Northern Australia is home to many iconic locations that attract millions of tourists from across Australia and the world. Uluru in the Northern Territory, the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, and Broome with its unique pearls in Western Australia are all world-renowned tourism destinations, but only scratch the surface of what Northern Australia’s tourism industry has to offer.
In 2014 the Committee’s predecessor, the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, released its report Pivot North: Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia (Pivot North). Pivot North presented an overarching examination of challenges to, and opportunities for, economic growth and development in Northern Australia.
In 2016, the predecessor Committee inquired into opportunities to expand the aquaculture industry. This Committee has now turned its focus to examining ways to stimulate the tourism industry in Northern Australia. The tourism industry presents a major opportunity to support the long term economic and social development of the north and thereby contribute to the sustainability of a large number of remote and regional communities.
Pivot North identified tourism as a significant opportunity for developing Northern Australia. The Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, released in 2015, similarly identified tourism and hospitality as one of the ‘five industry pillars that play to Australia’s strengths and have the most potential for growth.’
The tourism industry already makes a significant contribution to the employment and economy of the north. In 2014-2015, over 17 million tourists visited Northern Australia and spent over $9.9 billion. At the same time, Northern Australia only attracts a small proportion of overall visits to Australia. In 2013-2014, approximately 9.3 per cent of international overnight stays and 12.7 per cent of domestic overnight stays were in Northern Australia. This suggests that there may be opportunities to expand the tourism industry to support increased visitation and expenditure across the north.
In order to stimulate tourism growth in Northern Australia, the Committee identified a need to increase visitor awareness of Northern Australian tourism destinations; improve access to the north, and between major tourism attractions; and support the tourism industry to develop products, experiences and attractions on the ground that tourists will want to visit time and again. As such, the Committee has made recommendations which focus on marketing coordination, upgrading transport and telecommunications infrastructure, streamlining regulatory processes for tourism businesses, and enhancing the planning and coordination of tourism destinations and attractions across the north.
Northern Australia’s pristine and diverse natural environment and rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture are unique to the tourism industry in the north. In addition, many tourists find that the best way to experience Northern Australia’s outback is via road, and tourism businesses in regional and remote areas often rely heavily on ‘grey nomads’ driving through. Harnessing these strengths by enhancing existing, and developing new, cultural, nature-based and drive tourism experiences may stimulate increased visitation, and support the economies and sustainable employment in regional and remote areas of Northern Australia.
A large proportion of the tourism industry in Northern Australia is made up of small to medium sized businesses, many of which are family owned and operated. The government provides support to these businesses and the tourism industry more broadly through programs including the Northern Australian Tourism Initiative. The Committee has made recommendations to ensure these government programs continue to meet the needs of the tourism industry in Northern Australia, by expanding eligibility requirements to allow access for smaller businesses and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, as well as increasing the range of services available.
Uluru is one of the most recognisable and iconic attractions in Australia. Uluru is also a sacred site for the local Anangu people. In November 2017, the Board of Management of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park announced that climbing up Uluru would no longer be allowed, a decision which was welcomed by the Committee. This development presents an opportunity to create new and authentic cultural tourism experiences in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and other tourism attractions that have the agreement and involvement of traditional owners. While temporary, the Field of Light exhibition is one example of a tourism attraction at Uluru that is already drawing increased visitation.
The Committee travelled to a range of destinations across the north, to ensure local businesses and organisations had the opportunity to present their views in person. This involved holding hearings and inspections in the Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs), which had previously been identified as having the potential to expand its tourism offerings. Despite this potential, the remoteness of the IOTs and limited tourism infrastructure creates challenges to tourism development. The Committee has made recommendations specific to the IOTs to address these specific challenges and capitalise on the untapped opportunities for tourism in this region.
I would like to thank the individuals, businesses, organisations and government agencies who participated in this inquiry. In particular, the Committee appreciated the contribution of small tourism operators who took precious time away from their businesses to write submissions, host Committee inspections, and appear at public hearings. I would also like to thank my Committee colleagues for their participation in this inquiry and ongoing contribution to the development of Northern Australia.
Hon Warren Entsch MP