Operators propose developments to boost Alice tourism



A “range height adventure” centre offering a skywalk, cable car, walking and bike trails, the longest zip line in the world, paragliding, bungee jumping plus a restaurant and bar has been chosen by some 70 people attending a local tourism summit today as the most favoured project to re-invigorate the industry after COVID-19.

No location for the venture was proposed although long-time tourism identity Steve Shearer, who promoted the idea, said there could be “issues” with placing it on the ranges close to town.

The second of five choices was a “national steam train experience” that would use the new Ghan railway line, with a third rail to accomodate a narrow-gauge steam train, between the airport and the town. It would bring the Flying Scotsman back to Alice, said promoter Wayne Thompson.

He said some of the Old Ghan running stock could be used, and as the main facility – the railway track and sleepers – are already in place the cost would be less than a “greenfield project”.

A cultural precinct linking the Telegraph Station, the Todd River and educational facilities came third, connected with a light show and the planned Aboriginal art gallery.

Turning Central Australia into the “number one knowledge destination in Australia” is in fourth place.

Tying for sixth place were “an iconic 6-star or above accommodation experience that champions sustainability and in-landscape design in the West MacDonnell Ranges” and “the Red Centre lights up with a smorgasbord of iconic night time experiences which take in the ancient culture, arts, science and history”.

The choices were made by progressively eliminating some 200 ideas raised at successive workshops.

The summit was held by Tourism Central Australia which will now compile a discussion paper for comment by its members and “probably” also the public.

CEO Danial Rochford says the decisions will be presented to the NT Government and Tourism NT as the “views of our members”.

A parallel process of “destination planning” is under way by Tourism NT which did not attend today’s meeting because the government is in caretaker mode ahead of Saturday’s election, said Mr Rochford.

There was a strong view that tourism accommodation is needed in the West MacDonnells, that more night entertainment and activities should be developed in the town and that a tourism trade school is needed for Aboriginal workers and Indigenous guides.

Long-time operator Danny Brennan spoke of the prime period of tourism when Alice was the gateway to The Rock, when companies despatched 50 to 60 coaches a day and six to seven Mercedes Unimog 4WDs to Palm Valley.

Among the unusual suggestions today were a simulated ocean beach, a full-size replica of Uluru on Alice Springs airport land, to locate the proposed Aboriginal art gallery in the West Macs, dam the Todd for recreation, build a cattlemen’s hall of fame and create a 4WD track between Uluru and King’s Canyon.

PICTURED from left: Lisa Perry, Margaret Cain, Grant Whan and Susan Chambers during a workshop.


Related reading:

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


  1. Rejuvenate Tourism in Central Australia? We all wish it could and would happen.
    But first assess who are the potential visitors who may come to Central Australia, and when.
    1) When? After COVID-19. This would give us a couple of years for the development of new projects.
    2) Who? The young ones, backpackers and students, do not have many dollars to spend but they would love the exciting set of physical experiences stated above; granted.
    3) The grey nomads and retirees who may have some $$$ to spend will not go on “walking and bike trails, the longest zip line in the world, paragliding, bungee jumping” but they may enjoy the restaurant and bar in some “iconic six stars accommodation” (if personnel is properly trained at l’Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, which goes with the six stars expectations).
    4) A “smorgasbord of iconic night time experiences which take in the ancient culture, arts, science and history”?
    Please do not put ancient culture as a dish among others in the smorgasbord of tourist night time experiences.
    In my view, culture is not up for quick sale – like an expired “use by date” merchandise.
    I find it offensive to the first people of this land who would be proud to tell the world how their culture, art and history has survived the last 50,000 years challenges.
    Push rather for the establishment of an Aboriginal Culture Center next to the – not so iconic by now – National Aboriginal Art Gallery, where art and culture can become the major attraction of the beating heart of our nation, Central Australia.
    5) LAST BUT NOT LEAST, negotiate to re-open a QANTAS office in Alice Springs. This would boost tourism more than a choo-choo train from the airport to town.
    I am far from being a tourism expert, but a couple of new projects should not neglect the beautiful East MacDonnell ranges as well as West.

  2. The biggest impediments to any development in this town are native title and AAPA.
    Costs extra dollars for approval for any major development.

  3. Why on earth does “ancient culture” need to be a out on it’s own? This approach is so narrow and disrespectful to everyone who work damn hard to provide a range of experiences to visitors to the region!
    How disrespectful to the visitors who have the right to be able to pick and chose the experiences they wish to enjoy? A smorgasboard is EXACTLY what we need to offer.
    The region needs to stop this ongoing focus on Indigenous culture only. Central Australia is a lot more than just one experience and to our detriment there has been the only selling point for a generation.
    Surprisingly! Visitors to the region want a range of options, they want to see the depth and width of experiences.
    They don’t like to be sold a mismatch of what they are expected to want. Not everyone is interested in Indigenous culture. Not everyone cares.
    Some want the geology story, some want the explorer story, some want the art story – ALL art – not just one segment. Some want the bird story, the innovation story, the wide open space story.
    Why would we want to continue to encourage visitors to the region for a “cultural” experience and then expose those visitors to filth and disrespect and criminal behaviour that takes place by the Indigenous residents of the region in our towns. And before you go apeshit, yes, white people commit crimes as well, but it is the truth that the vast majority of criminal activities in Alice / Tennant Creek, at the moment, are perpetrated by Aboriginal people.
    Addressing these issues is more important than any art gallery.

    My culture is also important. Culture is not a word or a reality that is owned by just one part of the community. Maybe visitors would like to hear my story as well!

  4. Again we have failed to notice what is happening around us.
    No one asks why the commercial fast food outlets in town are so commercially successful and popular and then apply that thinking to the tourism industry.
    They all rely on vehicle access to market their services.
    This implies traffic flow through and parking access for vehicles.
    Our visitors centre has none of these. A few years ago I sat at the “Welcome to Alice” rock south of town for two hours, watched, and talked to the visitors.
    In that time 102 people were photographed sitting on that rock. I took many of their photos for them.
    Some years ago the ABC program “Australia all over” surveyed their audience on what travellers expected from a visitors centre. The response was unanimous: Clean toilets and ample parking.
    Mclaren Vale set the tone. Ours again has non of these.
    I still ask myself where were the tourism promotional bodies on that day? It would be so easy to build a road from there to the Transport Hall of Fame and have an interception centre there with adequate parking for buses, and cars and servicing the whole of the NT directing visitors to where you want the economic activity to be centered, as well as exposing one of our best assets.
    Then add to that a cultural centre in conjunction with Yirrara students and Desert Knowledge and you have a world shattering cluster of tourism related assets.
    Then add a fast charging service for the flood of electric vehicles coming just as Queensland has done with their solar highway. They encourage caravans short term parking there with an electric shuttle bus to get them into town to the features and do their shopping without the hindrances of towing a caravan, just as Winton has done, and get them back on a regular service.
    The problem of caravans in the CBD is only going to get worse and it is sad to see caravans creating dangerous situations in town because the town was never designed for them.
    Re attractions, there are many short one day walks spinning up all over the country but very few encouraged here.
    The Fleureo walks around Southern Onkaparinga, Flinders Ranges and the Margaret River short walks in WA are a prime example as are the Wauringa Shire walks in NSW.
    Anzac Hill is a sometime disgrace with a complete lack of disregard for the geological history they see from up there and accommodating creature comforts. How many people here, let alone tourists, know of the Larapinta Seaway and its influence on the country or what they are looking at?
    On one occasion I finished with a audience of about 50 strangers while attempting to explain the geology of what they were looking at to friends.
    The other night I noticed an additional seat for three people when the crowd was about 30! Small things like that matter. There are other aspects of the hill apart from war.
    In Japan a few years ago I watched a senior school 100 km relay in Nagoya (I think) in 10km stages and immediately thought of such a race here from Hermansburg to Alice including Rob De Costellas Indigenous group.
    It had an estimated TV audience of 80 million viewers. How much would it cost to get that publicity if we had to pay for it?. When it was mentioned here it fell on disinterested ears.
    WE BADLY need to broaden our vision.

  5. “Long-time operator Danny Brennan spoke of the prime period of tourism when Alice was the gateway to The Rock, when companies despatched 50 to 60 coaches a day and six to seven Mercedes Unimog 4WDs to Palm Valley.”
    Yep, this was back in the late 80s, early to mid 90s hey-day, when the vast majority of people heading to The Rock flew into Alice Springs Airport first. And stayed the night before then heading down to The Rock.
    Then made their way down to The Rock by hire car, bus, coach, small plane etc.
    That was totally changed when Ayers Rock Airport was redeveloped and the airstrip lengthened and upgraded to services national and international flights in the late 90s.
    ALice has never been the same since, as all those people who once travelled via Alice to get to the Rock, now fly right over the top of Alice on their direct in-and-out return flights.
    The story’s similar to the little old remote town which used to be on the “old highway” and was doing OK.
    But is now no longer on the highway as the new bigger “motorway” takes all those travellers, and the economic benefits which came with them, past them in the blink of an eye.
    You want Alice to recover?
    A) Make (yep, NT legislate) that “direct” flights to The Rock from overseas and interstate are are 30%+ dearer than directly into and out of Alice. Or
    B) Place a surcharge on travel to The Rock destination which makes it cheaper to come through Alice … and those hey-days will return.
    The tourists (some very rich international ones) will still come as The Rock is a tourist magnet, no matter how much it costs to get there and back.
    And if there’s no actual cost increase, only that you need to fly into and out of Alice to get there at current, same cost, well, so be it.

  6. @ Confused: I think your suggestions are quite valid. Perhaps the airstrip upgrade was a secret deal the with Government and Voyages. Perhaps it “resolved” a very simple but embarrassing subject, and that was the escalating anti-social behaviour in Alice.
    Bypassing Alice and going direct to The Rock, still had the benefits of dollars coming into the Territory, but that would have ceased if people came direct to Alice and then traversed to The Rock. Perhaps the reality was that if they came to Alice and experienced the anti social behaviour, they may not have explored The Rock at all and left immediately.
    Perhaps the government did a weigh up and figured the income from The Rock exceeded the income from Alice and agreed to extend the airstrip.
    Judging by the way the government has been ignoring Alice since the early 90s, one could think that the bypassing will continue.
    It’s all very well to say bitumise the roads. People assume it’s to help people get here, but it also could be to help them get away too.

  7. @ Surprised! There was no apparent anti-social type behaviour back in the late 80s and 90s that I can recall, the likes of what we see today anyway.
    That was because the Mall and CBD, and the hospitality venues and town in general was thriving and bustling with tourists.
    Once these tourists started flying over the top of Alice, and the streets at night became less and less bustling because of such, the desolate Mall and CBD have since been taken over by the current mob who don’t go to school and wander around all night as they apparently have nothing to do.
    I think the direct flights to The Rock was envisaged and anticipated to bring more tourists to both Alice and The Rock.
    That, unfortunately, has not happened, and whilst The Rock (and Voyages and the Mutijulu Traditional owners) still thrive (or did so before Covid 19 hit the world), Alice has not, and probably will never again do so, like those old 80s/90s hey-days, unless this current “high in the sky overpass” is restricted.


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