The Town Council is writing to the Prime Minister to ask for financial assistance for the tourism industry in the Centre. While councillors voted to take this action back in May, it has now become more urgent with the grounding of Tiger flights.
Alderman Samih Habib Bitar at Monday’s meeting appealed to councillors to use what lobbying power council may have to help get Tiger back in the air on the Melbourne-Alice route.
Ald John Rawnsley went further, asking whether council should not send a delegation to government to ask for a financial assistance package, given the “particularly rough time” the town has had from the impact of the high Australian dollar and the negative national and international publicity around high levels of crime and anti-social behavior. (Clarifying later for the Alice News, he said the delegation would be to the Territory Parliament, with a package to be funded by both the Australian and Territory governments.)
Councillors were reminded by Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove that they had already resolved to send a letter to the Prime Minister, asking for special assistance. In fact, he said a letter had gone out, although an enquiry by the Alice Springs News revealed that it is still in draft form. It will be sent this week, almost two months after council’s resolution.
At Monday’s meeting Ald Habib Bitar suggested council should approach Virgin Blue to see whether they could reinstate flights to Alice.
However, Ald Jane Clark argued loyalty to Tiger is warranted if they get back up and running. What must be avoided, she argued, was a return to Alice being serviced by only one airline. She criticised Qantas for originally excluding Alice from its special deals for stranded Tiger passengers.
She had had two children caught in Melbourne by the Tiger grounding and had been facing having to pay two $900 one-way airfares to get them home. She said there were definitely no special deals for passengers to Alice “until enough people kicked up a fuss”.
A one airline situation would represent a “real danger for the tourism market”, said Ald Clark. She said council should establish a “lobbying position over the next couple of months” to ensure that other airlines service Alice Springs.
Deputy Mayor Ald Liz Martin took up the theme of the damage being done by negative publicity about Alice Springs.
She said media were responding to “negative people in the community”; that this was endangering investment in the town; and that the impact was going beyond the town, being felt all along the gateway routes into the region.
Mayor Damien Ryan requested the CEO to have a report prepared, drawing on “knowledgeable people in town”, to provide direction for councillors on the issue. CEO Rex Mooney said that the report would be ready for the end of month meeting.
Speaking later to the News, Ald Martin said “good news messages” need to get out about all the wonderful natural and man-made attractions of the town and the region. If the government funds became available, they could be used to “subsidise” publicity in niche publications not normally targeted by tourism marketing campaigns. These would be the monthly subscription publications relating to fields where there are attractions of special interest in the Centre, such as art, sport, road, rail and air heritage, said Ald Martin.
Ald Murray Stewart is on annual leave and was absent from Monday night’s meeting. However, he was the initator of the original motion to write to the Prime Minister. He told the News that in his view Alice Springs and its tourism industry in particular had experienced a calamity as a result of deteriorating activity on the streets and the publicity around it. Just as the Australian Government had stepped in to offer assistance to Queensland to help its tourism industry get over a difficult period, so they could do for Alice Springs, he said. He said the town’s troubles are not of the same magnitude or tragic nature as Queensland’s but there is certainly an economic downturn.
He favoured using any government assistance to “drive new tourism events”, and also used that word “niche”. For example, there could be “a celebration of great Australian voices”, not only in song, but also spoken word, like the wonderful recitation of iconic Australian poems by actor Jack Thompson.
“We should zero in on two or three unique events and time them for the shoulder periods of our tourism season when the weather is still OK,” said Ald Stewart.