Thursday, June 20, 2024

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide – Chicago Tribune.

HomeIssue 21After years of under-achieving, tourism promoters say they are getting cracking

After years of under-achieving, tourism promoters say they are getting cracking

Last week’s Territory deputation, headed up by Tourism Minister Malarndirri McCarthy and including Alice Mayor Damien Ryan, to the Australian Tourist Commission has a familiar ring to it: If something goes wrong we run to the Feds to bail us out.
The Feds’ contribution to the Territory is almost five times the national average, allowing a level of funding for our government tourism body that is the envy of its interstate peers. Yet Tourism NT’s sustained underachieving is still failing to halt the industry’s decline or turn it around.
Tourism Australia, Tourism NT, and Tourism Central Australia – the supposed watchdog – all seem to be the best of buddies, set to do great things real soon, dodging answers as to why these haven’t been done much sooner.
Meanwhile all the NT Opposition, three months out from the election, and some four years after the Global Financial Crisis began to nudge our biggest private industry towards oblivion, still has not disclosed its policy on tourism.
ERWIN CHLANDA spoke to some of the players and looked at some of the numbers. Ms McCarthy did not respond to a request for an interview.
The Mayor’s pitch
Niche marketing its events, such as the Finke Desert Race, is how Mayor Damien Ryan believes Alice Springs can get itself out of its tourism slump.
He’s recently been to China to “drum up publicity” for the race – as well as the region.
Mr Ryan says a five person crew from a sports television station in Guangzhou, China’s third-biggest city, near Hong Kong, will be covering a competitor from China.
“Guangzhou TV has a massive audience,” says Mr Ryan.
“Everybody else is trying to attract the Chinese market.
“I’m not sure our scenery is all that visitors want.
“Our events calendar is what we have to work with.
“Tourism Australia is a marketing company” representing the industry throughout Australia, says Mr Ryan.
“Our concern was, how do we get Central Australia to be a prominent part of that marketing.
Why hasn’t that been done in the past?
“I’ve never met the Tourism Australia board before.”
Did he ask them why they have not given intense promotion to Central Australia before?
“I wasn’t there to ask that question. I was invited, for the first time, to meet the CEO of Tourism Australia, the biggest marketing group in Australia. We asked them to work with our operators here.”
Tourism NT, per head of population, has a budget 13 times greater than its Queensland counterpart.
Per visitor Tourism NT spends 50 times as much as its NSW counterpart.
During his trip, did Mr Ryan ask the Tourism NT executives why they have not done anything remotely successful to halt the slide of the tourism business in the last few years? After all, the Global Financial Crisis started four years ago.
“I’m no expert in tourism. I was given the opportunity of going down there to talk about Alice Springs and the Finke Desert Race. My whole aim is, let’s market our particular event to that Chinese market.
“That’s what we have to do with the Camel Cup, the Henley on Todd, the Mountain Bike event. They are the areas in which we have to become specialists, in the niche markets, to attract crowds.”
Is he saying anything to Qantas about their reduction of services to The Centre?
“No. The government is meeting with Qantas. I wasn’t invited to a meeting with Qantas. That’s something I leave up to the tourism industry.”
Does he think Qantas would say, make Alice Springs a place more people want to come to and we’ll give you the aeroplanes to take them there?
“I’m not really in the game of what Qantas might say.”
Watchdog or lapdog?
“Range of marketing programs in the pipeline … in the new media space, social media in particular … tourism is at a crossroads … partnering … leveraging.”
Jargon and generalities tended to drown out substance in our conversation with Peter Solly, CEO of Tourism Central Australia (TCA) for six months.
What has Tourism Australia (TA) actually done in the last five years specifically for Alice Springs and Central Australia?
“A range of programs … regional Australia and Central Australia are important … developing an understanding of new marketing channels … very keen to work with industry on how to maximise them.”
What have been TA’s five main initiatives since the Global Financial Crisis began to shake the world in 2008?
“That’s a question for them. You need to talk to [Managing Director] Andrew McEvoy about that.”
We’re talking to you about this because Tourism Central Australia represents the industry here which surely would like to know what Tourism Australia has been doing.
“What I am saying to you is that I am keen to look to the future. The industry in Australia has been in decline, there is no doubt about that.”
So, that’s a no comment about what The Centre got from the national body in the last four years. What about the future, then?
Mr Solly, albeit in a very general way, has a broader view than Mayor Ryan whose favoured special events can always only be a tiny a fraction of the attractions: after all, Finke, Henley and Camel Cup, between them, can keep tourists amused only four days a year.
In Mr Solly’s take niche markets include all-year-round opportunities such as the Larapinta Trail and 4WD adventures, cycling, bushwalking, bird watching … “the great landscape”.
But given that all this is hardly news, what has the lavishly funded Tourism NT done for The Centre since the start of the GFC?
“What we should be doing is working with them as an industry to better leverage those things they are doing.”
Have they done a good job for us in the past for years? What precisely have they done for Central Australia?
“Maybe Alice Springs hasn’t had as much ‘destinational’ marketing as they might have in the past … Alice Springs needs to become a destination in its own right. That’s really important. We want to partner with them in some of these niche markets.
“‘Extend your stay by one more day’ is a campaign we’re running at the moment. We want to start working on some of that low hanging fruit. We want to be much more strategic.”
Answer the question, please: what has Tourism NT done for The Centre in the last four years?
Again Mr Solly’s answer is about the future, not the recent past – but this time with a concrete example: there is a major trail symposium in the US next year, to be attended by all the key players in that industry, with a national award “and if we don’t win it we’ll certainly put the Larapinta Trail on the horizon”.
TCA is “right in the middle of developing a strategic plan” for cooperation with Tourism NT.
Amazingly, with the slump becoming endemic, the wheel is still being invented.
In the lead-up to the NT election – just three months away – TCA is developing a 10 point plan to be put to both parties.
TCA  is not making details available as yet, and is also calling for an industry task force and an all-of-government-approach.
Of the $40m that Tourism NT gets every year, how much goes to (a) Alice Springs and (b) Central Australia excluding Alice Springs?
Head of Tourism NT John Fitzgerald “is the best person to talk to about that,” says Mr Solly.
Tourism CA is the industry’s watchdog over Tourism NT; what is your knowledge of these figures?
“We’re having significant conversations with John Fitzgerald and the Minister about new ways of working together.”
Since the GFC started, how much has Tourism NT spent in The Centre?
“I haven’t got the number right in front of me. We’re pushing hard to make sure we’re getting our fair share.”
Do Tourism Minister Malarndirri McCarthy (cutting flights “is not good enough for Territorians”) and Unions NT President Heinz Schmitt (“it is difficult not to show contempt” for Qantas) have a point that the airline owes a debt to the Territory?
Says Mr Solly: “Uluru and Kata Tjuta, without any doubt, are one of the key icons used to promote Australia.
“So in that context, just because they exist, there is some leverage and some marketing dollars that Qantas clearly gets out of that.
“So, do they owe us something? In this world of making a profit on behalf of the shareholders, probably not.
“But in a sense that we have one of Australia’s great icons in Central Australia, probably yes.”
Opposition’s deafening silence
Shadow Minister for Regional Development Adam Giles is vocal on the Qantas cancellation of some services to Ayers Rock but his party is still silent on the broad picture of tourism.
With the election ’round the corner the Country Liberals still have not announced their tourism policy.
He says the cancellations “will have a detrimental impact to our tourism industry and our local economy more broadly, but Qantas makes commercial decisions as any business does.
“With every negative you always have to look for opportunities and I think we can put a greater focus on Alice Springs as a gateway to the region.
“I see that there are two important aspects to improving tourism, firstly fixing our law and order problems so we can see positive news and word of mouth stories going around the world; and the local industry needs to be empowered to have a greater say in the direction of their industry, taking control of marketing in particular.
“I’d also say that as a community content renewal and redevelopment is important and increasing our content and types of content will be important to rebuild our tourism industry.
“I know there are many people who support the full services offered by Qantas but I believe as a community it may be time to have discussion and debate about the merits of lobbying for Jetstar services to The Centre to improve the competitiveness of airline prices and in turn attract a greater number of tourists.”
The numbers
A dominant feature of our tourism’s big picture aviation – we’re a long way from anywhere.
And the elephant in that room is cost: our northern neighbors have modern, efficient and safe airlines that are much, much cheaper.
Here are a few random calculations, based on the cost per seat and per kilometer.
Darwin to Beijing return 8.2c/km
Perth to Bali return 3.9c/km
KL to Tokyo one way 2.4c/km
Beijing to Kuala Lumpur return 4.6c/km
Alice Springs to Sydney one way 18.4c/km
Sydney to Alice Springs one way 13.6c/km
AIR ASIA specials
Kuala Lumpur to Penang $10
Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) $47
On the smaller scale are the airport charges: passengers to and from Alice Springs are apparently paying the highest domestic fees in Australia:–
Terminal    $7.41 + GST arrive / depart
Security    $1.62 + GST arrive / depart
Runway    $3.57 + GST arrive / depart
Total $12.60 + GST
Passenger Facility Charges, arriving & departing $8.11 + GST
Airport Services Charges, arriving & departing $7.72 + GST
Safety & Security, departing only $13.00 + GST
Total arriving $15.83 + GST
Total departing $28.83 + GST
PHOTOS from top: The Qantas counter at the Alice airport where the airline has a monopoly. •A valley in the West MacDonnells viewed from the Larapinta Trail. • Ormiston Gorge in flood.


  1. The general tone of underlying exasperation in this report by the Alice Springs News is widely felt. We have constructed a mega-bureaucracy around tourist promotion. There are so many cogs in the gearbox, but the wheel has no traction.
    The jargon-speak, high-salaried executives quoted in your article are out of touch. The number of “Britz” type vehicles on the NT roads is considerable and if you combine that with the caravans and off-road trailers, plus the backpacker vans, it’s fairly easy to see that this mobile corps is more interested in a bush experience than hanging around Alice for an event that, as you correctly state, lasts for a maximum of four days.
    Tourism promotion should get back to basics. Our past is famous, our present a muddle, our future uncertain.
    Some talk about an “Aboriginal Culture Centre” while Indigenous cultures in central Australia are undermined by alcoholism and a laissez faire welfare failing to enforce work ethic.
    We have the most incredible bird-life, ant-eaters, echidnas, kangaroos, emus, lizards, reptiles and flora (decorative and edible), much of which has been recorded by our pioneers and artists, but very few opportunities for tourists to access it in the wild.
    QANTAS can only operate with numbers, so why don’t we work with them by drawing tourists with the natural assets of fauna, landscape, flora, culture and events, in that order. Along the way, factor in the famous past, co-operative spirit and bush hospitality without focusing on the mistakes or politics.
    Compared to Western Queensland, the NT is missing the “Outback” brand big time. No imagination and no “can do” is the defining schtick. No “Waltzing Matilda”, no Songlines, just booze by the bucket load. No floor price, but a seven day a week takeaway sales, no small-picture-operator based-profiling writ large. And the imminent election is sounding the gong for more of the same.

  2. As an operator with businesses in both Alice and Tennant the scariest part of this article is that these are the same vague answers we get on their six monthly visits.
    We have been severely let down, and still being told everything will be ok and that their strategies are working.
    Even more disturbing is the idea of the holy grail Chinese industry. It is constantly being bandied about like it’s going to suddenly open up and solve all our problems. That market will take considerable time to develop. And that is for several reasons. Most notably our lack of product in their native language. That capabilty has been built over a long period with the Europeans, that will need to occur with the chinese. True success here is a long way off.

  3. The escalating decline in visitor numbers into Alice is not entirely due to world economic downturn. The decline can also be blamed very much on the continued emphasis by Government and favoured operators on the concentrated advertising of Ayers Rock/Uluru as the single great attraction of the Centre. The beautiful places on display in your article are virtually unknown to the rest of the World, even within our own Country.
    When Tourism was in its infancy in the Centre, the Rock was a vague, distant, hard to get to, pretty well unknown attraction. Tourism began around the spectacular scenery, the sheer isolation, the frontier feel of the MacDonell Ranges, with Alice offering a comfortable, interesting base from which to view it all.
    Too much Government interference and bureaucracy put an end to all that. Emphasis by Government, an emphasis that continues to this day, on promoting and pushing the interests of the Rock at the expense of the rest of the industry, compensating for a ridiculous over commitment at the Yulara Resort. The extra promotion eventually resulted in massively increasing numbers at the Resort, numbers increasing by up to 20% per annum.
    Over confidence and arrogance brought about by the sheer weight of willing visitors and the lack of any competition for the Resort gave birth to a “meat market” style approach to tourism there, “get them in, take their money, kick them out”, attitude. At the same time local bureaucracy, Park Management developed its own special kind of resentful, couldn’t care less arrogance towards Park Visitors, a growing contempt for their wishes which has resulted over a considerable number of years in much anger and dissatisfaction with the product on offer.
    Many visitors to the Centre after firstly being bruised by the Rock experience also find that they have missed out on much of what could, and should, have been offered to them for very little extra expense, leaving them disappointed, angry and feeling cheated by virtue of not having been made aware of all that was on offer in a Region they had gone to a great deal of expense to reach. Not advertising and selling the whole product, making sure visitors are aware of all that is available clearly demonstrates a level of disregard for their experience that they are not going to remember with affection when recounting their stories to others – still the most effective or disastrous form of advertising!
    How do we counteract the now very negative perception of our product and the Rock??? I think it’s time Alice saw the Rock as a direct competitor, it’s time we worked very hard at selling the vastly superior product we have to offer. If we are successful in this it will also have the added benefit of forcing the Rock into lifting their game. Keep in mind Tourism at the Rock grew on the back of daily flights and bus trips out of Alice with visitors making our town their destination point. It’s time to recreate that market, light aircraft and buses from Alice to the Rock listed and promoted as only one of the hundreds of attraction on offer from our Town. It is time to actively compete with the Yulara Resort in providing accommodation for visitors to the Rock. Show the world the infinitely superior product we can offer with a fly in fly out, bus in bus out service.
    Along with the competition for the Rock visitors, it is absolutely beyond time that we turned our attentions to our ‘Tourism Roots’. What we began with is still there! Nothing has changed! Only the belief and the vision have gone missing. How do we regain that? I believe we can.
    It’s time to widen the Centralian Experience by opening up the MacDonnell Ranges to everyone, make the beautiful places within them accessible to the drive market, families, caravans, buses, campers. Open up our Parks, improve the access, encourage the development of facilities providing accommodation service and entertainment throughout the length and breadth of the Ranges. Actively encourage development of this kind by communities and pastoralists and any other interested parties, make available development sites at the various attractions on National Parks. Open up the magnificent Western Macs, actively encourage Aboriginal interest at Haasts Bluff, Papunya, Mt Liebig, Gosse’s Bluff and everywhere in between to open up and offer access to this extraordinary country that quite frankly leaves the Rock experience for dead!
    Tourism dead in the Centre! No Future! Bullshit! We haven’t even begun! We’ve just been set back awhile by really lousy Government. We can change it! Just as soon as we’ve completed step ONE! Cleaning up this town, keeping it clean and making sure the rest of the world knows it!
    PS: Might be time Editor took a trip west to bring back some shots of the extraordinary places that could and should be on offer. Great excuse for a trip, Erwin.

  4. I agree 100% Steve. The Rock visit used to be about visiting Alice and the trek to get there. That was half the excitement. The direct flights greatly dismished that. It lessened our product and the amount of time people spend in the NT. As you say, no one took a holistic view to those decisions and we pay for it now.
    The appeal of the NT has always been the sparseness and frontier nature of the place. How do people feel that if they are flying over it?

  5. Jason,
    I’ve answered some of the questions you’ve asked here at two different posts, including the Alex Nelson story a couple of weeks ago.
    I know we don’t agree on alcohol reform, but it would be appreciated if you could see your way towards agreeing (or not) on the points I’ve made about tourism, which seem to answer your questions, or is it that nobody really wants any answers, because that’s what it seems like.

  6. 3-4 years ago my daughter and I, and a couple of her mates, one from Melbourne, the other from Germany, did a winter 4WD trip out along the Mereenie loop to Watarka, then on to Uluru, Docker River, Giles, Wingellina and the Corner Post, then up the Sandy Blight track to Kintore and home via Papunya and Glen Helen.
    Great trip, permits not a hassle but not done overnight, swags under the stars, campfires, some great camping (a couple of beautiful desert oak sandhill sites plus Curtin Springs, Uluru and Warakurna camp grounds (hot showers much appreciated!).
    Docker River was a highlight for the visitors, the interaction with local people, the dog proof gate at the store, the goats, and the great campground a few kms out of town, fireplaces and dunnies, and of course camels. It was fantastic experience for all of us, one I’d like to share in again. And one that many locals and visitors would revel in. Self-drive tours are a great experience and give a sense of adventure. I know that the NT Tourism industry is promoting this soort of experience, but perhaps we need to do more to make this type of adventure travel more accessible to visitors (knowledge/permits/gear, maybe guides?) I think there is huge potential here.
    A favourite shorter trip of mine with visitors is down to Old Andado via Mac Clark Reserve, onto Mt Dare and then Dalbousie and maybe Purni Bore and beyond, then return via Charlotte Waters, Aputula, Rainbow Valley. Shorter still, down to Ewaninga petroglyph site, on to Chambers Pillar and back via Titjikala and the art gallery, then across to Rainbopw Valley.
    Always a hit with the visitors, and never fail to enjoy them too. And up to Newhaven, great self-drive tracks there with interpretative notes … and the Binns Track north to the Davenport Ranges.
    I think Steve Brown is right on this, enormous potential if we can get it right.

  7. Ian sharp, do not forget the Chewings Range, the sheer beauty and remoteness of the Westen Macs and the access to all who care to be adventurous via the unique Larapinta Trail.
    And a good post Steve Brown, May 29 – well worth re-reading. Hope the relevant tourist bodies are going forward but we are yet to see the evidence for real progress and reform.
    David Chewings

  8. Jason,
    Please see below posted @ May 29 and the posts accompanying the Alex Nelson story with the Black Cockatoo pics.

  9. Given I’ve a bit of a tourism background, I thought I’d throw a few thoughts into the discussion.
    – We’re perceived by many as a setting off point for visiting Uluru and while that carries a feeling of being always the bridesmaid, we should get over that. Fact is it brings us a lot of tourists so it isn’t an impression I’d want to “correct”. But we certainly need to increase awareness of Alice Springs as destination in our right, to ensure we’re not left out of people’s Central Australian itineraries, and to generate more visitors who come just for us.
    – I’d like to see some of our local natural scenery, and why not the town itself, added to the list of Australia’s must do, national icons. That is something that could come out of meetings with Tourism Australia.
    – Sometimes I think that people come here not because they have any idea what is here, but because of our somewhat legendary “Town like Alice” status. But legendary status will only get us so far and we need to give people more reasons to visit. More development & marketing of our known strengths (natural scenery, pioneering history, Aboriginal culture/art)and more effort identifying & developing new strengths. I included some suggestions in my thought piece in Alice Springs News in January.
    – Event tourism is great for us and I would love to see some creative thinking going into developing new events for the town. The diversity of our current events (from Beanie Festival to Finke Desert Race and the Camel Cup) means all attract different sorts of crowds which is what we want from them. Let’s expand on that.
    – I’m a big fan of niche tourism though one needs look at the bigger picture with niche tourism. A single niche on its own may be good for 1 or 2 tour operators but it doesn’t necessarily make a big difference to the town. However identifying numerous niches and targeting lots of them does start to become a big story. Niches can include things like birdwatchers, train & truck enthusiasts, aviation tourism (if the plane graveyard goes ahead), fossickers, bushwalkers, mountainbikers… in fact if we start to think a bit laterally, the list can be huge.
    – It is a shame there hasn’t been much talk lately of turning Alice Springs Airport into an international airport. Clearly it would have to be a commercial decision for both the airport and the airlines, it has to be viable, but I’m conscious of what it did for Cairns and I’d love to see us be a direct access international destination.
    Anyway, these are just some ideas for people to bounce around.

  10. The comments above reading thru them all are very iteresting. So has Mr Brown actually spoken to the Tourism heads and found out what is happening behind the scenes and all the work being done to improve tourism? The work going on with airlines, the wheels being set in motion??? Has he actually been involved in ANY of the tourism workshops that have been happening in the region lately? I bet not… the points he raises as a negative ARE being addressed… things DON’T happen over night…industry and government are not going to fix issues instantly. Anyone thinking we can see Uluru as a competitor must be crazy? The leverage we can get off each other as amazing destinations is a workable soloution here.
    There is so much happening in tourism and we all should be spruiking the positive aspects. If you all keep being negative and putting the industry down… it will never survive!
    Perhaps if some of the previous people commenting on this atricle were actually attending the workshops and meetings, talking with the tourism bodies and finding out what is actually happening, rather than reading an article that is missing so much factual information….they will see that there is a lot happening. Such as the targeting of not only China… but a focus on the traditional markets…. niche marketing is also a big focus and opportunity for the industry. It’s all being openly disucssed at industry workshops…. why not attend one and hear it for yourselves…. Let’s be passionate people… be positive and work together!

  11. Several years ago I suggested that Central Australia should be re-marketed as the “Outback…..the last frontier region in Australia where time stands still”. I was howled down by senior tourism representatives who argued that Alice Springs had moved on from its Outback image and was now a sophisticated tourist destination attracting visitors from Japan, USA, UK and closer to home, New Zealand.These markets were well and truly disappearing years before we could use the GFC as an excuse. So what happened? Simply, we surrendered our brand to other regions. We have retained one key element of my original proposal…”time indeed is standing still” as we await direction from those outside our region. Tourism CA has to be a bit more aggressive in determining what happens here. From the outside we appear to be pretty weak. Relying on social media sites rather than personally connecting with influential travel agents and commissioned operators is not the answer. Create a smart sales taskforce to take the message to the offices of those who can directly influence travel outcomes. That is measurable, accountable and impressive. Let’s get the business card out of our pocket, keep our iphone in the other and actually get back to selling our region face to face.

  12. I wonder if Deborah Rock’s last point is one of the most interesting in this debate.
    If the Alice Springs airport were made an international airport, we might see an end to photos showing only a Qantas counter at the Alice airport. The story in that photo is half our problem!
    As it is, visitors to Alice from overseas usually have to overnight at another Australian city and buy an extra leg of air travel just to get here.
    Also, will we need to be an international airport if the projected boneyard is to get off the ground?

  13. How can Alice become an international airport if we are unable to even provide enough effective market to support a second domestic carrier?? Seems to be putting the cart well before the horse. That kind of demand is a huge way off.
    @A passionate Local Operator
    I do go to every TCA/Tourism NT workshop I can, but considering that we have had only 1 in the last 12 months in Tennant Creek, it’s pretty easy to feel left out to dry.

  14. If the “Passionate Local Operator” would like to know what’s gone so horribly wrong with our Tourist Industry, stand in front of the mirror, put what you see together with the Management of Yulara and the Rock over the past 30 years and the the answer will be right in front of you. Back again today from another round trip through Glen Helen across the rough to Haasts Bluff then on to Papunya and back on the top road past Narwietooma, Milton Park, Hamilton Downs ect, even though I was in a rush as usual, doing the whole run in a few short hours, the country side flitting by outside the window at a pretty scary rate still awe inspiring, never ceasing to amaze. Sunrise across the face of Haasts Bluff capped by some early morning mist quite simply indescribably breath taking. Yet not a tourist in sight. How many years have we been developing our product, promoting our Region?? How much effort have we put into developing our infrastructure?? If we were to seal this Loop Road and open up gravel access roads into the many beautiful hidden and intriguing places within the mountains, adding camping places, walking trails, the occasional lodge, restaurant, hotel, motel what an astounding product we would have to sell the World! A product that certainly would warrant an International Airport. But you have to begin at the beginning, first build the product, then comes increasing numbers, flights, International Airports and the rest. It takes vision, guts, capital, hard work and a Government willing to provide the basic infrastructure whilst maintaining an appropriate non stifling distance from the developing industry. Let’s get on with it!

  15. @Deb @Hal, this suggestion that Alice become an international gateway has been mooted many times over many years. I broached this topic again only recently on another tourism forum. The best option I have heard is to make Alice the sole gateway into Australia, one customs etc… Then they radiate out from here. How good would that be for our tourism industry!
    @Paul, your direct trade mission concept is still strongly supported by many NT tourism operators. Some operators still do the European jaunt themselves.
    The sooner the Meerenie Loop is sealed the easier it will be to cross-promote Alice and The Rock. I saw a new brochure promoting the East Macs. Much has been said of the West Macs however the East Macs have incredible untapped potential.
    As a current Tourism Central Australia exec member and passionate local operator let me reassure you all that we are constantly working to improve tourism in our region. A strong tourism industry is a benefit to ALL who live here.


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