Taming wicked problems

Towards a resolution of tourism access to Traditional Owner lands in the Kimberley region, Australia

Pascal Scherrer*, Kim Doohan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)


This paper names and describes the longstanding issue of tourism access to the Kimberley coast region in northwest Australia. Tourism access is a problem because it occurs without appropriate permissions from the Traditional Owners. The granting of access permission is a fundamental component of the local Traditional Owner ontology, or concept of being. Tourism activities cannot be culturally sustainable without appropriate Traditional Owner permissions. We argue that this seemingly simple issue is a "wicked problem" and must be recognised as such to facilitate its "taming" to create a culturally sustainable local tourism industry. The paper first examines the cultural and historical context, establishing a more nuanced understanding of the problem. Framed in Rittel and Webber's definition of a wicked problem, it then describes its complex and intercultural nature, highlighting repeated and continuing efforts and failures by key parties to address it, linked to an ingrained lack of political will. We conclude that operators could take ownership of the wicked problem and contribute to taming it by proactively engaging in a direct relationship with Traditional Owners based on transformational learning. The paper contributes to tourism planning studies, to the concept of the Just Destination and to indigenous tourism understanding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1022
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014


  • Aboriginal
  • expedition cruise tourism
  • indigenous
  • permission
  • saltwater country
  • visitor management

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