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

There’s more to renewables than sunshine
Until now every drop of water that was ever on the earth has remained on the earth.
Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if quasi religious climate fanatics were eventually responsible for using up that water, turning it into hydrogen?
It would be even more ironical that we should consider that in one of the driest places on earth, where water is absolutely in its most valuable state as water.
We should all understand that there is no such thing as free energy. There is always a price and generally speaking it would be a pretty bloody smart idea to understand that price, monetary or otherwise, before we go racing off creating even more mammoth environmental issues for future generations.
For the present there are so many ifs around the Hydrogen idea that – dare I say it – it’s simply a pipe dream!
Also noted the quick duck for cover by Mr Duignan when the question about feed-in prices for home solar generators was raised.
Whose issue would that be then Mr Duignan? Wouldn’t that be the Territory Government and given that Territory Generation is in fact a quasi public service operation owned lock stock and barrel by Territory taxpayers, maybe a more responsible answer would be in keeping with that role.


Community solar: the devil is in the wires
Yes, and then there’s all the community facilities of which we are all joint owners! Places such schools, hospitals, police stations, street lighting, ecetera, the list is endless.
All of these facilities require power 24/7 as does welfare housing, hotels and motels, all connected to the rest of the grid.
Consumers on the remaining grid would, as they do now, have to pay their share of those costs, plus, the share of those in the community system.
This is already occurring of course, on a smaller scale, and the costs to the poor old hapless consumer who can’t afford to instal solar, are already escalating.
The only fair way to rectify this imbalance, which of course nobody wants to hear about, all studiously avoiding the subject, is for owners of solar systems to pay their share of those costs!
Another words, pay not only for their use of the grid, but for the existence of the grid.
Yes, even if they are operating a stand alone system.
This of course effects the whole viability of installing solar, dragging its payback time out by quite a bit.
However, if we are to honestly asses the true worth of solar to the community, then these costs really must be taken into account.
It’s time the rose coloured glasses came off, frank and honest assessments are made.
Governments parading solar as world changing advancement are often actually subsidising its installation while blithely ignoring the true and growing cost to community. Just face up to, and come up with, some fair and equable answers!
Now we seem to be adding lithium iron batteries to the mix, as if they are some kind of nice environmentally friendly answer to our storage problems, when to my eye, precisely the opposite is true.
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of renewable power but it must be truly honestly viable, covering all the costs, and it absolutely must create less pollution than our present systems of generation or we are all fooling ourselves.


Ratepayer, do you want your money back?
Such an astoundingly naive proposal could only ever have originated with one Councillor Melky. As always grandstanding without the slightest thought given to the actual consequences of such a profoundly counter productive decision. Which if carried out to the letter would see a good deal of the windfall funds blown in the name of community consultation. Any attempt to refund it would incur even greater costs reducing any refund to a piddling amount producing no worthwhile outcome for the community, especially when you consider Council has on its books many unfunded, or even worse partially funded, or non completed projects that could have, and indeed should have, been funded partially or otherwise from these funds! Benefiting the Community and its economy as a whole.
More importantly, not wasting a huge amount of Council’s time and productivity messing about with a messy, unproductive, time wasting and resultantly expensive, refund. Further to that should Council do the sensible thing and allocate the funds to other projects, it will also provide Councillors with a very good argument against further rate rises next year.
Something I am quite certain, all Rate payers would be relieved to hear.
New councillors need to be across and take responsibility for their role as Body Corporate style managers of their Community’s assets and not to be so easily be duped into making what may seem on the face of it to be responsible decisions but which are in fact cheap political attention seeking ploys with no regard for what may well turn out to be far reaching consequence…
Take time to think it all the way through…
Before you act!


Bottle shop cops ‘security guards, paid for by the taxpayer’
From the moment the POSIs were implemented they have proved themselves to be the single most effective crime prevention measure the Territory has ever seen.
Now I don’t know about you Paul McCue but I would much rather have my family home and business all kept in one piece as opposed to paying out my hard earned to employ a police person who gets greater job satisfaction from aftermath policing!
A person who apparently has so little empathy for the public’s plight that they would actually ask for our support in that role but not in the preventative role!
Call it self interest if you like Mr McCue, but I like many other Territorians, through the voices of our politicians, are going to keep on insisting on the POSIs wherever they are needed.
If we have a police staffing issue employ more police – just as we have been promised on many occasions over the past dozen years.
Fill all of the roles the community requires, not just the roles that suite you!


Pine Gap and the Nobel prize the Oz government ignores
@ Hal: My reference is to Russell’s dad escaping the Germans and arriving in Australia.
Given that he escaped Germany during WW2, if he then set out for Australia he would have arrived during Australia’s greatest hour of peril, facing an imminent Japanese invasion.
Out of the frying pan almost into the fire, bar for the intervention of the USA.


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