By ERWIN CHLANDA
In the last five years the two regions in The Centre competing for the tourist dollar had the same earnings – almost to the dollar.
Alice Springs and MacDonnell earned $1828m. Lasseter, which includes the Ayers Rock Resort and King’s Canyon, had its nose in front with $1885m.
But Lasseter had only half the visitor nights, 5,222,000 compared to 10,055,000 for Alice.
That means visiting The Rock costs twice as much as visiting The Alice and MacDonnell.
At The Rock operators are earning per visitor double of what their Alice competitors are making.
While at The Rock that cake is shared by a mere handful of operators – mostly by an interstate company with a national portfolio – the slices are a lot thinner in The Alice because here there are hundreds of operators.
Yet the taxpayer funded promotion by the NT Government controlled Tourism NT, which has a budget of $50m plus a year, goes to The Rock in larger amounts than to MacDonnell.
All this is notwithstanding that the magnificent East and West MacDonnells are providing an experience vastly more varied and far less regimented than the mass tourism at Uluru, where people are promised the silence of the outback but are getting the clattering of choppers as they squeeze in to watch the sunset.
And the potential for industry expansion is hugely greater in the Macs, with Alice in their middle as their supply base and starting point.
This unjust promotion strategy by Tourism NT, with the apparent acquiescence of Tourism Central Australia which is funded by it, is not just a temporary hiccup: It is entrenched discrimination against the majority of operators who are based in Alice Springs, battling to drag the industry out of a slump of a decade plus.
The statistics provided by Tourism Research Australia (TRA) for each of the past five years, ending June 2017, allow some revealing calculations.
The pattern has been there for each of the five years (and, presumably, for some time before) – long enough for the NT Governments – first Giles and now Gunner – to put on the thinking cap. No sign of that yet.
The numbers for the years ending June were: 2013 Alice Springs & Macs 1,795,000 visitor nights; Lasseter 985,000.
This was followed by in 2014 – 1,683,000 and 840,000 respectively; 2015 – 2,119,000 and 1,011,000; 2016 – 2,094,000 and 1,105,000; 2017 – 2,364,000 and 1,281,000.
A fairer policy could be formulated along these lines: If there is a case for government handouts, should they go to the kid who makes $1000 dollars by washing 100 cars or the kid who has to wash 200 for the same money?
Or: How many Territorians are benefitting from tax money spent on promotion? How much money earned from tourists goes interstate?
But instead of statistics being a tool for informed political decisions they are an opportunity for NT Government spin.
“We came to government promising to work with the tourism sector to ensure that this vital industry continues to flourish, and these figures are encouraging and show we are on the right track to deliver on our promise,” gushed Minister Lauren Moss on September when the TRA figures were announced.
She claimed domestic visitors to Central Australia were up 14% to 570,000 visitors.
In fact in the TRA statistical districts of Alice Springs, Lasseter and MacDonnell from 2016 to 2017 the number of domestic visitors making overnight trips rose from 446,000 to 479,000, an increase of 7.3%. Domestic day trips fell from 324,000 to 218,000.
Ms Moss said: “Australians travelling to Alice Springs also spent more and stayed longer with visitor spend increasing by 3.5% to $329m and their number of nights increasing by 8.8%to 1.3 million visitor nights.”
The inflation rate is around 2%. The increased visitor number is of little benefit if the increase in earnings is paltry. By comparison, domestic numbers in Lasseter are up 22.5% (visitors) and a whopping 47% (spend).
“International interest also continues to grow in the Lasseter region [with] numbers increased by 9.3% to 167,000,” says Ms Moss.
What she doesn’t say is that international visitors spend an average per night of $406 in Lasseter. In Alice Springs they spend $136, about one-third.
This is another fact that ought to prompt Minister Moss to take a hard look at her policies.
PHOTOS: Top – Serpentine Gorge in the West MacDonnell. Above – Kata Tjuta (Olgas).
FOOTNOTE: We emailed a draft of this report to Minister Moss and the media section of Tourism NT at 8.08am today, with “Fact check / comment” in the subject box, and advising that we were planning to post this story at 4pm. By the time of posting, 5:57pm, we had no response from either addressee.
We also asked the following questions: How many operators are there at Yulara and how many in Alice Springs & MacDonnell?
What is the Tourism NT spend on promotion of the Ayers Rock Resort and the MacDonnell Ranges, respectively? We were guided in this report by anecdotal evidence, such as Tourism NT publications.
And how often was the Uluru climb closed in the year ending June 2017?
We received no answers from Minister Moss nor Tourism NT. We will get the answers from other sources and report them.
UPDATE October 4.
Thank you to Tourism NT for the following details:
The number of tourist operators fluctuates however Tourism Central Australia reports an average membership of 300 members, which would be reflective of the number of operators in the region. Of the 300 members 12 businesses provide both accommodation and touring options within Yulara and 194 businesses provide same in Alice Springs and surrounding region.
There is information on the NT’s regions, accommodation, festivals and events and tours and there are search functions within northernterritory.com to drill down on specific regions.
What are the actual figures of promotion expenditure for MacDonnell and Lasseter, respectively?
Marketing associated costs are not directed at specific regions; rather campaigns are based on target markets outside of the NT. Please find information related to Tourism NT funding here.
By ERWIN CHLANDA