Making the most of The Rock challenge


p2364-dale-mciver-okBy ERWIN CHLANDA
“There will never be any direct flights to Ayers Rock.” Spoken in his trademark slow drawl by first NT Chief Minister Paul “Porky” Everingham, this quote has entered the annals of the Territory as a sample of political promises and their fickle use-by dates.
Today we’re trending towards the opposite: Dale McIver (pictured) is aware of locals driving to Yulara – a return trip of nearly 1000 kilometres – to catch a cheap flight to Sydney or Melbourne and back, leaving their cars at no charge in the Yulara airport carpark.
For example, the cheapest flight from Yulara to Sydney on May 31, according to Webjet, is $219. Flying from Alice is advertised for $350.
Ms McIver is the chairperson of Tourism Central Australia (TCA), the lobby for one of the region’s only two stand-alone industries not being funded by taxpayers, or largely dependent on them (the other one being cattle).
Alice born and bred and with her day job being event management, Ms McIver isn’t daunted by her task: Alice and The Rock have swapped positions of destination and side trip. She now has to make this work.
“Our operators are meeting the challenge,” she says. Several of them are starting and ending their tours at The Rock, but taking in Watarrka (King’s Canyon), the West MacDonnells and Alice.
People increasingly hire cars at the Ayers Rock Resort for a week or so, much longer than they would need to explore the limited sites at The Rock: It’s a sure sign they are doing much more of The Centre.
Ms McIver says the visitation pattern is slightly more bums in beds in Alice Springs, but a higher per-visitor revenue by the Rock Resort, having now overtaken The Alice in earnings.
However, the cheaper rates in Alice Springs are something the town should promote as a clear incentive to spend more time here.
2442 Dale McIver 4The attractions of The Alice, in their current ranking of popularity, are the Desert Park, Telegraph Station, School of the Air, Reptile Centre and Flying Doctor.
Promotion of the women’s and the road transport halls of fame and Olive Pink Botanic Garden could lift their image and be useful to extend the season at either end.
“The first question I usually get asked at trade shows is: What’s new, what’s different,” Ms McIver (pictured on the job) says.
For example, the field of light show at Uluru created a significant spike of visitors there.
Will the Alcoota fossils, now being returned to the Mall, make a difference?
“It’s still too early to tell,” she says.
Amazingly, the government did not consult TCA, which receives NT Government funding, before announcing the $1.5m move.
“They seem to be still in the planning phase.”
Has there been a cost-benefit study?
“Not that we have seen yet.”
Ms McIver says tourism in The Alice has declined from its boom times in the 1980s largely for reasons not of its own making: International and domestic aviation prices and policies, a high dollar and scheduling of school holidays, the latter affecting crowds at events such as the Henley on Todd.
Alice adapts as well as it can, for example, moving the dry river regatta from a hotter part of the year to the third Saturday in August.


  1. Let’s hope the government decision makers listen to Dale, and engage in (dare I say it) consultation with the industry through her.
    You would be hard pressed to find anybody with the knowlege, drive and passion for the region that she has. Harness her enthusiasm and follow her guidance to reinvigorate the industry

  2. Alice Springs flights are “airline gold” as government departments pay high prices for air travel.
    Cheap flight / package deals to numerous Australian and overseas locations appeal to tourists.
    TCA and NT Government need reduced flight price scheduling to grow Alice Springs tourism.

  3. There are significant tourism challenges here in Central Australia.
    For starters, the cost of a hire car anywhere in the NT is very expensive compared with interstate.
    Does this represent the true cost or another gouging rip-off at play in the NT?
    Has the ACCC investigated?
    Outside Darwin fuel costs are high too. People need to be prepared for the high travel and accommodation costs here.
    With a much larger percentage of budget and backpacker travellers, the latter of whom seem to live on packet noodles to survive, every dollar is critical.
    The NT used to have a bed tax. This didn’t support the industry. In Alice several significant backpacker lodges have closed, yet ironically Monte’s lounge bar still packs in the young (and not so young) buying international beers at around three times retail bottle shop prices. Go figure.
    Employment availability for visa holders is critical to keeping young travellers here when the options in other towns, cities and countries seem infinite.
    With the planned spike in visa fees for 457 and its variants there will be less interest in Australia, and Central Australia, as a working destination.
    These young kids in jobs both work and play (spend their earnings) hard. Recent budget announcements do not bode well.

  4. Re the comment: “Promotion of the women’s and the road transport halls of fame and Olive Pink Botanic Garden could lift their image and be useful to extend the season at either end.”
    I am just wondering what “lift” our image means and how it relates to extending the season at either end.
    The National Road Transport Hall of Fame has consistently operated contrary to downward trends in tourism. The last year was our best ever with a turnover of $1.7m, 30 additional trucks were added to the collection with a nett worth of $1m. Our visitor numbers are up there in the top three attractions and the other two are taxpayer funded or assisted.
    Yes, we do tend to run our own race out here. We are self funded and community based and dont have a big advertising budget. We have had to think smart, work hard and be opportunistic and lateral in our approach.
    While Alice Springs may not know much about us the transport industry on a global level certainly does.
    That is our bread and butter and it flows on througout the town. Tourism is our cream and yes we see lots of challenges moving forward but me thinks a few businesses in town could take a leaf out of our book.


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