Government tourism promotion: value for money?


Why are we flying blind when it comes to tourism promotion?
For two years in a row, 2011 to 2013, Tourism NT is not providing – or does not have  – information about how much holiday visitors are spending.
Yet that is the most relevant figure by which to judge the effectiveness of promotion by the Tourism NT, which costs us $50m a year, give or take a bit. Are we getting value for money?
There are two categories in the statistics provided: “All visitors” and “holiday visitors”.
All visitors, presumably, include traveling salesmen, convention junketeers, FIFO workers and family visitors who are not, or not substantially, motivated to come here by advertising and other promotion.
Three oil sheiks probably spend as much a 100 backpackers, so visitor numbers and visitor nights are close to useless. So where are the dollar figures?
In the “all visitors” category the 501,000 people coming to Central Australia (including Ayers Rock) spent $584m or $1165 each in 2012/13.
In the Alice Springs region – not including Ayers Rock – the spend per head was $701. In the absence of the actual numbers, let’s assume that the “holiday visitors” spend as much as the “all visitors” do.
The Alice Springs region in 2012/13 had 216,000 visitors, an increase of 1.2%, which represents 2592 people.
Assuming Tourism NT spends half its budget – $25m – on Central Australia, it cost us nearly $10,000 to attract each one of these additional visitors.
To gain an extra $1.8m in industry income we spent $25m. Value for money?
(We asked Tourism NT for a comment and will publish it when we get it.)
PHOTO: Image of Ellery Big Hole from Tourism NT’s new “Do the NT” campaign.
A Tourism NT spokesman replied:-
“We employ multiple sources to help gain an understanding to inform future direction / an understanding of the performance of campaigns.
“As well as using multiple sources as above – we cover off on not having specific regional visitor expenditure holiday figures given to us by Tourism Research Australia (as do all other State Tourism Organisations) by examining the Average Length of Stay against visitors which generally determines the spend insights for holiday visitors and delve deeper if any major anomalies.
“We look at total holiday visitors for the year vs spend (not just incremental new visitors on last year’s base) to determine the real cost per acquisition effectiveness considering it is mostly a unique set of new visitors to the NT every year.
“ We are continuing to work closer with the industry to not just report these numbers, but, to understand how to best influence them for positive growth and ensure we are getting information to drive opportunities for both regional and sector dispersal of visitors.”


  1. I read the Tourism NT response, but it went over my head.
    I’ve said this many times over the past few years of working directly with tourists on the Track – they want to see Nature, i.e. fauna and flora, Aboriginal people sober, to participate in an Indigenous experience and get some accommodation value since they have had to spend up to get here. What about eco-resorts instead of big hotels?
    NT tourism’s current pitch needs a re-focus from the bottom up.
    It’s difficult not to believe that the bureaucracy hasn’t got its ear to the ground.
    If the advertising is done interstate, then it’s a good bet that NT Tourism is taking its cue from the Ivory Tower who wouldn’t know a quartpot from a Letona pear tin.
    And at $25m per year, joint-venture deals on Aboriginal land are possible, but something would have to be done about seven day per week takeaway alcohol supply to get it up and running. Blah, blah, blah.

  2. The Red Centre is not an easy visit for a camera toting Japanese senior / family, let’s face it.
    Neither would many Chinese come. I don’t think Alice is particularly family friendly.
    It is presently better geared to the youthful Euro / local / English speaking hardy adventurer / shoestring backpacker, reflected in the local agents’ advertisements.
    But the real money is up north at present, in Asia, not the stricken EU and many English speaking countries. Also, interstate city business, if there were enough attractions of interest to this demographic.
    The dollars aren’t generally plentiful in the Vang Vieng tuber crowd.
    Russell, I agree with much of what you say, including the grog issue. It’s a safety factor for tourists.
    The big draw points of Alice should be the unique landscape and Aboriginal led adventure.
    There are cultural issues with the latter group that simply must change. Not easy to convince some people that culture changes, but the world was once flat.
    Hats off to those who are actually trying to bring in the tourists, not throwing taxpayer money at it.
    It is difficult to interpret the $701 spend figure.

  3. If the money is being spent in the Alice, and in the NT in particular, don’t whinge and moan about it. Governments never see an accountable return for this sort of expenditure, so just be thankful that they are spending it and get on with your own plans for improving the lot of both residents and tourists.

  4. While at work as a night-filler in one of our large supermarkets last week, I was asked by a young couple if we sold pepper spray.
    I answered that we didn’t, and that since it was probably classified as a weapon, the police station might be the place to ask.
    It would be easy to dismiss the couple’s concerns as paranoia coming from reading too many newspapers but for the fact that they were clearly scared.
    I don’t know who or what had scared then, but a quick walk around our CBD from 9 or 10 PM on would offer some idea.
    I doubt if the scared couple who approached me will be coming back to Alice, and I doubt if their friends or families visit either.

  5. @ Terry,
    It’s not my intention to be critical, but your post hardly serves what is a declining tourist dollar in the NT. I comment with some degree of accuracy having my figures to hand from the past three seasons.
    As mentioned, I have had several seasons of listening to and working with international and domestic tourists and paid attention to their feedback as any good business manager would, so I’m not just whining.
    The last NT Tourism delegation that came through, spent ten minutes and were “in a hurry” to get to Tennant and didn’t take note of anything that I said.
    My impression was that they considered such things as bushwalking, bushcraft and a Nature experience old hat, but this is what most tourists told me they wanted to see, along with the other points that I made in my earlier post.
    My point about the lack of Aboriginal sobriety in broad daylight is one of their dismay. They couldn’t understand it and the majority felt that it was as a result of historical cultural hegemony and wondered why it was so, even “on a Sunday.”
    They felt that they stood no chance of having an Indigenous experience because they were “all drunk” and they felt cheated. I don’t think it had anything to do with safety, at least, not out bush. To coin a too-well used phrase, Go figure!
    Having been around the NT for over 30 years, working mostly in the bush, but having lived in the Alice township as well, I have to say that the tourism budget of $25m p.a. could be better spent in doing things differently.
    We have the ability to make our own television commercials in Alice and they would be great if they weren’t ‘polished’ to an up market sheen that resembles every other pitch known to the glitterati.
    The joint-venture with eco lodges on Aboriginal land is a suggestion that in the present circumstances of employment creation. welfare responsibility and a declining tourist dollar has merit. Maybe even the classic win-win scenario, but it will take a longer range view than the life of an advertising campaign.
    It will require integration and foresight, vision and planning of a high order across several government departments, NT and Federally.
    It will take the cooperation of cockatoos, eagles, kangaroos, emus, Aboriginal skill-sets and the inclusion of art, craft and landscape that is not mystified but just plainly presented and left to sell itself as unique, because that is what it is, although, I perceive that it is passing into yore because it’s not considered foundational.
    Most of all, it will require a rethink on the “core culture of drinking” celebrated by the present Chief Minister and amendments to the supply of alcohol, as indicated, something which I seriously doubt the current NT government has the will, the power or the creative insight to take on in the interests of the tourist economy. And lastly, Terry, how about posting your surname?

  6. When we are once again thought of as a safe destination the visitors will return.
    I have heard it all from visitors who have braved coming to the center even though they had been told they were mad to come to such a “dangerous” place.
    The grey nomad grapevine that warns travelers to not stay in Alice Springs. The reports in overseas media of violent events here, turn people to other destinations.
    I have been asked to ring for a taxi to “take us back to the safety of our hotel”.
    We locals have become forcefully conditioned to the bad behaviour around us. Tourists are often terrified.


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