By 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.
Horror numbers in tourism stats, with a hint for a solution
By ERWIN CHLANDA