Insights from stakeholders is an essential component of building an understanding of the opportunities, challenges and gaps to be addressed to create and bring to life the Wonder of Gondwana project. Whether they be located within the region or based outside of it or offer insights from an Aboriginal culture, tourism, geological or paleontology perspective, the stakeholders involved in the consultation process have informed the positioning, recommendations and priorities for this project. Their participation and generous contribution of both time and ideas is greatly appreciated.
For most stakeholders, the major challenge was funding. There is no doubt that finding additional funding will be critical to the success of this project. One of the biggest and most consistent obstacles to change is limited resources - virtually everyone is a volunteer!
However, funding is not the only challenge. From our discussions, knowledge is also a key barrier (or opportunity depending what side of the coin you look on). Very few people had a point of view on who the project would most likely appeal to. Likewise, who is delivering a quality visitor experience or what a quality visitor experience looks like? Or, even the competitive point of difference the project could offer?
The third challenge that was often raised, sometimes as an afterthought, was a lack of community engagement in tourism. Something that many stakeholders felt would be of benefit to this project if the problem could be solved.
On the more positive side, there were a few areas that most people agreed on:
Potential benefits of working together, which they acknowledged would likely deliver greater cut-through in a highly-competitive market place; particularly for an international market.
Willingness to look at developing and marketing a collective experience. Providing that it recognised the personality or character of each individual experience, place or precinct.
Openness to investing in a collective experience through coordinated and collaborative activity.
Some stakeholders also recognised the need to evolve the experience from something static, with limited interpretation and little imagination; to something more dynamic. In short, the need to create a story or experience that a broader audience could relate to.
The stakeholders agreed the current approach was unlikely to engage a broad audience and more likely to limit the appeal to the ‘usual suspects’ of “…science geeks, nerds and school students who had to be there.”
They agreed that products, experiences and marketing need to deliver visitors a compelling story. This is more than interpretive signage, though this is important, it is about bringing an aspect of the product, experience and marketing to life, in a way that is more emotionally engaging and thereby makes it easier for an audience to relate to.
In a nutshell, stakeholders are ready for action and looking for funding. Importantly, they are willing to collaborate if that’s what it takes to deliver either or both.
The Australian Museum, while being closed until 2022, is the stakeholder with the most expectations and arguably the most influence, so will be a key partner moving forward.
They have a new multi-million-dollar minerals gallery, due to open in 2022 that will provide a perfect gateway to reach hundreds of thousands of people every year. People who by being there have already demonstrated an interest in our story.
The Australian Museum would be happy to promote this initiative in this gallery.
They can also provide international credibility for the project. For example, there is
a world renowned ‘dig’ site at The Willandra Lakes Region (a World Heritage Site in the Far West region of New South Wales).
They believe there is an opportunity to open up a current ‘dig’ site (similar to the dinosaur trail in Queensland) to tourists and turn it into a bit of an immersive visitor experience – ‘be a palaeontologist for a day.’ They would also consider creating events hosted by expert palaeontologists from the Museum. They also believe that developing First Nation stories, will be critical to the success of this project. The most popular programs at the Australian Museum are First Nation-focussed.
In summary, there are three expectations of stakeholders:
Need for action. Sooner rather than later. Enthusiasm is high but will disappear quickly unless talk turns to action.
For most stakeholders, potential solutions are still viewed through a fairly traditional lens; which is at odds with where global research is telling us the market is heading. This means that action needs to be accompanied by a stakeholder communication campaign that keeps them informed of what is going on at every step of the way. And importantly why it is going on.
Ongoing and practical support from other stakeholders like the Australian Museum and the NSW Government. This could be in the form of securing additional funding; assistance to complete particular projects or provide infrastructure; or an increase in visitors through a proactive and collaborative approach to marketing.