Sustainable tourism key to Northern Territory’s revival

The Northern Territory’s tourism industry is experiencing a revival, with Skyscanner data revealing a 66.5 per cent surge in bookings to Darwin for March compared to the same period in 2022.

The region’s unique attractions, such as dramatic wet seasons, rich cultural significance and off-the-beaten-path destinations, draw in travellers.

Dr Ulrike Kachel, lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation at Charles Darwin University, told The New Daily that the region’s appeal hinges on sustainability.

“Sustainability is an important aspect of the tourism industry in the Northern Territory,” she said.

“Natural and cultural aspects are the key attractions. There is a wide range of different tours that offer eco-tourism or cultural experiences.”

Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade deputy CEO Scott Lovett told TND that the upcoming tourism season looks promising, with a 21 per cent increase in holiday visitors and $1.36 billion in holiday spending for the year ending September 2022.

“We have started to see the positive flow-on effect to international borders opening with 44,000 international visitors back in the territory,” he said.

Options for tourists

Mr Lovett said the region’s diverse Aboriginal cultures and world heritage-listed national parks are major drawcards.

A First Nations man performs a ritual medicine dance. Photo: Getty

“There are many ways to learn and connect with the diverse Aboriginal cultures found throughout the Top End and Red Centre,” he said.

“Whether it’s taking a guided tour; exploring the galleries and attractions along the Territory Art Trails or by venturing on a road trip through the world heritage-listed national parks of Uluru, Kakadu or further into Arnhem Land.

“Nature and wildlife experiences in the Northern Territory are not to be missed, from camel rides to hot air ballooning in the Red Centre to sailing and cruising in the Top End, including the chance to spot a crocodile in the wild on an adventure boat cruise.”

Dr Kachel said that although most people visit the Northern Territory during the dry season, the wet season has its own appeal.

“The monsoon rains transform the landscape, and nature is buzzing with life, especially in the northern area of the Northern Territory,” she said.

Mr Lovett said tourists could opt for self-touring or guided tours, with epic road trips like the Explorers Way, Nature’s Way, Red Centre Way, and Binns Track.

Fly-stay, fly-drive packages, and rail itineraries on the Ghan are also available.

He said events, such as fabAlice, Parrtjima: A Festival in Light, BASSINTHEGRASS, and Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, offer travellers unforgettable experiences.

COVID response

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northern Territory implemented safety measures to ensure tourists’ wellbeing.

Businesses introduced COVID safety plans, which have become embedded in their operational procedures to reduce and manage the risk of transmission.

Recently, the Northern Territory government implemented national marketing campaigns to draw attention to the region’s distinct offerings and make it an attractive destination for unique experiences.

Challenges, despite the progress

According to ABC News, there has been a 50 per cent drop in caravan park bookings in the region.

Some believe that the decrease in bookings is due to the economic climate, and concerns about crime in the area.

And in February, Qantas announced it was planning to cut another 30,000 seats in and out of the region during the 2023 tourism season.

“We had forecast higher demand on flights to and from Alice Springs and added additional capacity into our schedule, but given that demand hasn’t materialised we are pulling back on some of these additional flights and will use smaller aircraft on some routes,” it said in a statement.

“Despite the changes, we are operating a similar amount of capacity from Alice Springs between April and October as we did at the same time last year.

“Across the Northern Territory, we are actually increasing capacity over the coming months and will be back above our pre-COVID flying by the middle of the year.”

Dr Kachel highlighted the impact of reduced flights on the tourism industry, particularly in Central Australia.

“Every cut in flights affects the tourism industry, and reducing the seat capacity to Central Australia adds to the effect that high ticket prices have already created.

“Particularly for domestic tourism, high travel costs in light of the current inflation will play a role when making travel decisions.”

A woman enjoys relaxing in an idyllic rock pool at Litchfield National Park. Photo: Getty

“The Northern Territory’s tourism industry continues to emerge stronger from the economic impacts of COVID-19, with the NT government focused on creating jobs and prioritising strategies that strengthen the NT’s tourism industry,” Mr Lovett said.

“This will help us achieve our goal of creating a $40 billion economy by 2030.”

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