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

Gallery fiasco: school heritage process ‘massively flawed’
Oddly enough Domeninco, from around 1984 I’ve noted an escalating deterioration of our town’s earlier strengths and character.
Those of us who are amongst the town’s earliest families, the builders of the Alice and other towns in the Territory, understood what it took to create healthy, well balanced, economically viable, communities.
Unfortunately the vibrancy once driven by a very healthy private sector has long since given way to petty bureaucracy and welfareism along with all the blow in petty politic of envy and ignorance those sectors brought with them.
Replacing vibrancy, hope and belief with a petty mentality of obstructionism and envy, glaring down, standing in the way of, anything that might create, dare I say, the dirty words economic progress!
This attempt to save an ugly, rotten old, asbestos riddled building of no architectural merit is just another example of that moronic stifling mentality.
Crime and corruption about which these people winge constantly, flourishes in places that don’t offer hope and progress!
Sloth and disillusionment flourish in places of bureaucratic overload and petty envious obstructionism!
To clean our town up, to get it moving, to offer hope, we need to deal with those things!
We simply must learn to walk right on bye the wingers, specially the blow-in wingers, and to get right on with building our town, a place of enormous potential if only it is given enough air to breathe.


Gallery fiasco: school heritage process ‘massively flawed’
There is absolutely nothing architecturally noteworthy about this crappy old building, just because a particular person visited, walked past, looked at or went to this school doesn’t make it a place that must be preserved!
It would hang like a millstone around the community’s collective necks for perpetuity.
This building has been sitting there rotting for years yet you suddenly find a deep underlying passion and love for it when another use for its location is found?
I cry BS on this claim!
You are simply being obstructionist! As per usual I might add!
Keeping old completely un-noteworthy buildings in premier positions simply creates an enormously expensive ulcerating rot in the central locations of town, forcing us to extend our CBD over a wider and wider area destroying along with that expansion any chance of creating a thriving central CBD.
So while there certainly are buildings that are noteworthy and worth preserving despite this fact ie Flynn Church and Adelaide House etc.
Much less noteworthy building such as this old school must give way to the new!


Private forecaster tips massive rains for Alice
Heavy rains will certainly be welcome, no doubt about it Ed, but 30 to 50mm is a long way short of what’s required to produce floods like the one pictured.
That kind of flood requires closer to 200mm over a fairly short period of time … wouldn’t that be nice?


Big crowd at local School Strike 4 Climate Action
@ Evelyn: While I agree with the general intent of your comment it is important to note for the interested children’s education, that neither their action nor any taken by this nation will have the slightest effect on the world climate! Even if we could completely halt all of our carbon production tomorrow, it would not make the slightest difference to climate change.
So by all means kids work towards a cleaner environment, cleaner air and cleaner oceans, but don’t be taken for a ride by those who seek to create irrational fears about your own beautiful world, through politically motivated, fear mongering garbage, about climate change.
It is a natural part of our world and always will be!
The thing we really do need to need fear and guard against, are the mindless efforts of indoctrinated climate fanatics who seek through their ignorance and city bred real world isolation, to do something irrational about planetary warming.
It would benefit everyone to keep in mind that a warming climate is a more productive climate, while on the other hand a cooling climate very quickly becomes a threat to all life on earth, through starvation!
Let’s hope we get to sit somewhere in between. In the meantime there is one very real threat we should all fight and guard against, the life threatening efforts of climate science to artificially interfere with our climate. One stupid mistake and “Winter really will be coming”!


‘Arrogant’ government fails to answer 20 questions
Didn’t Robyn spruik long and loud the benefits of having an Independent Member for Araluen?
Now she is completely bound up in petty squabbling about more resources.
And not one single question to Government about things that affect the rest of us.
While the Territory goes to hell in a hand basket!
No pressure on Government at all!
Talk about ineffective.
You are payed a dam good wage plus expenses. Write your own speeches and for the Territory’s sake, get on with the job.
[ED – Mr Brown was the CLP candidate for Araluen.]


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