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Home Issue 2 Education bus tours: Alice slow in grasping opportunity

Education bus tours: Alice slow in grasping opportunity

By JULIUS DENNIS

Educational tour operators say that there are not enough places to stay the night in Alice Springs to meet the “huge influx” of school groups around the June-July and September school holidays.

And tour operators are “slipping through the cracks” of the NT Government’s $16.2m tourism voucher scheme, says Danial Rochford, the CEO of Tourism Central Australia. 

Richard ‘Reg’ Ramsden, owner of Remote Tours which operates out of The Alice, says: “The main problem is the two caravan parks that shut down and were turned into housing estates.”

Mr Ramsden is referring to the Red Centre Resort and the Heavitree Gap caravan parks. 

Previously, these two parks could accommodate at least 10 coaches per night and were open to squeezing a few more in where they could. 

“Nobody’s thought about, ‘we’ve taken away twenty bus bays and we’ve never put anything back,’” says Mr Ramsden.

The lack of spots to stay during the holiday periods is worsened by the fact that many of the parks in and around Alice are “usually too busy with self-drivers or family groups. They don’t have a bus bay or that type of set up”.

This leaves the MacDonnell Range Caravan Park, which can fit seven coaches a night, and a few lesser suited parks around town to bear the brunt of the rushes.

When there is nowhere to spend the night in town, tours often head to Ross River or Glen Helen Gorge, taking their business away from Alice Springs. 

Geoff Vickers, CEO of Bayside Coaches, a company which usually brings around 40 tours of 40 to 50 visitors, most of whom are students, through Alice annually also laments the closure of the two parks. 

“Mac Range is a great facility, but at times is just smashed and overrun trying to do the right thing and fit in all the groups,” says Mr Vickers. 

Mr Ramsden says that it is affecting his business’s ability to take on more tours after a quiet 2020.

“It’s affecting my business. I can take on groups who don’t want to go to Alice Springs, but they all want to come to Alice Springs.”

Tourism Central Australia has circled educational tourism as something of a saviour for the industry, as well as a central building block for the industry into the future. For that to happen, Mr Ramsden says infrastructure needs to be put in place.

“We can’t wait until the eleventh hour for things to happen. We need to make sure that we can cater for these school groups that want to come and utilise the museums and stuff.

“Maybe the bus tours from down south died down for a while but they are gonna pick up big time if we are allowed to bring people into the Territory.”

Mr Vickers agrees, especially in light of private schools and universities being unable to travel overseas for the foreseeable future.

“In theory, this [Central Australia] could be a great alternative.”

Mr Rochford says TCA has been “advocating for the past few months with government on this issue.

“At the end of the day there are sites around Alice Springs that could be repurposed to support this market, and if there are avenues to do that then TCA would warmly welcome that.

“In the next 10 years, we want to own educational tourism in Australia.

“We want to see the backbone of our tourism industry being educational tourism.”

Also at the forefront of the CTA agenda is finding a way to support tour operators who have not seen any flow-on effects of the government’s tourism voucher scheme which offers up to $200 off trips at least 400 kilometres from your home. 

“The tourism vouchers have not been at all beneficial for our tour operators for the simple reason that most Territorians are using their own vehicles.

“We have said to government since day one that this is the case,” says Mr Rochford.

Mr Ramsden says: “They were never designed to help tour bus companies.”

Mr Ramsden, with the help of his friend Ray Rowe, submitted an additional plan that would help educational tour operators, to local industry players prior to the 2020 Territory election.

The plan, which was estimated to cost roughly $1.47m, was for travel  “vouchers [to be]  issued to every Grade 6 (or Grade 7, 8, 9) student in Alice Springs for an all-inclusive, fully supervised three-day tour to the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park.

The vouchers — similar to back to school and sports vouchers already in use in the Territory — were costed at $360 and would have been “no burden on parents, either financial, in time, or organisational.

“It inspires and promotes wonder in our young, future citizens, and promotes harmony and understanding in the people and attractions of the region in which they live.”

For remote and regional students trips to Alice Springs could visit the School of the Air, RFDS, The Reptile Centre, Earth Sanctuary, Araluen Arts Centre, Megafauna Central and Art Galleries – a magical experience for these kids to experience what opportunities are available if they continue their education.

The plan also points out that both the itinerary and infrastructure are already in place, in Alice Springs, and could be replicated for other regions around the Territory. 

The proposed plan, however pragmatic, has received little recognition.

PHOTOS: Facebook, School of the Air, a must-see in an educational tour of Alice Springs.

Last updated 21 January 2021, 3.22pm.

 

UPDATE January 29, 5.30pm

Arts Minister and Member for Gwoja Chansey Paech says that “there needs to be a holistic approach,” to finding accomodations and camping arrangements for educational tours in Alice Springs, especially as the opportunities that could arise from a National Aboriginal Art Gallery boom. 

Mr Paech says “having something like this in the heart of the country, we need to be looking at the educational tourism opportunities of bringing schools and having them participate.
“Educational tourism is going to be a major path for Central Australia, certainly now and into the future, so we need to look at how we support that.

 

“It’s not about when the gallery is built, it’s about how do we immediately look at the mechanisms to support it.”

 

Places for these tours, and ones that are already keen on coming to Alice without the gallery, is something that has apparently been “flagged” with the Tourism Minister and is “something that would have to undergo more work.”

 

According to Mr Paech, there are a range of options for projects going forward, and he believes there should be a focus on organising something with Aboriginal organisations and/or Lhere Artepe.

 

Of the currently recommended location for tours to stay when they cannot book other accommodation, Blatherskite Park, Mr Paech says: “Blatherskite park is a wonderful community facility, and we acknowledge that there is work to be done around the smelling occasionally of the sewerage plant.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe get together with the Council and Government to look at setting up Treager Park, Anzac Oval and Racecourse as temporary mass campsites specifically for the coach tour group market during that peak period.

  2. So what’s new? Housing estates where there used to be spaces to promote what is possible here and very much including tourism of various forms? I shudder at Kilgariff, and what could have been on display there to promote agricultural development here, and this was in spite of a strategic alliance available with the Indian Government to promote food production assistance.
    A M Goundar was the High Commissioner at the time, subsequently taken up by Victoria.
    The vested interests mainly in real estate have a lot to answer for with short term transitional gains. Now looking at agricultural developments north of the town, what a huge waste of a potential agricultural billboard at ASRI, advertising what is possible here.
    Many years go, as chair of St Mary’s, we put together a project to cater for educational and eco tourism groups from interstate at St Mary’s village or even further south.
    The Anglican Diocese spent lots on a consultancy which was completely ignored by Government on various grounds including the flooding effect of St Mary’s Creek, in spite of having talks with Paul Everingham on the possibilities.
    The list of lost opportunities here is endless and will continue to be so unfortunately.
    There is still no really long term vision.The concept of outback tourism is great.
    I once ran a small tour company to regional art centres and could not keep up with the demand until my clients found that buying on the internet was cheaper!

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