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An interview with Ben Sherman – Chairman, WINTA

Ben Sherman - Winta

Ben Sherman, Chairman of the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) sits on a horse with mountains in the background | Photo Courtesy of

Ben Sherman, Chairman of the World Inidigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) shares why Sustainable Indigenous Tourism is important to the travel and tourism industry.

1. Tell us your story. How did you become involved with your organization? What does your organization do and why is it important to indigenous tourism?

I and several Indigenous tourism professionals had been considering developing an international Indigenous tourism organization for a few years. The opportune moment to do so came at a 2012 Indigenous tourism conference in Darwin, Australia. We came to agreements on essential points of the organization, and we announced the launch of the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance at the same conference. We participated in drafting an outcome declaration for the conference which we named the Larrakia Declaration in honor of our host Indigenous Australian group in Darwin.

The WINTA web site at presents the purpose of WINTA at the site as follows: “WINTA collaborates with Indigenous communities, tourism industry entities, states, and NGOs which have an interest in addressing the aspirations of Indigenous peoples seeking empowerment through tourism and producing mutually beneficial outcomes. In doing so, WINTA undertakes tourism policy research, organizes tourism conferences and workshops, and provides strategic destination consulting services.”

The creation of WINTA is the result of years of discussions by Indigenous and non-Indigenous tourism leaders who share the same belief that a tourism industry based on universal Indigenous values provides the opportunity for improved global social, environmental and economic outcomes, not just for Indigenous peoples, but for all peoples. WINTA works to foster Indigenous rights and self-determination through participation in tourism consistent with the principles of the Larrakia Declaration and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The bedrock principles of WINTA are affirmed in words of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Tourism gives voice to those whose voices are seldom heard. Indigenous Tourism creates a strong sense of the importance of culture, community and lands. Indigenous Tourism creates a powerful influence in the tourism industry for global peace and harmony. Indigenous Tourism shapes an environmental ethos that connects to the forces, spirit and gifts of the natural world. Indigenous Tourism is a collective brand that recognizes the identity and uniqueness of each cultural population.

2. Why do you think sustainable Indigenous tourism is important?

An important contribution of Indigenous tourism to the travel and tourism industry and to the world will be an environmental ethos, a real sense of connection with and responsibility to the forces, spirit and gifts of the natural world. Unfettered exploitation of the natural world has no place in this environmental ethos.

An identity for an environmental ethos in the wider tourism industry and in many other areas of development is a broad movement labeled “sustainability.” Sustainability standards are best when they contain elements of the environmental ethos supported by Indigenous tourism.

3. How would define sustainable Indigenous tourism?

WINTA takes the view that true sustainability in tourism cannot be achieved until all elements of a country’s or destination’s population are participating fully in the industry, and that includes marginalized Indigenous communities. The World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) is rolling out a set of criteria and standards that define best practices in the development of Indigenous tourism. These standards take the form of “Larrakia checklists for accountability” for use by government agencies, tourism industry actors, NGOs and Indigenous communities. These checklists carry the force of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to address and resolve human rights violations that might exist. Indigenous populations are well regarded for their deep relationship and their care for the natural environment. Increased Indigenous participation in tourism would certainly result in increased attention to improved environmental care…a most important element of sustainable tourism.

4. Can you provide examples of current innovative initiatives in sustainable indigenous tourism?

Again, WINTA believes that “sustainability” in the tourism industry is not achieved until marginalized communities and populations around the globe have the opportunity to participate fully in tourism industry enterprises. The sad reality is that Indigenous communities are generally not sharing in the so-called successes of the industry. Indigenous populations have historically lost lands, people and cultures through the disastrous effects of invasion, dispossession, racism and subjugation. Much of that subjugation and racism continues into modern times, preventing full participation in the tourism industry, or any other industry.

Certain countries demonstrate pockets of improvement. Canada is one of those countries that have seen advances in Indigenous business development in the tourism sector. Another is Australia, especially Western Australia, The Maori of New Zealand are making some progress in developing tourism enterprises. Indigenous tourism in the United States is seeing some very small growth. The country of Chile is supporting more Indigenous tourism development than ever before, although the efforts are quite limited. Other countries with successes in Indigenous tourism are few and limited.

With limited Indigenous tourism developments to be found in the world, the search for sustainable Indigenous tourism, as expected, will be extremely limited. Suffice it to say that Indigenous entrepreneurs will focus most of their efforts on simply surviving with their enterprises in a difficult business environment. With the strong environmental ethos as a mindset of most Indigenous people, sustainability of the natural environment can be expected to be a most likely outcome of the business enterprise.

5. What is your current role/project/research focus?

A high priority continues to be WINTA’s advocacy for the Larrakia Declaration and the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. WINTA take this message to every audience we encounter. With help from others, we developed a checklist of responsibilities to support the Larrakia Declaration. The target audiences are governments, tourism industry participants, destinations with Indigenous populations, and Indigenous individuals and communities.

WINTA has devoted a good deal of study and advocacy in the country of Chile, where the government and some WINTA partners have demonstrated a decent appetite for implementing elements of the Larrakia Declaration. Later in March 2017 we will take the same kind of advocacy to a large gathering in Bogota, Colombia with the intention of getting the message to government officials.

6. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone about sustainable indigenous tourism development?

WINTA expresses the view to audiences worldwide that true sustainability in tourism cannot be achieved until all elements of a country’s or destination’s population are participating fully in the industry, and that includes marginalized Indigenous communities. This “fact” is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any of the numerous sustainability standards that abound in the world. WINTA would be pleased to gain advances in Indigenous participation in tourism around the world. After that is achieved, we may be inclined to study the details of that participation and to examine how sustainability is implemented.

7. What do would you like to see in the future for the case of Canadian Indigenous tourism?

WINTA believes that the successes of Aboriginal tourism in British Columbia provided an excellent launching platform for additional successes across all of Canada. WINTA gives credit to Keith Henry for his past role with Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia, and his current role as leader of Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada. WINTA will continue to support the efforts of Aboriginal tourism development in Canada (Keith Henry is one of the founding members of WINTA’s Leadership Council.)

For more information on the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA), visit

World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA)







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