Name: Rhonda Appo
Position title: Indigenous Program Manager
Company name: Queensland Tourism Industry Council
When and why did you join the industry?
My journey into this industry isn’t a great tale, a romantic one or one of great purpose….I just fell into it! But it has been a great tale since then!
I had been doing a role in Government with e-learning and supporting Indigenous businesses all around Australia getting online and understanding how technology could assist their communities. The role got me talking with Indigenous businesses, working in communities and helping understand their aspirations – both with technology and other goals they had for themselves and their families.
From there I took on the role with QTIC, the insight and skills that I developed with government positioned me to understand and assist Indigenous businesses. I just wish that I had fallen into it years before! I wish I had known about the value and the opportunity of tourism 10-15 years ago, there is so much to the industry, it has so much to give.
What do you like most about your job?
Where can I start?! There is so much that I love about my job. I have to start with the people I work with – both the small yet incredible team at QTIC and the Champion’s Network. Their willingness to share, engage and support fills me with inspiration and makes it easy to come to work each day. They are a group of business owners, Indigenous and non-Indigenous who volunteer their time and expertise to ensuring more First Nations people are experiencing this exciting industry.
The tourism and hospitality industry is a fantastic fit for the values that Indigenous peoples hold strong. The very nature of hospitality is about the friendly and generous reception and welcoming of guests, visitors and family. Whether it is sharing a cup of tea or thousands of years of knowledge, there are opportunities everywhere. Tourism and hospitality provides the chance to look after family, to share culture and pass it down from generation to generation. It is not about getting rich, rather about inspiring others to learn about our incredible culture, hear of our diverse, and often challenging history and work together towards a brighter future for our families. When you see businesses with four generations of family working together, you know you are in a truly special industry!
We are also starting to see a renewed interest in something that is 60,000 years old. A willingness from visitors from near and afar to listen and learn. I am truly grateful to witness the shift in Australian culture. People are finally ready for truth-telling. It is an exciting time to be a part of an industry that can offer this truth!
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
Using a mainstream organisation, like QTIC, to engage a network of incredible operators, Champions, to further Indigenous tourism! Making QTIC the “go-to” for Indigenous operators and employees as a supporter for their growth.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
Fake it until you make it! – Fleur Scott (one of our network champions)
When I started in the industry I felt like a fish out of water, that I didn’t belong and that I had nothing to offer. I was working on such an important program that I couldn’t believe that I had anything to give. Five, almost six years later and I am still faking it with confidence and pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve – but at least now I realise we all have something to offer!
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
Daniel Gschwind (the big boss), he is able to operate on every level and across every sector of the industry. He is comfortable out bush, with operators, in a suit and with politicians. He has strong rapport with community groups, he demonstrates honesty and integrity and has a genuine desire to strengthen Indigenous tourism. I have a lot to learn from his calm approach! I’m getting there.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
The Queensland Tourism Industry Council is Queensland’s peak body for tourism. We are a membership-based organisation focused on advocating for the growth and development of the tourism industry. In 2010 we started the Indigenous Champions Network with the goal of encouraging Indigenous employment in the tourism industry. Since its inception the Network has grown from strength to strength. Now, rather than solely employment, the Network is committed to the development of Indigenous tourism experiences, employment and the sustainable growth of the sector with the intent of making Indigenous tourism in Queensland a must do!
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
I would love to visit Egypt and the pyramids – the ancient culture and a civilisation that had such a distinct way of life, I find fascinating.
In Australia, I would have to say Uluru. It is such a significant site for Indigenous people, I should have gone years ago. All my friends say how special and awe-inspiring a visit truly is, I best get there soon!
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
I’ve been to a lot of places and I am always astonished at the people you meet and talk to when you travel and how small the world really is. I was on the top of an open air double decker in Washington, in artic conditions, and the people next to us were from Indooroopilly (five minutes down the road from us!). Then later that trip a girl fell off a stage after attempting to twerk at a concert in Nashville and she was from West End!
But a memory I can’t get past was out at Barcaldine when we went to look at ancient rock art. As we are driving out to the venue, Suzanne Thompson was calling out to the ancestors to welcome us, then a massive grey wallaroo with a tattered ear pops his head up. He was about five times the size of the rest of the kangaroos and he just watched us drive in. As we drove he then bound along beside us following us along the dirt road till we reached the rock art. As we were leaving she called out again, thanking the spirts for their hospitality. Then he pops up again. Same massive wallaroo, same tattered ear, following us out of the area. It still makes my skin tingle, it was like a spirit was there protecting us and guiding us through the ancient art and country. It was like we were VIPs in their garden. A remarkable experience and one that will stay with me forever! I still get the shivers.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
* Chanel Face Wash
* Chanel Mademoiselle perfume
* Woolworths toothbrush!!
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
QueenB (Beyonce) – she could sing to me on a road trip from the tip of Cape York down to Brisbane, via Mt Isa and the Dinosaur trail at Winton! What a concert that would be. Maybe we could pick Matt Damon up on the journey and I could take selfies with him with the epic background views in Mossman Gorge!!
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
I see the Indigenous tourism sector moving from strength to strength. People enjoying the stories, good and not so good – but being open to the truth!
I want to see Indigenous tourism on everyone’s bucket list, people wanting to share in a culture that’s 60,000 years old! Most importantly, that Queensland is the number one place to do it.