Horror numbers in tourism stats, with a hint for a solution


p2382-araluen-edwin-pareroultja-west-macdonnells-ca-1960-copyBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Tourism statistics released by the Federal government today contain some horror figures for The Centre in the year ended September 2017, except for MacDonnell, home to our magnificent ranges (as painted by Edwin Pareroultja).
But far from these being the driver of the industry and the lifeblood of Alice Springs, a massive part of the spend by visitors goes to the Ayers Rock and King’s Canyon resorts where tourists, per head and per night, are forking out about twice as much as they do in Alice Springs.
Numbers of domestic visitors to Alice Springs, 273,000, were down 11% for the year and their spend, down 32%, although the nights spent were up slightly (3%).
International visitors, numbering 124,000, which is less than half of the domestic tourists, were up 6% and their spend, 10%.
While the average night number was up 11% for the year in Alice Springs, the three year change was down 19%.
The two categories – domestic and international – combined in Alice Springs showed declines almost across the board, with mild growth (5% each) for the 12 month and three year change, but a 15% drop over 10 years.
In Alice the average spend per day was down 26% (12 month change), down 8% (three years) and down 5% (10 years).
In the Lasseter region, home to the Ayers Rock and King’s Canyon resorts, there was a 20% drop in domestic tourism numbers, down to 182,000, and a 26% drop in spend by domestic tourists.
The number of international visitors was almost unchanged, 3% up, but they spent 4% less in the year.
For the two categories in the Lasseter region the visitor number was down 11% over 12 months, and the average spend down 17%.
There was a 5% drop in nights over 12 months but a 12% increase over the past three and 10 years.
The star performer, although from a very low base, was MacDonnell: 13% up over 12 months and 58% up over three years for domestic visitors.
The average domestic spend shot up 71% over 12 months and 260% over three years.
International visitor numbers grew 35% in the 12 months in MacDonnell, and the spend, 200%.
Across the two categories the visitor number was up 14%, the spend 73% (over 12 months), 245% (three years) and 138% (10 years).
Average nights rose 200% (12 months), 361% (three years) and 404% (10 years).
Trouble is, of the 383,200 nights visitors spent in The Centre, only 23% were spent in MacDonnell and it got just 5% of the total spend.
Lasseter, with just one million visitor nights, made substantially more money ($389m) than Alice Springs with 1.9 million visitor nights, earning just $321m.
That means each visitor, per night, spends roughly twice as much in Ayers Rock Resort and King’s Canyon than in Alice Springs.
Clearly, the sooner the massively funded Tourism NT ($47.3m in 2016-17, including $8.3m for employee expenses), and its subservient Tourism Central Australia which it part-funds ($776,475), can deal with these crass inequalities, the better it will be for the broad Central Australian community.
Surely, the MacDonnell numbers make it clear that the ranges, on the doorstep of Alice Springs, are a massive asset overlooked by government after government.
We invited comment from Tourism Central Australia chairperson Dale McIver and Tourism Minister Lauren Moss.
UPDATE Friday, December 22 at 3:40pm
Ms Moss provided the following statement: Tourism is a key economic driver right across all of our regions, including Central Australia, and the Government is working to keep the Northern Territory competitive when it comes to attracting tourists and other visitors.
That includes investing in a strong destination marketing approach, supporting new tourism attractions and assets, and targeting markets that will deliver strong growth now and into the future.
We will launch a new Business Events Support Fund at the start of 2018, which will allow the NT to more aggressively compete for lucrative business events that deliver significant benefits to the economy.
Conference and business event delegates often stay for a number of nights and spend more on average than other visitors.
We will also invest more in marketing our festivals and sporting and cultural events – we know Territorians love the many vibrant events that occur each year throughout the Territory but we need to do more to attract festival and events goers from interstate.
The Territory Labor Government’s investment in arts and cultural offerings in Alice Springs, Darwin and regional centres – including the $100m Arts Trail initiative – will provide critical new tourism product to attract more visitors from interstate and overseas.
In Alice Springs, early planning is underway on what will become a globally and nationally significant Aboriginal Art Gallery. We have started a conversation with the community on where the art gallery should be located and in 2018 will hit the ground running on the planning, design and construction of this important institution in close consultation with the community.
The Territory Government will invest $600,000 in the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct as part of a Five Point Visitor Experience Action Plan to maximise tourism opportunities in the region. The Precinct is one of only five nationally listed heritage sites in the Northern Territory and is a cornerstone attraction for visitors to the West MacDonnell region.
We also look forward to opening the new Alcoota Megafauna display in the Todd Mall in the middle of next year which will become another great tourism offering for the Red Centre.
As well as attracting tourists from our traditional markets, including the east coast of Australia, Europe and the US, we will continue our efforts to attract tourists from the lucrative Chinese market and encourage their dispersal throughout the Territory.
Tourism is a critical industry for the Northern Territory and the Government has strong plans for attracting more visitors to all regions of the Territory in 2018, supporting local businesses and creating jobs.


  1. Way beyond time that the Macs were properly marketed.
    The views, gorges and ambience are equal or better than King’s Canyon and Ayers Rock.
    The Rock is great but if you can’t climb it, it’s not worth going.
    Larapinta Trail represents massive opportunities to cater for adventure tourists who will be turned off by the over regulated, over priced tourist trap that Uluru has become.

  2. It is no wonder the tourist figures are down, as people can go to Bali cheaper.
    Accomodation rates at Ayres Rock are far too expensive. It’s just not good value to go to Central Australia.
    You have to walk too far to see any attractions. Some places 500m.
    No wheelchair access.
    Food in Alice Springs is expensive and not always fantastic (that’s being nice).
    People also hesitant coming with the youth issues, unsafe and Alice Springs is considered the murder capital of Australia.
    Facilities at Glen Helen and Ross River are pretty poor and to top it off, if you want a cup of tea you have to make it yourself and still charge full price.

  3. When one has been away from Alice for a while, like me, and one comes back on an overpriced flight, one sees it clearly: a town in crisis. Dirty, dangerous, struggling. Expensive too.
    Of course the good old friendly community is still there, but the tourist does not get to experience that.
    What she or he experiences is an ugly town where going out after dark is not an option.
    In the daytime she or he encounters screaming, fighting, etc.
    There’s nothing to see that is uplifting. Empty shops galore.
    Even backpackers, who have saved Alice before, now stay away.
    It has not alway been like this.
    I ran a backpackers hostel between 2006 to 2010. I was nearly always fully booked. I sold just in time. I felt how the town was slowly collapsing.

  4. Just food for thought: Why don’t we have a mardi gras? It is well received in Sydney, why not Alice Springs? It would be a real tourist booster. We have plenty of gay people.

  5. Alice will keep going down in numbers, both visitors and inhabitants, if no long term plan is put in place to revitalize.
    Goodbye Alice as the hub to explore Central Australia as it was the case up to the late 80s.
    However, the town sits on two majors assets that seem to have been ignored: A base camp for nature explorers and related activities, and the world capital for Aboriginal culture.
    We have an exceptionally generous landscape and a unique and still strong culture that could make a difference – but is there any political will in these directions?

  6. Alice will keep going down in non Aboriginal numbers, both visitors and inhabitants, irrespective of a long term plan.
    But absolute numbers could well grow.
    There are many opportunities here including jobs for anyone who wants to work.
    Age is no barrier to employment in our town.
    Demand for education, health, and the trades will grow.
    Schools in the town currently can’t attract sufficient numbers of qualified and experienced teachers from the NT or anywhere in the country.
    There is an influx of new graduates from interstate and before long most teachers will be newly graduated.
    The hospital has taken to recruiting from overseas so cultural diversity will be a strong trend.
    Medical research is booming.
    Tradies will be needed in increasing numbers.
    Car sales will do well.
    Police and security staff will be needed in increasing numbers.
    Our town is inexorably headed for an unsettled future but its not all doom and gloom.

  7. Why does each visitor to Lassiter (inc Uluru and King’s Canyon) spend twice as much on average as each visitor to Alice?
    It’s not just higher prices at Uluru etc, but also different kinds of visitors. E.g. more of the visitors to Alice are visiting and staying with family and friends, so they are not spending on accomodation.
    Also the lower spend in Alice might be because a higher proportion of Alice visitors are young people on working holiday visas, who spend low in order to save money for further travel.
    It’s good to consider the reasons behind the numbers when comparing performance.

  8. Having spent some time in the Mclaren Vale area and surrounding hills is is sad to see what has happened in Alice in their attempts to attract and build tourism compared with what is happening else where in the market.
    Mclaren Vale is bursting with tourism related activity.
    They have a very attractive welcoming facility on the main approach to town, featuring ample parking facilities for both buses and caravans, clean modern toilets, eating, community meeting and other display areas and vibrant displays of everything the district produces, including samples, and where to get them.
    We have very little if any of this. Following this line our centre should have been a custom build facility situated where the welcome rock south of the town and where every visitor either by air or road has to pass as happens in the Vale.
    In May last year in two hours sitting there over 100 people had their photo taken sitting on that rock. There is your market.
    Unfortunately one bus driver pointed out to me that in their haste to construct approaches rock, the entrance is so steep that some buses ground on the approach and so many bypass it.
    The approach has been reactive not pro active by not noticing what is happening elsewhere.
    The main road to Melbourne used to pass through Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills but has been superseded by the freeway.
    Their main street now has been designated as a dedicated tourism zone based on their German heritage-food music crafts etc. and is immensely successful.
    I wondered again, why it could not be copied here from the Mall to the Gap down Gap road.
    An open air Indigenous art mark is so obvious and necessary.
    We used to have the heritage component here but it vanished under shopping centres and is mostly now landfill.
    It is noteworthy that the current CBD was mapped out nearly 100 years ago in response to the needs of the Telegraph Station. Are we really still that far behind in our thinking and is it time for a complete re think?

  9. @ Trevor Shiell: Well said. There is nothing stopping Alice Springs from following some of the successful towns around Australia. I have been travelling around the lower South East of South Australia, Beachport, Robe, Mt Gambler, Penola etc and they are just magnificent.
    I think our Mayor and the tourist committee need to take a road trip to see from themselves.
    I have also spoken to a couple from Sydney and they said that a lot of people try and by pass Alice Springs as it is not a very nice town.

  10. I visited in the middle of a Ghan trip, so stayed a week.
    Had long wanted to visit Alice. Did most tourist things in town, now regret not renting car for near town attractions.
    Loved Uluru and Kata Tjuta but horrified by accommodation costs, three times as much as Alice.
    4WD to Palm Valley well worth day trip too.
    As a Kiwi I missed any real Indigenous people feel of Alice.
    Loved Ghan, maybe a way to incorporate that more into Alice.


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