“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 is 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.”
Brand Tasmania. Flinders Island Brand Story
Flinders Island is a special place. Apart from its extraordinary scenic beauty, the Island is home to a community with both ancient and modern cultural traditions. It is a community steeped in time, a deep sense of intergenerational belonging and stewardship. This Island is more than a mountainous outcrop in the middle of Bass Strait, it has magnetic power that is deeply felt by almost everyone who lives on and visits the Island.
Tourism on Flinders Island
Flinders Island, and the imposing Mt Strzelecki, has been welcoming visitors for generations (and much longer). The Island formed part of the land bridge that joined Tasmania to the Australian mainland more than 35,000 years ago. As such, it played host to some of this continent’s earliest travellers.
The Island welcomed over 7,500 visitors generating 38,400 visitor nights in the year ending June 2019. Over the years, as visitors come and go, some stay, and some return year upon year. Some yearn for a deeper connection with this special place and, ultimately, they return to live.
The last couple of years have been witness to significant shifts and changes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. While available figures don't yet tell the story, it's been widely reported in our community consultation that there was a shift in the profile of visitors to the Island. The psychological need to escape lockdowns, the inability to travel further afield, and the need to get out in nature were some of the reasons why new kinds of travellers were attracted to the Island. Many of the regular year-on-year visitors and part-time residents, those who knew and had a relationship with the Island and its community, were unable to get to the Island due to travel restrictions.
Others, not familiar with what is available and/or offered on the Island, and were at times not prepared for shops closing at midday on a Saturday or limited facilities. That is, despite considerable efforts made to inform visitors before and upon arrival, some travellers were not prepared for their visit to a small remote island. While these visitors were a minority, sometimes it's the minority that becomes so very visible.
Expectations versus reality
During the pandemic, visitors in search of solitude, with ambitions to explore little known corners of Tasmania, and in search of safe places, came to Flinders Island in droves. During this time, there was a shift in the mix of visitors that arrived. No one can really pinpoint where or how it happened but there was a discernible shift.
Visitors’ expectations for the kinds of services and experiences available on the Island had shifted. Visitors were demanding more, services they were expecting were not available, and locals were increasingly anxious about the demands being placed on them.
Few visitors think about how tourism changes a place or the communities they visit. New visitors to the Island are usually filled with anticipation and excitement. Flinders has been on their bucket list, or perhaps its appeal lies in its remoteness. They eagerly look forward to new experiences, interesting conversations with locals, and the curiosities of remote island life. Their visit, according to statistics, lasts an average of just over 5 days.
During that time, a new visitor either leans into the unique beauty and character of the island and is transformed in head, heart and gut. Transformational travel is when a visitor connects so deeply that their perspective changes and they leave with knowledge and heartfelt connection for the Island. Transformation is when the visitor can adapt to what they find because the psychological, emotional and social value they receive far outweighs any small personal annoyances which are theirs alone.
This short-term gaze can turn into a much longer attachment to the Island. Some visitors build a deeper attachment to the Island spanning decades, or even a lifetime. Some return again and again, becoming part of a hybrid community of part-time residents. This dynamic forms a quiet, often invisible, backdrop to the more traditional daily activity of tourism on the Island. Its influence runs deep in an ethos of care, stewardship and love of place that defines this special community.
These circumstances set in train a conversation about tourism on the Island, the values and aspirations of local residents, and the desire to host visitors who were more aligned with what the island could offer.
From these events, the Islander Way, a two-year regenerative tourism project, was born.
What is the Islander Way Project?
The Islander Way project aims to better understand the Island’s relationship with tourism so that we can chart a course into the future that is regenerative. It’s not about more tourism, but about a better kind of visitor economy that reinvests back to the Island and its community.
It’s a two-year project because it’s important to get it right, to dig deep into what is really going on, and to spend time understanding different perspectives and challenges. All too often, a hasty diagnosis can lead to quick-fix solutions that don’t address the real problem.
The project adopts a regenerative tourism approach and is the first of its kind in Australia. Indeed, there are only a handful of locations across the world that have adopted regenerative principles, and most are island destinations, including Hawai’i, New Zealand, and the Faroe Islands.
Regenerative tourism, at its simplest, seeks to ensure travel and tourism delivers a net positive benefit to people, places and nature. It’s an approach to tourism on the Island that supports the long term renewal and flourishing of the Island’s social and ecological systems.
The reasons why islands are leading the way in regenerative tourism is because the impacts of tourism are often more intense and challenging. Island economies often rely on tourism, local residents can’t escape into a secret backstage area, and visitors often don’t appreciate island time and islander culture. Global research has also consistently shown that visitors generate more waste and use more water than Islanders. This is largely because the people who live on Islands have a more acute sense of their Island’s resources and environmental capacity.
Sometimes the effects are less visible, like the impact that high season can have on food supply chains and logistics, jobs, housing, waste, and the costs of maintaining local public assets. A regenerative approach shifts the lens through which we see tourism by asking what tourism takes and what it gives back.
The question becomes “How can visitors contribute to the Island, its economy and its community?”
Taking different directions
The Islander Way project is charting a pathway forward so that tourism makes a net positive investment back into the community and the environment. A large focus on the project is to better align the kinds of visitors to Flinders Island with what the Island and its small community can feasibly offer as a remote destination. To that end, our conversations with the community are shaped by the values set out in our “guiding north star”.
The outcomes from this project will include a regenerative framework to guide tourism on Flinders Island. Working closely with the Flinders Island Business Inc (FIBI), Flinders Council, Visit Northern Tasmania and state government agencies, our ambition is to shift mindsets from the traditional extractive mindset to a more collaborative and holistic approach to managing tourism on the Island. It's a mindset shift that the Island community understand very well. However, it represents a new way of thinking for many 'from away' who might make decisions about tourism on the Island.
A business incubator program is also planned where community-led and local business initiatives will be identified, developed and supported through coaching and mentoring. We seek to develop ideas, support and encourage initiatives and to nurture an ecosystem of products and experiences that reflect and embrace the Island values and aspirations for the future. We will work with existing and potential business owners and operators to explore their ideas and work with the community's passion to respect Flinders Island. As the Flinders Island story suggests, "As the rest of the world chases growth, we chase meaning.”
That’s why a 2 year time span for this project was necessary to allow for deeper and more authentic outcomes that are built with and for the community.
So, if you are a visitor to Flinders Island and you happen to be reading this post, the hope is that you have a deeper appreciation for how tourism can change a destination, its community and environment. Perhaps when exploring Flinders Island, there is a deeper awareness of how your actions and interactions shape not only your own experiences, but those who call this beautiful island their home.
There are five words, a mantra, that will help you on your way…
Respect. Connect. Learn. Love. Replenish.