content="news,hot tags,Alice Springs,Northern Territory of
Australia,newspaper,tourism,cyclical,not violence,tiger airline,anti
Offering more for visitors to do:
nocturnal tours are regularly booking out at the Desert Park. A guide
helps visitors spot any of the following creatures of the desert night:
the Bilby, Mala, Spectacled Hare-wallaby, Burrowing Bettong,
Brush-tailed Bettong, Stick-nest Rat, Short-beaked Echidna, Bush
Stone-curlew, Golden Bandicoot. Photo courtesy Desert Park.
tourism season due to big picture factors,
not to negative publicity, say operators
By KIERAN FINNANE
The current tourist season may be "a bit flat" but it's a cyclical
business and it will "come back".
That's the view of Michael Toomey, manager of commercial and retail
operations at the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Alice.
He believes big picture national and international factors are a much
greater influence on the current flattening than specific factors such
as the Tiger grounding and negative publicity about the town's social
problems. Violent incidents and anti-social behavior in town get
"blown out of all proportion" in the media, says Mr Toomey, and are
"insignificant" compared to what happens in the capital cities.
There must be two airlines into Alice Springs and Mr Toomey wants to
see the NT Government working on persuading another operator to service
the town. But if people were intending to visit, the Tiger grounding
would not have been enough to stop them coming, he says.
"It would only be having a small impact, people would find another way
to get here," says Mr Toomey.
He sees the greater impacts as coming from the high Australian dollar
and the climate of "uncertainty" in relation to national leadership and
direction. The attention being given to the carbon tax and its impact
on household budgets has people worried and saving, rather than
All this is not enough to deter his organisation from taking the
long-term view, and they're putting their money where their mouth is.
Mr Toomey says their recently announced $3m redevelopment of the
visitor centre will help generate business for the town and the region
and hopefully will encourage other operators to invest in their
Tourism Central Australia's general manager, Peter Grigg, also takes a
philosophical view: "Tourism is a business activity and like all
businesses, tourism businesses will have their peaks and troughs."
But he does hope the current trough will turn into a peak soon.
Businesses can help by "value-adding" to their products, a much better
approach than slashing prices, says Mr Grigg.
Value-adding can be a matter of "refreshing" interest, as has happened
with the recent change of ownership of Annie's backpacker accommodation
and as will certainly happen with the RFDS redevelopment.
Offering more than your competitors will bring the business in, he
says. One caravan park, for instance, can offer a powered site at $30 a
night; another can offer a powered site and a whole program of
activities – a movie night, star-gazing, something for kids – at $40 a
night. Mr Grigg's bet is that the second park will get the business.
Deals like "stay four nights, get a fifth night free" are another good
strategy for caravan parks. This being said, the region's caravan parks
are starting to fill up. Mr Grigg was in Tennant Creek last week and
caravans arriving after 4pm were missing out on the sites.
It's clear that the self-drive market, core business for the Centre,
started late this year. Easter is always the kick-off point and it came
late. There was also an extended wet season. A lot of self-drive
visitors intend venturing further north and want to be sure that roads
will be passable. He says the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley, for
example, opened only a couple of weeks ago.
TCA is looking into how other regions around Australia are faring this
season, to help assess whether the downtown the Centre has experienced
is similar elsewhere or whether more local factors are at play.
Mr Grigg says the feedback to date is that there is a flattening
Australia-wide. Overseas destinations like Vietnam are offering strong
competition, and within Australia Lake Eyre is a major drawcard. Mr
Grigg hopes that there'll be some flow-on for the Centre from Lake Eyre
TCA is also working to get "good news" stories into "eastern states"
media. The association has put out a call to its members for subject
mater and employed a writer. While he does not deny that there are
"issues" in the town, Mr Grigg does not believe they have fundamentally
shaken the Centre's reputation as a "must see" destination.
Gary Fry, director of the Alice Springs Desert Park, is of the same
view. He says the park's solicited (through their twice monthly
surveys) and unsolicited feedback is "overwhelmingly positive" both
about the park and the town. This makes him confident that big picture
rather than local factors are behind the current downturn.
He's able to put a precise figure on it – in 2010-11 visitation to the
park was 8.4% down on 2009-10 figures, and the decrease was across all
the demographic groups of both international and domestic visitors. In
raw numbers, some 70,500 visitors came through the gates in 2010-11,
with NT residents counting for less than one-fifth.
Going back further, the visitation figures show a distinct downturn in
2007-08, which coincides with the global financial crisis setting in
and provoking a global recession. For the preceding three years the
numbers were consistently around the 90,000 mark, dropping to 74,615 in
2007-08, much the same the following year, picking up slightly in
2009-10, but dropping again in 2010-11.
Like Mr Grigg, Mr Fry sees the market picking up at present. The park
is on track to get more visitors this July than it did last July. As of
Sunday they had had nearly 6000 visitors with two weeks to go, while
last July they had just over 10,000: "It looks like we'll exceed that."
Mr Fry says his team are always trying to broaden the appeal of the
park, to offer visitors what they want. The park's nocturnal tours were
established in response to feedback that there was not enough to do at
night in Alice. He says the tours, with 25 participants, are "booking
out on a nightly basis".
The park's "cultural presentations" also continue "unabated, in
response to visitor demand for greater contact with Aboriginal people.
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