Push to reignite Uluru tourism after downturn

Tourism operators at one of Australia’s most iconic landmarks are pushing to bring visitors back to the region after years of downturn since the pandemic.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory hosted 164,678 tourists in the first nine months of 2023 compared to more than 300,000 in 2017, according to Parks Australia.

Chief executive of Voyages, the area’s main accommodation provider, Matthew Cameron-Smith, said the wait continues for international tourism to fully return.

“Part of that is that the Japanese market hasn’t bounced back,” he said.

“But the US and UK markets are doing exceptionally well. About 25 per cent of our visitors now are international, when it should be 50 per cent.”

Mr Cameron-Smith said foreign tourists typically made up half of the region’s visitors before the pandemic.

More than 400,000 people visited Uluru in 2019, with many spurred on by the impending closure of Uluru’s climb that October.

This figure plummeted to less than 100,000 in 2020 with the park closed for several months and state and international borders impacted for almost two years.

Mr Cameron-Smith said the region, which is owned by the Indigenous Anangu people and leased to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, is almost entirely reliant on visitors.

“Travel’s been a bit tough since COVID, tough for travel operators, tough for airlines, tough for everybody,” he said.

“And re-starting again takes a lot more than it does to stop. It’s hard to start again.”

Virgin Australia, in partnership with the Northern Territory government, has now become the latest carrier to ferry tourists from capital cities to the red centre.

The flights will inject more than 62,000 seats per year to the region and run to and from Brisbane three times and Melbourne four times per week from Thursday, June 6.

Historically the spot has been a tourism hub since a base camp to the west of the Uluru climb was established in the early 1950s.

This led to leases being granted for a hotel, four motels, a store, and a service station near the rock in 1959.

Ayers Rock, as it was then known, was declared a national park in 1950 before being renamed Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park in 1977.

On October 26, 1985, following decades of campaigning, Anangu were recognised as the Traditional Owners after living in the region for more than 20,000 years.

However, a government agreement required Anangu to lease the park to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for 99 years.

The year before, Ayers Rock Resort opened and expanded accommodation options for tourists at Uluru, becoming the main provider in the region.

The reporter was a guest of Virgin Australia and Ayers Rock Resort, Uluru.


Holly Hales
(Australian Associated Press)



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