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HomeIssue 34'Once in 50 years opportunity' for tourism in The Centre

‘Once in 50 years opportunity’ for tourism in The Centre


COVID-19 is giving Central Australia has a “once in 50 years” opportunity to capture Australian tourists who – for a limited time – cannot go overseas.

This morning 70 operators are meeting in Alice Springs to work out how they can make this happen.

They will be deciding on five major projects to add to the national Aboriginal art gallery and the sealing of the Mereenie Loop – part of the east-west Outback Way – both of which have already been identified.

The loop was on on former Chief Minister Clare Martin’s list of promises 30 years ago, one speaker said, but it doesn’t seem to have made it onto any candidate’s list for the election this week.

The operators, big and small, are members or intending members of Tourism Central Australia, the industry lobby under new management by chairman Patrick Bedford (Emu Run) and CEO Danial Rochford.

For a period that will end no-one knows when, Aussies looking for the “great ancient Anglo Saxon tour of Europe” are missing out but they “can do the Red Centre,” said Tony Edmonstone, CEO of NT Airports at the opening of the summit.

Competition for that market around Australia will be fierce, he said, from the reef to the Kimberleys, and cooperation by the operators will be vital, cobbling together five to seven day tours, aiming for outstanding quality of accommodation and experiences.

Mr Bedford said the objective is to entice people going to The Rock – now inevitably the main attraction – to make their way via the West MacDonnells to Alice Springs instead turning back after visiting King’s Canyon.

Mr Rochford said the whole industry will need to “hunt as a pack in marketing and advocating” avoiding a “fractured” approach, and making it clear to the government that this will be a bottom-up initiative.

The decisions will be made by the members and there won’t be any consultants.


  1. “One speaker” clearly doesn’t know his or her recent Territory history – Clare Martin wasn’t Chief Minister 30 years ago, it was Marshall Perron; and it was the Perron Government who commissioned Horwath and Horwath to “study” the tourism potential of Central Australia.
    The report was released on 16 November 1989 and found “Central Australia could rival Sydney, the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays and north Queensland” focussing on the west MacDonnell Ranges.
    “The key to the proposed development would be a tourist circuit ring-road linking major attractions and allowing tourists to visit Alice Springs, Glen Helen, Kings Canyon and Yulara on a round trip.
    “The report states the ring-road would mean increased tourists to the Centre – more than 500,000 by 1990-91 and 1.3 million by the year 2000” (Centralian Advocate, 17/11/89).
    Marshal Perron was more sanguine: “Although the Territory Government has endorsed the report in principle and says it has ‘exciting implications’ for Central Australia, Mr Perron said it would be a ‘long time’ before the proposal became a reality.
    “The cost implications for the Government are very heavy, he said.
    “Upgrading and sealing the loop between Yulara and Alice Springs has been estimated at $12m and it would cost another $18m to seal the road between Angus Downs and Larapinta Drive.
    “He said the Government would also have to develop a plan of management in consultation with Aboriginal owners and pay close attention to conservation issues.
    “Because of the numerous sacred sites and areas of significance next to the main circuit route, a plan of management would have to be developed in conjunction with the traditional Aboriginal owners, he said.
    “The plan would also look at conserving the natural values of the region and researching the impact of the development on the natural environment.
    “Mr Perron said this was essential because the area’s natural features were the key to attracting visitors to the Centre.” (Advocate, 17/11/89).
    This report happened to be released during the height of the national pilots’ strike that crippled the Territory’s tourism industry, soon afterwards followed by a slowing national economy that led to the “recession we had to have” of 1991.
    Not only are we no better off now, the situation is substantially worse.
    The Territory’s economy has gone down the toilet, and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    There’s no capacity to study the environmental implications because all research institutes and facilities in the Centre have been emasculated under NT Government rule.
    The only thing that goes in loops around here is our history; but, like the proverbial goldfish in a bowl, every time we come back to the same position we marvel in unison: “Oh, what a beautiful scene. We haven’t seen that before!”


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