Grand scheme meets small minds


2440 Guggenheim Bilbao 1
We’ve had a year now of Gunner Government hype about the National Indigenous Art Gallery for Alice Springs, with discussion about thinking big and even the Guggenheim galleries around the world being part of the debate.
Now that we are inching towards realisation of the project – or rather projects, because there are now two – the debate is bogging down in small-town bickering about into which corner we could possibly jam the building and how it could “turbocharge” our tourism industry, rescue our CBD from annihilation, “create jobs” and make our builders happy.
The report from an expert steering committee is being over-ridden by a Chief Minister who vows he will stop South Australia from taking away “our” National Indigenous Art Gallery project – but he is not saying how, probably because he doesn’t know.
2526 tourism 3 stats Peter graph 450Formal public consultation hasn’t even started yet but a location has been picked by Mr Gunner.
Amazingly, the town council still has no policy on the issue. Rather than acting as a main driver of the project, something the befuddled Chief Minister would surely be grateful for, a councillor is calling for extensive community consultation to guide the council’s policy formulation which Mayor Ryan says would need to be initiated through the council’s committee processes.
How come the nine elected representatives of Alice Springs haven’t started that process a year ago?
Make no mistake, if the town gets this one wrong it will continue its slide towards becoming no more than a welfare centre. This is tipping point stuff.
Its leaders will go down in history as the people who let slip the immense potential of this region as a tourist destination.
Sections of the industry and the government break out in hysterical jubilation every time there is a minor uptick in an indicator.
But what they need to look at is how disastrously the town’s tourism has fared in the past dozen years, recover that ground and exceed it: Between 2006 and 2017, the spend by international tourists, CPI corrected, has dropped from $170m to $64m (see graph).
The domestic numbers were released today, and we’ll publish a corresponding graph tomorrow.
[We have requested comment from Tourism Minister Lauren Moss and Tourism Central Australia chairperson Dale McIver.]
UPDATE 5:40pm
Minister Moss provided the following reply:
The combined national and international visitor data results confirm the challenges facing the Territory.
We need to remain competitive – by having a strong destination marketing approach, supporting new tourism attractions and assets, and targeting markets that will deliver strong growth now and into the future.
The Territory Labor Government’s record $103 million Turbocharging Tourism package is providing an immediate stimulus the industry and economy more broadly.
Over the next two years, more money will be inserted into marketing the Territory and our many attractions, more money into enhancing our existing tourism product and creating new ones plus more money into supporting our festivals and events to become exciting tourist offerings.
The Territory Labor Government’s investment into the National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs will attract thousands of visitors from across the globe every year to experience the most significant, striking art this country has ever produced. It will create hundreds of local jobs during construction and create and support hundreds of ongoing jobs once complete – it will deliver significant flow-on benefits to local business.
We promised this gallery and we will deliver – it’s incredibly important for Alice Springs and Central Australia. We have made a $50 million down-payment on the gallery and plan to leverage funding from the Federal Government and private sector to create an incredible new cultural asset and something Aboriginal Australians are proud of.
The new Virgin Australia route between Brisbane and Alice Springs from 19 June 2018 is an exciting early win under our stimulus package and will greatly assist visitation to Alice Springs. The route provides another important new connection point for both domestic and international visitors to the Red Centre.
The Territory Labor Government is focussed on growing Chinese visitation in the NT to support the local tourism industry and create jobs. Donghai Airlines has stated its intention to commence direct flights to Darwin, enabling direct non-stop flights to and from China.  This will deliver both tourism and broader trade outcomes for local businesses.
We know Chinese visitors spend more on average than other visitors – it is an important and lucrative market. The Department of Tourism and Culture has been working collaboratively with the local tourism industry towards becoming a China ready destination.  This includes making available small grants to assist industry with translations and other such material.
I am confident and really excited that direct flights from China will start very soon.
There is more work to be done to support our regions, and we will continue to work closely with the regional tourism organisations to encourage dispersal of visitors.
Tourism is a critical industry for the NT and the Government will continue to invest in attracting more visitors to all regions of the Territory, supporting local businesses and creating jobs.”


  1. Are the numbers of international and domestic visitors available? I suspect that they will show a dramatic drop around the time the Yulara airport opened (~2000). While the 300,000 passengers a year that fly to Yulara are good for the NT, I suspect most of them bypass Alice Springs.
    [ED – Hi Bill, see “Tourism dollars for Alice: not a pretty picture.”]

  2. @ Alex Nelson (Posted March 29, 2018 at 12:21 pm):
    Thanks for the reference.
    I was able to find passenger data for 1985-86 to 2010-2011. Yulara is listed as Ayers Rock in the data table. The first few years Yulara has only about 15% of Alice’s passengers, but by 1995-96 Yulara has grown to a third of Alice’s traffic.
    The ratio stays around a third to the end of the data set in 2010-2011. I suspect almost all of the Yulara traffic is tourists and that only a few of them visit Alice.

  3. Clarification – the percentages I listed in my previous comment are Yulara percent of the total traffic to Alice and Yulara. Comparing the Yulara to Alice traffic shows a growth in Yulara traffic from 17% of Alice’s traffic to over 50% by 1996-97. It fluctuates between 40% and 65% of Alice’s traffic thru the end of the data set.


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