In my lifetime in Central Australia I have seen tourism …

Comment on Tourism slump a wake-up call for operators by Steve Brown.

In my lifetime in Central Australia I have seen tourism develop from its infancy, nothing more than the dreams of a few passionate locals who went about selling what they saw around them.
It was bringing the sheer rugged beauty of The Centre to the world! Nobody tried to invent a product, with clear and open eyes they saw the beauty, the dynamic and contrasting colors, the rugged ancient ranges with their sheltered awe-inspiring gorges, the clear blue skies of the day and a firmament as big as the universe at night.
There was our sheer isolation, the almost mystic stories of survival and triumph of our people over such a harsh environment, our interaction with one of the world’s oldest living cultures.
Yep, they saw we had more than enough to attract the world to our doorstep, and they were right!
By the early eighties our tourism was booming bringing people from all over the world.
Australians thought of us as their own precious back yard, they sent us their children on the school holidays in huge numbers, with buses in their hundreds arriving for events such as Henley on Todd and the Camel Cup.
We were riding the crest of a wave, the whole world before us, new businesses springing up everywhere, investment pouring into hotel motel accommodation.
Alice Springs had the country’s fifth busiest air port, much to the chagrin of Darwin – and then disaster!
In 1989 came the pilots’ strike, the whole world of tourism collapsed, and our visitor numbers dropped in the order of 80% overnight, and till this day have not returned to pre-strike levels.
We should be asking ourselves why? What has changed so radically about our product that the only tourist we now attract, apart from a mediocre caravan trade, are middle-class trendies looking for an exotic life experience in a place no one else wants to go?
And how should we go about changing that? Well we can’t blame it all on the pilots. Tourism had reached a pinnacle at the time of the strike, it had undergone a huge injection of funding and enthusiasm at the hands of a young, first off-the-ranks CLP Government celebrating the Territory’s new found freedom in self government.
They had taken many risks and backed all kinds of ventures in their enthusiasm to bring about a self sustaining economy for the Territory, none greater than the Yulara Development. Eventually, after facing sustained criticism from some quarters, with interest rates at an all time high, they panicked and in the scramble to divest themselves of what they now saw as a liability, they sold Territory Tourism down the drain.
They were making deals, signing contracts that should never have been made, agreeing to airport and road expansions that sabotaged tourism elsewhere in the Territory.
The flagship of Territory tourism, Yulara, was pandered to at the expense of the rest of the industry and eventually sold off.
The price? The success of Territory tourism! Yulara became an even more gung-ho monopoly, stifling smaller trend-setting competitors, introducing a disrespectful, meat-market approach to their visitors.
Giving no consideration to the concept of returning visitations they set about ripping as much as possible for as little as possible from every unfortunate visitor who went their way.
A year or two before the strike we began receiving lots of very angry long winded comments about the Yulara resort from passing tourists who felt used and ripped off.
Yulara was often compared to Hamilton Island that was also receiving very bad press at the time. Tragically what was happening at Yulara began to reflect on the rest of the Territory. When you add to that the anger generated by an increasingly militant Commonwealth park management, that was then and is now hell-bent on saving the park from tourists, you have the makings of an industry disaster! And that’s exactly what we got, a disaster.
How do we save ourselves from this plight, reinvigorate the industry? Do we spend our time pandering to the whims of a few demanding middle class trendies who might have a few more dollars but only because they are to bloody stingy to spend them, or do we cater for that market as best we can while we fight like hell to get back our lost, our rightful appeal to the vast numbers of ordinary every day travelers who once made us so successful?
If we are to achieve the latter there are some very necessary clean-up steps required.
• At Yulara firstly, by hook or by crook, control of the park must be wrested from the Commonwealth and put into the hands of a board of management whose entire income is directly related to visitor numbers through the gate.
• The board must remove the ridiculous restrictions and charges on commercial photography that have generated such enmity for the region, and cost taxpayers billions in exposure.
• Rangers, either Commonwealth or Territory, must take a step back into a purely regulatory role. All direct management of any park must be by persons whose income is generated by visitor numbers. The monopoly of the Yulara resort must be split up, either by buy back or by the release of further land for other developments.
• Single attraction, flagship advertising by government must cease! Any tourism advertising by government must fund each region equally. Alice needs to go back to its original products, where it began, before The Rock was of any significance, back to the MacDonnell Ranges and the many services and attractions the town itself has to offer.
• Bring an end to the deliberate misuse of work, health and safety issues to manipulate the opening and closing of the climb and walks by setting a firm, measured (by publicly displayed gauges) ruling that says the climb will be closed while the temperature is over for example 42 degrees Celsius and / or 20 knots wind speed and reopened immediately conditions change.
• Stop supporting the Rock and Yulara at the expense of the rest of the industry! Market the whole of the Territory as a destination, severely limit direct flights into The Rock and directly favor by price and access, those who tour elsewhere in the Territory. We need to see a lot less of The Rock and a lot more of everywhere else in our advertising.
Above all else, we must give people what they pay for. We must get rid of the paternalistic lecturing that requires not only that people are told about, but that they actually comply with Aboriginal traditions such as not climbing The Rock. It’s an expectation that is both paternalistic and utterly ridiculous.
In short we have to open up access to our parks, remove the nanny state bullshit being used to manipulate public access, start treating our tourist as we should, as VIPs, reintroduce some good old fashioned customer service and in time our industry will shine again.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

Recent Comments by Steve Brown

Jacinta Price ready to turn her back on the Town Council
Life, your goals, your communities demands, your commitments, are effected by the passage of events around you. They can and often do change from day to day, let alone from year to year.
Movement from Council to either State or Federal roles is and always has been a natural progression. Yes, it has a cost, that cost is the price of democracy!
After rising to prominence as an Councillor and activist Jacinta has been asked, even pressured by many around her, to take her obvious talent in advocacy and use it to better present the Territory’s cause in Canberra.
That decision, that civic duty asked of Jacinta is a decision reached in conference with many people.
It’s not a personnel whim, it is not a betrayal or a lie, for pity’s sake! It’s actually an extension of Jacinta’s commitment to the Alice, Central Australia and the Territory! It’s not a joy ride at our expense! It’s an enormous commitment made on our behalf.
How many of you who sit on your proverbials on the sidelines of everything and criticize, have any idea of the enormous work load, the upheaval, not only for Jacinta but her entire family this commitment represents?
Please don’t do the small town petty envy thing and pull down the local star, the rising talent.
We are better than that aren’t we? Recognise, as the party and her peers have, that Jacinta her talents, her family origins having a foot in both worlds represents a unique chance for change.
A chance of a better quality of life for may Territorians.
Get behind her and the revolution in attitudes she represents.
Jacinta is the hand in the face of the status quo, if we get behind her in sufficient numbers, with dedication and commitment, Jacinta and those around her present a rare chance for a big leap forward in who we are and how we live in the Territory.
Congratulations, Jacinta!


Jacinta Price: talking about Aboriginal people but not for them?
Jacinta is an elected representative by a huge majority, in a small population that is at least 30% Aboriginal.
So unless you think all Aboriginal people look like each other and all vote one way it is safe to assume a good percentage of her vote comes from Aboriginal people. My own experience as a person in contact with many people across the community is that Jacinta certainly does enjoy the support of many locals of all political persuasions and racial backgrounds.
Jacinta speaks for many like myself who voted for her and continue to support her.
I didn’t I turn up at the rally. Yep, quite frankly I was busy and forgot it was on.
Which brings me to the much lauded Arrernte Women Group, who as a born and bred Alicespringite, I feel inclined even obligated to support yet can’t quite get my head around this fact: After all this time, all the years of mayhem after all the calls to arms from the community re the abuse of children, yes, their very own relatives, they attack Jacinta Price! One of the very few who have had the guts to cop the hate and raise the issues around neglected and abused women and children.
Right across the nation many recognise that strength, Jacinta’s compassion and the validity of her arguments, follow her online comments you will quickly become aware of the strength of her following including many many people who identify as Aboriginal.
Jacinta’s message a cry for help for the lives of thousands of children, [yet] some appear willing to sacrifice everything, even the interests of the children to have a go at her, in a vile sickening often blatantly racist attack founded on envy and a self-serving parasitic need that thrives off keeping Aboriginal people in poverty.


Cr Melky alleges budget irregularity
Mmm, as usual Cr Melky fails to grasp even the most basic of budgeting principles. It is pretty much in line with his earlier confidence in predicting a budget surplus of around $12.6m last financial year, even promising to resign if he got it wrong.
I believe the surplus came in around $1.2m, some $11.4m less than predicted. I wonder what happened to the resignation. LOL
The half million Cr Melky is worried about will not appear on the next financial year’s list of expenses so council will not need to raise funds to cover it.
This should translate into a much lower or even no increase in the rates this time round, unless of course councillors who don’t understand what they are doing force additional cost onto the community.
Try working on that, Cr Melky, perhaps you could promise to resign again, if there’s an increase … just a thought.


Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill: it’s not over yet
I’ve been reliably informed that the petition is not signed by a thousand locals but by persons from right across the globe. As such it makes a contemptuous mockery of local opinion and should be treated with the distain that it deserves.
Any petition must carry the names and the residential addresses of those who sign so that they may be verified.


Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill: the nays have it 
@ Concerned Arrernte Man: If you were indeed a concerned Arrernte “man” you would use your real name, like a man, so that we locals know what your word is worth.
What I suspect is that you aren’t local at all. We are trying to put our town together not rip it apart, your intention is clearly the opposite.
Anzac Hill was sincerely and solemnly dedicated by TOs many years ago to the purpose which it serves respectfully to this day.
It was and remains a joint community effort, if indeed you are a Arrernte man you would do well to respect and to learn from the decisions of your elders.


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