ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
September 2, 1998

DOLLAR CRASH COULD BE TOURSIM BOON. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Central Australia's tourism lobby CATIA is gearing up to respond more quickly and with greater focus to marketing opportunities such as the one offered by the current slide of the Australian dollar.Its drop means it is cheaper for overseas visitors to come here, and more expensive for Australians to holiday overseas, a potential win-win situation for The Centre, according to CATIA general manager Mike Gunn.He says both the NT Tourist Commission (NTTC) and CATIA itself are increasingly looking to the Internet to bring the Territory's message direct to the estimated 100 million people - including the world's richest and best educated - who're now "surfing the web" around the globe.Tourism sources have long complained that the conventional promotion by the NTTC and the Australian Tourist Commission (ATC), through trade fairs and media advertising, is slow, ineffective, expensive and has limited focus.With the boom months of October and November for European visitation to the NT around the corner, it seems unlikely that established marketing strategies can get across in time the opportunities created for hard currency countries by the falling Aussie dollar.Mr Gunn says a recent ATC promotion in Japan illustrates the shortcomings of traditional campaigns.That initiative, he says, was of questionable value as Japan has its own currency crisis, and besides, the push focussed on Australia's east coast and "the Territory didn't get anything out of it. We complained about it at the time.")Says Mr Gunn: "The international market is huge. "The ATC spent $10m on the Japan campaign in the early part of this year."However, the Asahi Brewing Company spends this much money in just one night on television advertising in Japan."Any conventional advertising CATIA could afford on this world market "would be a drop in the ocean".By contrast, Internet promotion, coupled with direct booking facilities on the "Net", is cheap, targets the affluent around the world, and can be mounted or modified in a matter of hours, and bypasses agents and other middlemen.Mr Gunn says CATIA will be investigating how it can best utilise Internet facilities, whilst maintaining close ties with the NTTC which in turn has launched a "web" page.Mr Gunn says CATIA's Internet plans are a logical extension to its current operation: Up to 650 people - an average of just over 400 people - pass through the Visitors' Centre every day, and the organisation is already handling "lots of over the counter sales".CATIA, a non-profit association, receives a commission on its tour and accommodation sales.At present CATIA hands telephone enquiries over to the NTTC, "but it's certainly on our agenda to handle these bookings," says Mr Gunn.Already, many international emails have been received praising the NTTC Net site, from tourists who've planned their entire holiday from information on it."If CATIA can get a booking system through the Internet, then the potential is there for us to take telephone and email bookings from all over the world."We're investigating all that at the moment."That's the future."He says these efforts coincide with a "positioning statement" being prepared by two consultants engaged by CATIA.Mr Gunn says this, combined with the moves into cyberspace, heralds a new, aggressive mood in the organisation."I've put the other Regional Tourism Associations on notice that we're coming to get them," says Mr Gunn."We in Central Australia are the leaders, not the followers. We're out in front. "We're pushing ahead, and, yeah, watch this space because it's going to be great."

GOOD-BYE TO TYRANNY OF DISTANCE. COMMENT by JUNE TUZEWSKI.

Many congratulations to the Alice Springs High School Team of Leiana Hewett, Simone Kilian, Jonathan Osborne and teacher Ashley Hall on their win in the National finals of the 1998 Australian Schools‚ Web Competition. The competition required student teams to design and publish a web site that looks at a solution to a local problem on the theme "Cool Solutions to Hot Issues". Our local students chose the Alice Springs water conservation project "Cut the Lawn"‚ to demonstrate their initiative, creativity, design and technical competence. Throughout Term Two, the group have spent over 60 hours of their own time researching and creating the web site. The research included using the Internet to find out if another place in the world shared a similar problem. Thus the group corresponded by email with Rhodes University in South Africa, the University of Reno in the USA, as well as the Centre for Arid Zone Research in Wales. Interviewing members of the local Water Action Group provided information about both the rationale and implementation of the scheme. If you're on the Net, will take you to this team's entertaining and informative website. The Internet has, for many, become so much part of everyday life we soon forget what times were like before the world wide web. Emailing my column to the Alice News each week has become a natural part of life. The Internet is also useful for my research. "Keeping in touch" is as much about checking the email as the fax and telephone answering machine. I was reminded of this the other day when an Internet reader of the News, who was once resident in the Alice, sent an email inquiring about my sons with whom he had lost contact. It is all a far cry from the days of tickertape and telex machines, and probably would have been beyond the imagination of those who constructed the overland telegraph - that lone landline with its string of repeater stations reliant on morse code operators - which saw the beginnings of Alice Springs. It is a strange history really. With decisions often being made elsewhere, our town's isolation and subsequent growth have been inextricably linked with progress in communications. Who could have foreseen this from the South Australian Government's decision in 1870 to undertake the building of the telegraph line from Port Augusta to Port Darwin, connecting the Australian telegraph system with those of Asia and Europe via a submarine cable to Java. The stories of Flynn of The Inland, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), and the work of Alfred Traeger in the development of pedal radio, have been well documented. The move from Correspondence School to the first School of the Air broadcast in 1950 was conceived by Adelaide Miethke when, on a visit to the Alice, she saw the possibility of using the RFDS network to educate children in remote areas. Not to be forgotten either is that the "nt" in Qantas refers to the Northern Territory (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services). The voices of the bush are raised today to push Telstra to provide better facilities for remote areas, while those in town continue a love-hate relationship with mobile phones. Central Australia today hosts some of the most sophisticated communications and satellite technology. The seismology station which monitors earthquakes and related phenomena was established before Pine Gap, and later the "over the horizon" radar system was developed at Jindalee. The Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap was constructed in the mid-sixties with the Gillen subdivision, and later Bradshaw subdivision, being developed to provide housing and schools for the many Americans and Australians who were employed there. Other aspects of communication have also had an impact on the town. The letter, now delivered by air, road or rail arrives in our mail box without a thought for those riders who brought the mail overland from Oodnadatta on horseback. The eventual location of the railhead in The Alice and the development of road transport has seen our highways carry Australia's longest roadtrains. The long awaited Alice-Darwin railway will see changes in this area but will, no doubt, bring with it other opportunities and benefits. The first aircraft to land in The Alice was that of Guinea Airways on its inaugural weekly flight between Adelaide and Darwin in February 1937. Eddie Connellan, founder of Connellan Airways, established his regular mail run service in 1939. He was also the pilot for Flynn's Flying Doctor Service in its early days. Bitumising the roads in and around the Alice, especially the South Road, has contributed much to the development of our town and its tourist industry, as have the regular services by airlines large and small. The Ghan, reminding us of our past, continues to attract locals and visitors alike The word "communications" has become very trendy, meaning different things to many people. When other forms of communication fail, try talking to someone.

CYBER CASINO IS BIG COMMUNITY SPONSOR. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

An expensive and ambitious foray into cyberspace opens the latest chapter in the history of Lasseter's Casino, hand in hand with exceedingly generous sponsorship within the town. Part II of a report by ERWIN CHLANDA.The introduction of gaming room style gambling on the Internet - practically a world first - is a keeping up the tradition of the Alice casino for excitement of all kinds, including being in the eye of political storms.When the gambling house was first mooted, then Chief Minister Paul Everingham encountered determined opposition from a coalition led by churches: he even faced a personal dressing down by a Catholic priest during Sunday mass.Everingham later effectively sacked the first operator. The next one, Bill Ford, went broke in spectacular fashion, and the casino and hotel complex didn't come out of receivership until a year ago, after being bought by Malaysian interests.The Everingham government's line had been that a casino was just what the Alice needed to crank up the tourist industry: it would be an exclusive facility, attracting the high rollers from the world over. Of course, there wouldn't be anything so vulgar as pokies!"The high rolling market has depleted since the opening of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane casinos," says Chief Executive Officer Peter Bridge."Without having an international airport, Alice was never going to get the international high rollers."What we were able to get up until a few years ago was the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane punter who came away for the week-end, would enjoy a game of golf or horse racing."We still manage to get a number of those, but primarily we're catering for the local market."Today Lasseter's, employing more than 200 people, is spending more than $800,000 a year in community sponsorships to consolidate its new position as being mainly for the locals.The Alice Springs Cup Carnival ($100,000), Masters Games, Indoor Challenge, Camel Cup, Henley on Todd and an annual golf tournament are among the beneficiaries, making the casino the most generous corporate donor in the town."Perhaps other people might like to have a go at some of these events," says Peter."Particularly with the horse racing carnival, it does so much for the other hotels and the town that I'd really encourage the other hotels to get behind that event."Slot machines - pokies - are now the "bread and butter" of the casino, producing more than 70 per cent of gaming revenue, with 200 machines each worth around $12,000.The clientele, too, is a lot different from Everingham's early expectations.Says Peter: "During the day we have a fair percentage of pensioners, and relatively lonely people, who come in and have a cup of tea with others."The first people they speak to in a day may be the change cashiers."Through the evening and on week-ends, and certainly during the Cup Carnival, we get the most affluent segment of our society."We can change our table limits to suit the clientele."Peter says "problem gambling" affects a low percentage of the population nation-wide, "often quoted at less than two per cent of gamblers".He says they're exposed not only to casinos, but also to horse racing, Tatts Lotto or pokies in pubs and clubs."All those outlets must have a common goal" of helping problem gamblers: "We have voluntary exclusion policies."On all of our cash outlets we have referral posters and pamphlets for people who seek assistance."In Alice, the Drug and Alcohol Association (DASA) - in association with the Darwin-based Amity House - is available to help problem gamblers, and is receiving financial assistance from Lasseters."We call on other gaming establishments to do the same."Amity House has a "hot link" on the casino web site.The hotel section is having a boom season, and is frequently booked out, although the average annual room occupancy is just over 50 per cent, a little ahead of the town's consistently low performance.Lasseter's "rack rate" is $180 a room, but wholesalers get it for just over $100.How should the town be promoted?"It was evident that the Daryl Somers campaign wasn't clinching the deals," says Peter. "The Tourist Commission becoming a leaner force is a good idea, and concentrating on conversions (sales) is heading in the right direction."The American market hasn't been tapped into enough yet."Lasseter's increase of patronage from that part of the world was "phenomenal, but I don't think we'll ever attract Asia."We haven't got the shopping and other experiences they want."And from Lasseter's point of view, "Europeans are great drinkers and bad gamblers".This is where cyber gambling and promotion come full circle: the web site's "chat rooms" show our beauty spots and give detailed tourist information.With this, the function room renovations nearly completed and an Irish Pub on the drawing board, Lasseter's is set to play a major role in the town's future. The web site address is .

OUR ARID ZONE SCIENTISTS HAVE ANSWERS FOR THE WORLD. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

To effectively market Central Australian knowledge-based activity, we have to collectively identify our niche.Says CSIRO researcher Mark Stafford-Smith: "We wouldn't want to try to be Silicon Valley." While the USA and Israel together with Australia make up the three major players in arid zone scientific research, Australia is at the cutting edge in the general environmental management of arid areas with high climate variability."This is something we can market to significant chunks of the world," says Dr Stafford-Smith.Within Australia, he says, Alice Springs is one of the best places for studying interactions between conventional arid land uses and the new issues that are arising on Aboriginal lands. The recent history of reacquisition of land by Aborigines is much longer here than it is in Western Australia, for example, and the Central Land Council (CLC) has been around long enough to move on from acquiring land, to dealing seriously with the issues of managing it. "That's one area where Alice Springs has a competitive niche," says Dr Stafford-Smith.CSIRO's role is to take a strategic view on research, focussing on creating intellectual capital which might be useful in a decade's time.In the past, CSIRO Alice-based scientists Geoff Pickup and collaborators Vanessa Chewings, Gary Bastin and Graham Pearce had the "really important and correct vision" of developing remote sensing to enable a broadscale appreciation of land use impacts in these vast lands. "If you had asked people around here 15 or 20 years ago what they thought was important, I don't think many would have said remote sensing," says Dr Stafford-Smith."That work has been incredibly important, not only in terms of the technology, but more importantly in terms of the concepts of how to use landscapes at large scales."Looking ahead today, what we perceive as really important are more the social processes of interactions between land uses and land users, in order to develop the best balance of land use practices."There are social technologies involved, the sorts of participatory processes that you should have going on, in the development of which this lab has only a small part. The Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) and lately the CLC itself are leaders in this area."But there is also a more conceptual information base, developing an understanding in ecological, social and economic terms what the impact of one land use is on another one, such as grazing on biodiversity, or tourism on grazing."A fertile place for thinking about these things is Aboriginal lands. "There you've got a lot of people with different expectations of land use and values interacting intimately. "For example, you may have people running a small cattle enterprise who want fences but other people who are hunting and knocking them over at night, or you have cattle which have an impact on collecting bush tucker."There are lists of 50 potentially interacting objectives, and you've got to find way of managing them so that they don't conflict. "That's an area where CSIRO can make a strategic contribution."That sounds like a long way from the work of a typical science lab, but CSIRO scientists like Margaret Friedel have been developing new expertise in regional planning processes for a number of years."Most people here were appointed as animal or plant ecologists," says Dr Stafford-Smith."But the issues as we see them are dragging us out of the narrow view of what goes on in a square metre to what goes on in a whole region."Thus the Alice lab is now looking to recruit a researcher with more specialised skills in linking social, economic and environmental issues and in modelling them at a regional scale. "In general, it is crucial for a scientific community in a place like Alice Springs to collaborate with people outside," says Dr Stafford-Smith."We'll never be big enough to answer all the questions, so it's really important to maintain a sophisticated network with people, certainly in every rangeland state of Australia as well as internationally."NEXT: DOLLARS FROM THE WORLD BANK - MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE ALICE.

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