Australia's north yet to tap tourism market | Asia Pacific

Australia's north yet to tap tourism market

Australia's north yet to tap tourism market

Updated 23 May 2012, 23:06 AEST

Tourism Australia says the Northern Territory needs to make sure its travel products are geared to the growing number of visitors from Asia.

Visitor numbers to the territory's major attractions of Uluru and Kakadu have been declining for several years.

The director of National Parks has told senate estimates that visitor numbers to Uluru fell 19 per cent last financial year.

Qantas has also announced plans to cut its flights to Uluru and Darwin.

Correspondent: Sara Everingham

Speakers: Two tourists to Northern Territory; Peter Cochrane, director of national parks, NT; Koos Klein, managing director, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia; Andrew McEvoy, managing director, Tourism Australia

EVERINGHAM: The dry season has arrived in Darwin and the tourism season has begun. Libby Bate and Mary Horgan are both here from regional Victoria.

TOURIST 1: And I wanted to see Kakadu Park so I'm going there on Saturday before I go across to Cairns.

TOURIST 2: I suppose we hear so much about it; when you think of Darwin you naturally think of Kakadu don't you; so I just want to have a look for myself, to see - I'm sure it's going to be beautiful.

EVERINGHAM: But tourist numbers to places such as Kakadu and Uluru have been on a downward trend for several years.

The director of national parks Peter Cochrane told Senate Estimates yesterday visitor numbers to the two parks have been declining since a peak around the Sydney Olympics.

COCHRANE: So if I can give you the hard numbers, if you like, for Kakadu, last financial year 2010/2011, compared to the previous year our numbers were down about 16 per cent. At Uluru with the same comparison, 2010/11 financial year with the previous year, they were down 19 per cent. Now those are generally reflective of numbers of the experience in the Territory.

EVERINGHAM: Today Qantas announced plans to halve its flights between Uluru and Cairns and its flights between Perth and Uluru will be suspended indefinitely. It also announced Jetstar services between Darwin and Sydney and Darwin and Bali would be reduced.

It says the impact of the high Australian dollar on the inbound tourism market has had a significant impact on the performance of the services.

The company that operates the resort at Uluru is Voyages. Koos Klein the managing director from Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.

KLEIN: The seat capacity would reduce somewhere around maybe 15 per cent, because the main route is of course Sydney and that's where the bulk of the business is coming from. And in the case of Cairns, that route doesn't fall away, it's just halving the capacity. So anyone from Cairns wanting to go to Ayers Rock doesn't lose the opportunity to come, they will just instead of having the choice of two flights per day they will have one flight a day.

EVERINGHAM: But Voyages says it won't be long before visitor numbers to Uluru start to climb back up. It says it's to tap into the growing number of tourists visiting Australia from Asia, in particular China.

It's a strategy applauded by Andrew McEvoy, the managing director of Tourism Australia. He says there needs to be more of it in the Northern Territory.

MCEVOY: Places like Uluru and Kakadu are no different to a lot of the industry where capital city Australia's doing quite well and regional Australia is struggling a bit.

For Uluru itself I think it's a mix of a decline in domestic business and also a decline in probably the traditional long-haul markets that they've relied on like the UK, like Europe and the Americans as well. And there was all those issues in Japan and Japan - the Japanese were good visitors to that part of the world.

So the market's they've relied on has struggled a bit and they're not yet at the point of attracting the big Asian business which is growing exponentially for Australia.

EVERINGHAM: And why is that?

MCEVOY: It's a product thing. I think it's very much been built for perhaps the more intrepid traveller - someone who will go more regionally and that largely is Australians, Europeans, Americans.

Our Asian visitors, China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Singapore will do it, but I do think that there needs to be product and experience changes out there. More cultural understanding, more language, better experiences for the Asian traveller.

EVERINGHAM: The question is just how long it will be before large numbers of tourists from Asia are visiting places such as Kakadu and Uluru.

Andrew McEvoy again.

MCEVOY: I think it can happen in the next two or three years if the product is right, if there is good marketing and distribution and importantly if there's air access to these places.

EVERINGHAM: The Northern Territory's tourism minister Malarndirri McCarthy was not available for an interview.

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