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

Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
The longer this process goes on the more likely we are to lose it altogether. That’s a loss of $150m into our economy, just on build!
The government has made up its mind on the site. That’s their right! That’s what we elect them for, to make what they see as the best decision, on our behalf!
So, while about 4% of the population whinge about it, and try to foil the process, keep this in mind.
If it doesn’t go ahead at Anzac there will be no new rugby grounds! Another $20m to $30m.
There will be no amphitheatre or the CBD space to put one. Another $3m to $4m.
We will miss out on an expansion of CBD parking. Millions more!
And we will miss the opportunity to create much increased foot traffic into the CBD and the resulting growth in small business. Millions more.
There is now very little chance of it going anywhere else. It will either go at the Anzac Hill site or we will lose it altogether!
Federal Politicians looking for an excuse to fund it in South Australia have been handed exactly what they want, local dissent!
It shouldn’t take much more to tip the scales, if the damage hasn’t already been done.
If we believe in our community, if we want to grow our economy, create opportunity for ourselves and our children into the future we have to be prepared to accept change, to put our petty likes and dislikes along with what often amounts to rather shallow competitive political viewpoints aside for the greater good.
To put it bluntly, “suck it up and stand aside in support of the best obtainable outcome for our community!
Let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face!


The millions and the misery
Interesting article that this may be, I would not like to see discussion centred around the ins and out of funding to various Aboriginal organisations being conflated in anyway with our discussions around funding and locating our proposed youth centre.
We are attempting to get a whole of community approach to this!
That approach, if it is to be successful, will most certainly include the organisations mentioned.
While we clearly share everyone’s enthusiasm for the Old Memo Club as an ideal site for our centre and have said so publicly on a number of occasions, the fact remains that this is the legally owned property of Centercorp and the only way that we could possibly acquire it for the centre is if these organisations believe in our cause and choose to come on board, something that I very much encourage them to do.
My apologies Centrecorp and Congress if we have caused inconvenience, we were “dreaming” our best possible options for getting something off the ground, ASAP.
We fervently hope in the interests of this community’s children you will give the promoted concept some very serious consideration and come to understand as many already have, the true value to the community, and all your investment in it
It is having a happy, healthy, united community where kids know they are cared for and see exciting future prospects in front of them, with staff, volunteers and mentors from our new centre showing the way.


Memo Club for 24/7 youth centre?
@ Evelyne: No, definitely too far from CBD and don’t think the neighbours would be to keen.
The bed requirement part of the concept is “emergency bed requirement” only, as per “Careful’s” comment probably not a large demand for it. We could manage with temporary facilities and grow after assessing demand.
I imagine that most kids would catch the bus at the cessation of evening activities. The most important part of this centre will be kitchen, dining and activities which would also clearly encompass such things as after school care.
As for existing facilities: This is not a petty competition nor are we interested in the petty politics of those more interested in protecting their own backsides than looking after children.
Let’s deal with the basic facts: Governments of all persuasions have struggled with this issue for 50 years or so. They have funded and de-funded all manner of organisations in the process!
And they have failed.
Yes, there are existing organisation who have cross over interests.
However, we still have the issue.
In fact it is a large growing generational issue, at times literally hundreds of kids hanging about on our streets, growing crime and increasing isolation, increasing division, increasing us and them, increasing have and have not and increasing community anger and resentment.
The concept of bringing kids and community members, not just street kids into a central location, is not just about food and activities, it is about containing the hanging out to a really “cool” location and it is about cross community interaction.
Breaking down the division!
It is about rebuilding a community out of a rapidly growing divide that threatens its very foundations.
The issue is far greater than the petty self interests of a few professional youth workers who feel someone is intruding on their turf!
If your a genuine committed professional youth worker you will know the value of the community interaction too which I refer and you will get on board.
This is not a government initiative, it is a community movement, the only ones in the end who can really make a difference.
And not just for neglected kids, not just for underprivileged kids, but for all the kids in our community, which in the end means a difference for all of us!
We envisage that those centres already working in this area would come on board and work with us, probably moving their services into the central complex or maintain offices there, or doing pick ups and drop offs so that everybody’s together, part of the activity and excitement, of things going on: That is what we want to create.
We have said all along, while we are looking at a community youth centre driven by volunteers it would also incorporate professional management and youth workers.
This is about everybody in the sector putting aside selfish interest and uniting to bring about effective change.
It’s about making a massive difference to a whole lot of young lives and making our community a whole lot happier place to live for everybody.


Memo Club for 24/7 youth centre?
While I share the enthusiasm for getting our priorities right and dealing with our Youth issue first up, projects such as the art gallery are equally important in building a successful community … no economy, no people, no funds or assistance for a centre.
So we aren’t looking to swap one for another, we are looking to do both and more!
Importantly I can report to you that I am running into a great deal of support for the youth centre project from all sectors and I don’t think we are going to have to many issues funding this project, even with the art centre going ahead.
The cross community support I have encountered so far leads me to believe we are going to be successful in getting the project off the ground.
My real concern at this stage is the amount of time it will take to do that!
Obviously if we can’t find an existing facility of the right size and location i.e. the Memo Club there is likely to be a period of at least a couple of years before we can build and be operational.
This is a really urgent issue, requiring immediate action, especially when you think of those two years through the eyes of an eight year old child virtually living on the streets.
Two years is a lifetime, and for that matter for a town being battered by a street kid crime wave, two years is also an eternity!
So clearly we need to act and act now! All ideas are welcome but we must have large open space kitchen and dining, multiple toilets / bathrooms to cater for several hundred kids in a central well lit location.


Memo Club for 24/7 youth centre?
We were always aware that Congress had intentions for the Old Memo Club and our project certainly doesn’t hinge on being able to get our hands on those premises.
I put it forward as a potential location so that everyone would understand the desired CBD location, building size and layout that our proposed Centre requires, large open areas, dining and kitchen facilities – very much like the Memo Club.
This of course would have been ideal if it were available.
So if you change your mind Congress, there’s a lot of kids who would greatly appreciate it.
In the meantime I imagine we will be looking for temporary premises to get things underway while we raise the funds to build to our design.


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