only have one Indigenous guide on full time currently so we are constantly working at that. We also have our fishing business Cobourg Fishing Safaris which we primarily operate in our shoulder seasons (April/May & Oct/Nov) which has some real room for growth so that’s exciting.
On behalf of the board and staff of EA, we would once again like to pass on our congratulations to Hugh, Aaron and their team on this outstanding achievement.
Planning a visit to the Northern Territory? Keen to experience remote Arnhem Land safaris, Kakadu tours, Kimberley expeditions and much more? Check out more information on Venture North Australia and the small group cultural and based tours they offer here.
[All photos courtesy of Venture North Australia]