While there are challenges associated with developing the tourism industry in Northern Australia, there are also significant opportunities that, with commitment and investment, can enable the tourism industry to reach its full potential. Northern Australia’s rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, coupled with increasing demand for cultural tourism experiences, presents a unique tourism opportunity for the north. Tourism may also serve as an additional source of employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in regional and remote areas.
As well as cultural tourism, Northern Australia’s abundance of pristine natural landscapes attract both domestic and international tourists. Improving tourist infrastructure within national parks and facilitating private investment can stimulate the development of ecotourism.
Drive tourism is another major tourism sector for Northern Australia. Creating scenic drive routes, improving roadside facilities and coordinating the regulation of hire vehicles across state and territory borders may boost drive tourism, particularly the ‘grey nomad’ market.
While cultural, nature based and drive tourism are well-known strengths of tourism in the north, industrial and educational tourism are two emerging markets that could stimulate further growth in the tourism industry.
The Committee visited the Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs) to hear from local stakeholders about how tourism could support the economy of this remote region. Challenges to the growth of the tourism industry on the IOTs included cabotage restrictions, freight issues and a lack of tourism infrastructure, investment, and telecommunication connectivity.
The Committee also visited Hamilton Island in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Debbie to hear from tourism operators about how they responded to challenges associated with the cyclone, and what opportunities there were to grow tourism in the Whitsunday region. Great Keppel Island formed another case study and highlighted the positive impact a tourism development can have on an entire tourism region.
The Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council (WAITOC) stated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism was ‘a key point of difference for attracting people to the north’. The Northern Territory Department of Tourism and Culture (NT DTC) agreed and stated that ‘demand has been growing each year for Indigenous experiences in the NT and in Northern Australia.’
The WAITOC advised that tourism also has benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as it ‘allows Aboriginal people to contribute unique products to markets while still maintaining and valuing the Aboriginal cultural heritage of individuals, communities and language groups’.
Despite this potential, the Office of Northern Australia stated that there appeared to be ‘a lack of support for Indigenous tourism businesses that wish to develop’, and that challenges for Indigenous businesses included ‘remoteness, infrastructure, cost of travel and workforce capacity.’ Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) advised that an additional challenge was ‘low awareness about the availability of Indigenous tourism experiences, both amongst domestic and inbound tourists.’
Indigenous-led Approach to Tourism Development
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism Peak Body
The WAITOC advised that there was a need for an Aboriginal tourism body both for Northern Australia and nationally. Ninti One Limited agreed and advised that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism sector had been ‘voicing the need for such a peak body for several years.’
Ninti One outlined the benefits of creating representative bodies at these levels and stated:
Such a platform is needed to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have an appropriate opportunity to voice their perspectives, needs, plans and outlook for tourism in Northern Australia … opportunities and methods for stimulating the tourism industry in Northern Australia need to be driven by parties that include a strong, appropriately representative voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism operators.
Development of a Cultural Tourism Strategy
The Northern Land Council (NLC) stated that a shift in public policy is needed to ‘place Indigenous people in the driver’s seat’ for the development of tourism. The NLC advised that currently, land councils ‘just respond to third-party interests and it’s very difficult to see what countrymen want.’ To this end, the NLC recommended an Indigenous tourism strategy be developed and stated:
We need an Indigenous tourism strategy that is created by Aboriginal people and explores a range of products—for example, high-end and world-class to localised family based tourism products. This Indigenous tourism strategy would fit within a broader Indigenous prospectus for developments so that it is transparent and investor-friendly. And we need to restructure the way governments, [the Indigenous Land Corporation] and IBA invest their money and support projects and business.
In addition to calling for a peak representative body for Indigenous tourism, the IBA stated that developing ‘clusters’ of Indigenous businesses and products in remote locations can aid success. To achieve this, the IBA advised that coordination and collaboration between Indigenous tourism operators would need to be facilitated.
Parks Australia raised a similar proposition in relation to tourism businesses in the Kakadu region and stated:
A regional or hub approach to supporting Indigenous businesses in the Kakadu region including administration and booking systems could encourage more businesses to be established and make them more sustainable.
Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY), the development company which represents the Yawuru community in Broome, advocated for the development of a long-term regional tourism plan for the Broome region. The NBY recommended this be developed by the government and native title holders as ‘equal partners.’ The NBY further stated that taking a regional focus would ensure the unique challenges of a local area were addressed.
Research and Investment
The NBY stated that establishing a research centre to examine barriers to, and incentives for, development on Aboriginal land could assist in attracting investment. The NBY stated:
… a cooperative research centre for northern Aboriginal development [is] worthwhile considering, as is establishing [a] research and development institute that is able to facilitate engagement in the north between Aboriginal interests and business, in terms of looking at physical reform and policy issues that might look at leveraging some tax reform measures for attracting investment on Aboriginal land.
The WAITOC advised that, if cultural tourism was to increase, there would need to be a role for the government in increasing ‘the level of respect and understanding for the experience that people are gaining through Aboriginal tourism or visiting Aboriginal traditional lands.’ As part of this, it was suggested that an accredited training process for tour guides who are speaking about, or working on, Aboriginal land, could be implemented. Further, the WAITOC emphasised the importance of enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to tell their own stories.
The Cassidy Hospitality Group advised that the tourism sector has had ‘an appalling track record of engagement with our Indigenous populations’. The Cassidy Hospitality Group advised that any future tourism development must include engagement ‘at the very early stages with elders and different stakeholders within the Aboriginal communities’.
Box 6.1: Climbing Uluru
Currently, visitors to Uluru are allowed to climb to the top of Uluru, although traditional owners request that tourists do not climb it out of respect. Parks Australia advised that the number of visitors who want to climb Uluru has fallen significantly over the years, and is currently at around 20 per cent.
On 1 November 2017, the Board of Management of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park announced that the climb up Uluru would close from 26 October 2019.
There are other tourism attractions which have been established at Uluru that currently attract both domestic and international visitors who also visit Uluru. These include the ‘Field of Light’ night garden, an art installation on display until 2020. Parks Australia stated that the ‘Field of Light’ exhibition at Uluru ‘has really boosted [visitor] numbers year-on-year.’
The Larrakia Development Corporation (LDC) advised that cultural centres can enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to ‘not only maintain their culture, but to share it with others.’ Recommendations put forward by inquiry participants regarding cultural centres included:
Establishing a cultural centre in Darwin: The LDC advised that it was developing a feasibility study regarding the establishment of a cultural centre on the waterfront in Darwin. The LDC stated that this could ‘serve as the starting point for various tourism ventures, such as Darwin walking tours, Litchfield tours and cultural tourism ventures.’ The LDC further advised that there were ‘competing interests’ in Darwin regarding the development of the waterfront, including a proposal for a water park.
National Indigenous Cultural Centre in Alice Springs: Tourism Central Australia (TCA) stated this ‘has the potential to be the biggest tourism game changer the outback has ever seen.’ The TCA recommended all states and territories support this project as it will ‘attract people from all over the world and will act as a feeder to other Australian Indigenous heritage destinations.’
Upgrade the Cultural Centre in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park: Parks Australia advised that this cultural centre needs ‘significant new investment.’ To this end, Park Australia stated that it was developing an ‘Asset Revitalisation Strategy’, which would include examination of what was needed to upgrade the cultural centre.
Building Business Capacity
The NLC outlined a range of government supports that would be needed to develop the cultural tourism industry, such as: long-term investment for start-ups, planning facilitation, business development, and monitoring and evaluation of businesses until they are able to operate independently. Parks Australia similarly stated that ‘training, mentoring and access to grants’ would be necessary to develop cultural experiences.
Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia (Voyages) stated that Indigenous businesses not only needed government funding assistance, but also ‘support to put in a submission to secure the funding’ in the first place. Ardi Indigenous Tourism Operators agreed and stated that this was particularly the case for smaller businesses.
The IBA cautioned that, while grant funding has a role, ‘it can also mask a poorly-constructed business model.’ As such, the IBA suggested a focus on ‘building the business acumen, capacity, and skills of Indigenous tourism operators’.
The Girudala Community Cooperative Society, based in the Whitsunday region, stated that it would like to introduce Indigenous tourism products to the Whitsundays, but required some business development assistance. The Girudala Community Cooperative Society stated that it would:
… like designated workers based at Girudala to get the momentum going on introducing Indigenous tourism products in the Whitsundays. The project manager … would work with the tourism bodies and be able to attend conferences and meetings regarding tourism, form a collaborative with Girudala's partners—namely, the traditional custodians—to develop the concept, seek out funding opportunities and philanthropic support, and support the skilling of future employees who will eventually work in the industry.
The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) advised that it was ‘very difficult’ for Indigenous groups to access funding through the IBA or the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC). The KLC stated:
We do have pretty good relations, I suppose, with ILC and IBA. We meet with them, at a higher level, quite regularly. However, when you're translating to actual outcomes on the ground, it doesn't necessarily happen.
Australian Government Initiatives
Ecotourism Australia recommended the Indigenous Tourism Champions Program be restarted. The Indigenous Tourism Champions Program was a partnership between Tourism Australia and IBA and ‘was aimed at improving the quality, professionalism and visitor experiences’ of Indigenous tourism products, and also ‘increased the exposure of these offerings to the tourism market.’ The NT DTC advised that the closure of this program had left a ‘real gap in the support available for Indigenous tourism businesses in Northern Australia.’
The NT DTC also advised that the Australian Government’s funding for Indigenous ranger programs in Northern Australia could be reviewed, in order to identify opportunities to ‘support these ranger groups in developing commercial tourism opportunities on their lands.’
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) further recommended the number of Indigenous rangers be increased, and their contract periods extended to at least ten years. The ACF stated that this would have a ‘flow on effect by increasing the opportunities for Indigenous ranger groups to participate in tourism ventures.’
Encouraging a Local Workforce
Training and Mentoring
Charles Darwin University stated that ‘workforce training is critical for regional communities in Northern Australia,’ and that any training ‘must be linked to employment outcomes.’ Despite this importance, Tourism Western Australia (WA) advised that there are no Indigenous employment programs specifically in the tourism space in WA. The WAITOC advised that there had been successful Indigenous training programs for tourism in the past, but that funding had ceased.
The importance of mentoring was illustrated by the Alice Springs Desert Park, which stated that the implementation of a ‘really strong mentoring program’ and continued focus on reinforcing Aboriginal culture had led to a high retention rate of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.
The Australian Hotels Association (NT Branch) put forward suggestions to maximise the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the tourism industry including:
Highlighting Indigenous ‘role models’ working in tourism and hospitality, as well as the career opportunities and lifestyle benefits of working in the industry;
Promoting success stories of Indigenous tourism workers to non‑Indigenous tourism and hospitality businesses; and
Improving the capacity of non-Indigenous tourism businesses to train and retain Indigenous staff.
Indigenous Training Academies
Voyages operates the National Indigenous Training Academy, which is based in Ayers Rock Resort. The National Indigenous Training Academy ‘provides accredited, enterprise based training in hospitality and tourism with guaranteed employment.’ Voyages stated that it needed ‘continued funding support from the Commonwealth’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy to support Indigenous employment and training targets and continued support from State Governments for training programs.’
Kakadu Tourism stated that ‘the Indigenous [Training] Academy in Uluru has had a profound impact on Indigenous engagement and participation in Uluru.’ As such, Kakadu Tourism considered there was an opportunity to establish an Indigenous training academy in Jabiru, the town closest to Kakadu National Park. Kakadu Tourism advised that this was especially important given that the mine related work at Jabiru is set to cease in 2021. The Australian Hotels Association (NT Branch) supported this proposal and stated that ‘many hospitality employers in the Darwin region would assist in work experience and work placements during the education of these Kakadu based trainees.’
The IBA, which has a target of 30 per cent Indigenous employment across its investment portfolio, stated that it tries to ‘build Indigenous employment into the supply chain’, so that organisations providing goods and services also employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Voyages had a similar approach and stated that the role for government could be to foster the development of Indigenous businesses supplying goods and services, as well as construction and trades.
Ninti One Limited recommended Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people be supported to work in non-Indigenous tourism enterprises, such as providing ‘tourism services and infrastructure, such as food, accommodation, supplies [and] transport’. Ninti One Limited considered that this approach would provide employment and capacity building opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and contribute to reconciliation by increasing ‘opportunities for interaction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.’
Voyages advised that investment in remote communities is needed to enable Indigenous employment. Voyages stated that governments should:
… invest in the development of remote communities, which are currently faced with significant shortages of infrastructure including housing, utilities, health, education and other services, limiting the capacity of local populations, particularly Indigenous, to participate in employment opportunities and limiting business development.
Marketing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism
The WAITOC stated that there is no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander representation on some major tourism bodies. The WAITOC stated that:
We currently have no Aboriginal people on the Tourism Australia board … we currently have no Aboriginal people on the Tourism WA board; we currently have no Aboriginal people employed within Tourism WA; and for the last 20 years we have had a promise from Tourism Australia to recruit Aboriginal people.
Tourism Australia confirmed that there are no Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives on Tourism Australia’s board or in executive leadership positions. Tourism Australia stated that it had a Discover Aboriginal Experiences collective (the collective), which is made up of 39 Aboriginal tourism businesses. Tourism Australia stated that it works ‘very closely with [the collective] to determine how they would best like to represent their businesses and their experiences, both to Australian consumers and also to the international trade network.’
Another issue raised by the WAITOC and Ardi Indigenous Tourism Operators was the need for additional funding to support the marketing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism.
To capitalise on strong international visitor interest in cultural tourism, Ninti One Limited recommended partnerships be developed between remote Aboriginal tourism operators and peak tourism bodies. These partnerships would work to raise international awareness of Aboriginal tourism products and increase access to remote areas. Ninti One Limited also recommended the establishment of a ‘strong internet presence’ to provide international tourists with ‘easy access to information about Aboriginal tourism in remote Australia.’
The Tourism Council WA outlined the complexity of selling products, including cultural tourism products, to international markets and stated:
Getting, for example, an Aboriginal tourism experience in the north-west through to a very interested customer in Germany requires software, skills and the ability to use wholesalers, travel agents and the global distribution system. It's in fact quite complex and not an easy skill to acquire.
As such, the Tourism Council WA suggested that what small and remote tourism businesses needed assistance with was gaining ‘the ability to work the tourism distribution system.’
Developing Nature Based Tourism
Ecotourism Australia described Northern Australia as being ‘abundant in natural assets with exceptional landscapes, rich biodiversity, world heritage areas and unique wildlife.’ The ACF further stated that the ‘north’s natural advantage’ will bring ‘long term economic opportunities.’
The ACF also advised that the value of Northern Australia’s natural attractions will increase if they are protected, as untouched natural environments will become rarer worldwide. The ACF described the impact this will have on tourism and stated:
… the landscape and biodiversity assets which Northern Australia retains will increase significantly in global scarcity and value in the future. This will be reflected in future increases in tourism from China and other Asian nations searching out pristine landscapes, forests, reefs and rivers and experiencing the wonder of nature ... with Northern Australia becoming increasingly known as the world’s premier destination for natural beauty and the environment.
Identifying the need to boost both nature and cultural tourism in Northern Australia, the ACF recommended federal, state and territory governments develop a nature and culture based tourism development plan to 2030. The ACF stated that such a plan should include marketing, support for small to medium tourism businesses, and support the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism businesses.
Ecotourism Australia expressed similar sentiments and put forward a draft nature based tourism manifesto (the manifesto), which it recommended federal, state and territory governments endorse. The manifesto outlined actions to grow nature based tourism in Australia, which include improving marketing and promotion; product and experience development; and a greater focus on destination planning and management.
Both the ACF and Ecotourism Australia drew attention to the importance of data collection and research for nature based tourism, to identify market trends and ensure marketing strategies and business support programs are targeted and effective.
Professor Ross Dowling considered that there was an opportunity to establish geoparks in Northern Australia. Professor Dowling stated that geoparks are:
… tools for sustainable regional economic development … Unlike a national park, the government doesn't have to buy land or sea. You just put an artificial boundary around an area of interesting geology, and then you start. I've seen these work all over the world, but they're just not here … There are a number of communities in Australia that want it. But there is very little support.
To establish geoparks in Northern Australia, Professor Dowling recommended the Australian Government establish a policy to encourage the development of geoparks and also ‘put aside some competitive seed capital to regions interested in establishing geoparks through the Building Better Regions Fund (or similar).’
Tourism in National Parks
Ecotourism Australia stated that ‘constantly declining park agency budgets’ had led to limited investment in tourism and visitor infrastructure in national parks. To address this issue, Ecotourism Australia recommended that:
Budgets for parks agencies be increased to improve tourism infrastructure while also protecting natural and cultural assets;
Tourism be embedded in planning decisions through the creation of ‘tourism reference groups’ of tourism operators and associations to provide advice to parks agencies; and
Federal, state and territory governments take a consistent approach to investment in national parks, to ‘encourage investors to see Northern Australia as a single investment opportunity.’
Parks Australia advised that it was recruiting a project manager and a business manager to ‘provide the capacity/expertise needed to deliver on development of new experiences and supporting infrastructure’, which will enable the agency to be ‘more responsive to commercial interests.’ Parks Australia further stated that it was in discussions with traditional owners about their aspirations for tourism development on their land.
Ecotourism Australia commented that Queensland (Qld) was falling behind other states in the development of tourism in national parks:
Ten years ago or 20 years ago, Qld was the home of ecotourism and nature tourism in Australia if not the world … but if you look at what is happening as to the commercial development within parks, Qld is a thousand miles behind the other states on that. It is a mindset. It is a risk aversion … It is really, really struggling. There is no new product in Qld national parks at the moment.
The NT DTC stated that a number of NT-managed national parks and the federally managed Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks are jointly managed with traditional owners. The NT DTC supported this approach but stated the model of operation could be improved to better support tourism development. The NT DTC therefore recommended the Australian Government:
… review the frameworks and systems that support joint management of national parks to improve traditional owners’ decision making, destination development, and employment outcomes for Indigenous people.
Kakadu National Park
Tourism Top End advised that, until infrastructure within Kakadu National Park is upgraded so that tourist access can be improved, it will be difficult to secure business interest and subsequent investment. Parks Australia agreed that this was an issue and stated:
… [Kakadu National Park] is effectively open for three months of the year. Theoretically, it is open all year round, but the major attractions are limited by the wet [season] and by the fact that the roads … go under water for most of the year. So any tourist businesses there are struggling to be viable because of that limited window when tourists can come. The solution to that is … to improve the road infrastructure so the sites that can be accessed for a wider window.
The NT DTC advised that Tourism NT, in collaboration with the Australian Government, had prioritised two road infrastructure projects in Kakadu National Park which will improve access to attractions and generate a combined economic benefit of more than $26 million annually.
Parks Australia advised that there is division among traditional owners and other stakeholders as to whether to extend the tourist season in Kakadu National Park, which has made development ‘a challenging exercise.’
The NT DTC stated that the Australian Government could support tourism in the NT by further investing in Kakadu National Park, including by providing a ‘platform for third-party investment in new tourism products.’ Kakadu Tourism advised that there is a need for the development of tourism experiences within Kakadu National Park, such as fishing, bird watching, hiking, and Indigenous art, heritage and food experiences.
Environmental Impact of Tourism
The TCA stated that ‘tourism businesses are increasingly interested in how to become more environmentally and socially sustainable, however [they] are unsure of how to start and where to get information.’ To address this issue, the TCA recommended a program be developed to assist tourism businesses in Northern Australia (particularly in regional areas) to become more environmentally conscious.
Ecotourism Australia advised that giving preferential treatment to tourism operators who have committed to ‘independently audited quality assurance programs’ will encourage a best environmental practice approach. As such, Ecotourism Australia recommended Tourism Australia, state tourism organisations and regional tourism organisations prioritise marketing opportunities for tour operators who are eco‑certified.
Ecotourism Australia further stated that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) recognises best practise tourism operators by giving them access to special areas and longer term permits. Ecotourism Australia stated that this approach enhances ‘environmental protection, reef resilience and tourism sustainability.’
Marketing and Developing Ecotourism
Tourism Tropical North Qld (TTNQ) and the Savannah Way Limited stated that Northern Australia’s national parks are typically ‘not well marketed’, despite their tourism potential. Both organisations advised that there was a need for ‘better integration of their marketing into broader state and territory marketing initiatives’.
Recognising the need for effective marketing, in 2015 Parks Australia set up a Customer Experience and Destination Planning team, which aims to ‘increase the range of tourism products on offer in the park, promote these experiences and the parks’ values, and build the brand equity and reputation of the parks.’
Some tourism businesses and organisations in Qld discussed the impact that environmental challenges in Australia, such as cyclones, and negative perceptions about the state of the Great Barrier Reef, can have on international tourist visits. Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree explained that reactions from international tourists can vary, for example, ‘the German market is particularly concerned’ about the state of the Great Barrier Reef.
To counteract this, Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree outlined the tailored approach that Tourism and Events Qld has taken to international marketing:
… we are getting more to the scientific community so that [international tourists] can get the facts. That is an example of what the German market is looking for: professionals who live and breathe that and can really back up what they are saying. In some ways, we have moved a little bit away from the pretty marketing pictures and we are moving more to the scientific side so that the facts are being delivered in the hope that will help alleviate the belief that the reef is dead.
The Livingstone Shire Council (LSC) expressed similar sentiments and stated that while protecting the reef and eradicating the reef pest, the Crown-of-thorns starfish is important, funding to change ‘perceptions about the reef’s health and wellbeing is absolutely critical.’
Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree also pointed to the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef initiative, a social media platform which enables businesses and the community to ‘be a part of preserving the reef and protecting it.’ Quicksilver Group further advised that the GBRMPA had been giving presentations on the Great Barrier Reef to domestic and international tourism events, which had been ‘well received.’
The drive tourism market includes tourists travelling by car, a Recreational Vehicle (RV), hire vehicles or in tour buses. Many regions across Northern Australia, in particular remote areas, rely on the drive market to sustain their tourism industries. As such, the Rockhampton Regional Council (RRC) stated that drive tourism is ‘very important for Northern Australia.’
Scenic Drive Routes
Developing a ‘brand’ or memorable name for a popular drive route could help promote drive tourism in Northern Australia. Sealink referenced the ‘Explorers Way’, from Adelaide to Darwin, and the ‘Savannah Way’, from Cairns to Broome, as examples. Rob Lapear, a Qld tourism operator, recommended the scenic road from Cairns to Cape Tribulation be renamed the ‘Great Barrier Reef Drive’ to stimulate tourism in the region.
Tourism infrastructure on roads, such as international signage, tourist amenities, and information about the area could also enhance the tourism drive experience. The ten Qld State Strategic Touring Routes have tourism signage, which includes information on ‘key natural attractions, towns, direction information for the route and attractions, and highlighting Visitor Information Centres’.
The Qld Government acknowledged that tourism promotional bodies would like more tourism signage, but stated that it had ‘a responsibility to ensure road safety standards are not compromised.’ As an alternative, the Qld Government suggested that the Qld Department of Tourism and Main Road’s digital channels, which provide tourists with information about road closures, could be enhanced to also include tourism related information.
Grey nomads are retirees who travel independently around Australia for extended periods, often in a RV. Grey nomads and self-drivers were described as ‘the bread and butter’ of tourism in the remote areas of Northern Australia. Of the 41 000 visitors to Longreach in the last calendar year, for example, 80 to 85 per cent were grey nomads.
The Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) stated that any tourism investment that attracts grey nomads to a particular town will have flow-on benefits to other areas, as grey nomads will travel ‘tens of thousands of kilometres’ to visit an attraction and will stop at multiple locations along the way.
The TTNQ stated that ensuring all-weather road access will attract more grey nomads to an area. Sealink Qld further explained that ‘it is a fairly simple formula. The easier you make it for the grey nomads, the more of them you get and the further they go.’
Hire Vehicles and Fuel Prices
Tourists may choose to hire vehicles while in Northern Australia. In the NT, for example, hire vehicles are used by approximately 14 per cent of interstate holiday visitors and ten per cent of international holiday visitors.
The NT DTC advised that states and territories regulate the hire vehicle industry and that as a result, hire cars that cross state and territory borders face numerous regulations and registration requirements. The Outback Highway Development Council further stated that hiring a car to travel across Northern Australia in one direction (for example, from Qld to WA) can be difficult and ‘is a huge blockage to progress in regards to the drive market.’ Kakadu Tourism similarly drew attention to the ‘expense and restrictions with car rental’ as a key barrier to tourism growth in Northern Australia.
To address this issue, the NT DTC recommended the Australian Government ‘implement a trial to harmonise car rental industry taxes and regulation across state and territory borders.’
The RRC stated that ‘fluctuating fuel prices in regional locations’ is another challenge for the drive tourism market in Northern Australia. The RRC recommended the ‘development of clear regulations for the industry, and [a] potential discount/subsidy scheme for Northern Australia petrol buys.’
Many regions across Northern Australia have had a reliance on the resources sector as their primary industry. Some towns have turned this into a tourism opportunity through industrial tourism.
The City of Karratha stated, for example, that industrial tourism had been identified as a priority for its region. The City of Karratha stated:
… Rio Tinto, Woodside are world leaders in the resource sector that have their operations based in the City [of Karratha]. These operations are massive on an international scale; the biggest trains in the world, the biggest ships in the world. This provides an opportunity to showcase these operations to visitors. A part of any visitor’s trip to the City includes an experience of these massive industries. The history associated with these industries is also fascinating.
Collinsville in Qld has similarly turned its mining history into a tourism attraction opportunity by branding itself as the ‘pit pony capital of Australia’. Collinsville has established a Pit Pony Festival, and also erected a life-size bronze pit pony statue. The Collinsville Pit Pony Experience described the positive impact of the Pit Pony Festival and stated that:
The [Pit Pony] festival committee's intention was to not only celebrate the pit pony's heritage but develop an annual event that can grow in size and target our increasing RV tourist market and maximise the use of our 72-hour free-camping facility in our showgrounds. We anticipate the annual event will become the single biggest tourism opportunity for Collinsville and surrounding districts in the future.
The Outback Qld Tourism Association saw industrial tourism as a growth opportunity for Qld, and recommended industrial areas be made more accessible to tourists through signage, websites, product development and staff training.
Parks Australia stated that it was ‘investigating opportunities for a range of new visitor experiences’ in Kakadu National Park and that one opportunity identified was industrial tourism. This included highlighting heritage, mining and pastoral sites. Parks Australia stated that industrial tourism would appeal to the over 50s domestic tourist market.
The WAITOC saw the renewable energy industry as a possible tourism opportunity. The WAITOC stated that in the long term, renewable energy ‘could offer great opportunities to create a form of industrial tourism such as “off the grid” communities.’
International students who study in Northern Australia may choose to holiday in the region, and also host visiting friends and relatives. As such, there are strong links between the international education and tourism sectors. Charles Darwin University characterised the visiting friends and relatives market as ‘an area of potential growth, particularly if strategies to grow the number of international students are successful.’ The Qld Government further stated that when international students return to their countries of origin, they become ‘potential ambassadors’ for Northern Australia.
The Douglas Chamber of Commerce stated that it would ‘like to see an increase in the growth of educational tourism by developing strategic partnerships focusing primarily on research and development.’ Charles Darwin University agreed and also recommended funding and/or incentives be used to support families and relatives to visit students in Northern Australia, including the formulation of tourism packages and events for international students and their visiting friends and relatives. The NT DTC recommended the development of a ‘cross-jurisdictional marketing strategy promoting international education in Northern Australia.’
Tourism Case Studies
Box 6.2: Case Study: Indian Ocean Territories
Australia’s IOTs consist of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKI). Historically, Christmas Island’s economy has relied on phosphate mining and the Australian Government’s Immigration Detention Centre (IDC). With mine operations expecting to end within five years, combined with the closure of the IDC in mid-2018, Christmas Island has looked to the tourism industry to drive the economy into the future. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands has similarly looked to expand its tourism offerings.
The CKI Tourism Association advised that in the last financial year 1700 tourists visited the CKI, while Christmas Island attracts around 1000 visitors per year. In 2017, Cossies Beach on Direction Island, CKI was named Australia’s best beach and Dolly Beach on Christmas Island came in at number seven.
The IOTs receive a twice weekly flight from Perth, which is operated by Virgin Australia Regional Airlines and is underwritten by the Australian Government. Phosphate Resources stated that these flights are regularly cancelled due to bad weather or mechanical failures. The CKI Tourism Association agreed and stated that ‘the continuous flight disruptions and cancellations have had a hugely negative impact on our reputation as a holiday destination and on the tourism industry.’
The Shire of CKI advised that the aircraft used to fly to the IOTs is ‘ageing’ and recommended replacement with a newer, more reliable model. The Shire of CKI further stated that, if bad weather prevents a flight from landing on Christmas Island, it should still continue on to the CKI, and that direct flights to the CKI should also be established.
The CKI Tourism Association stated that providing discount fares between Christmas Island and CKI would encourage tourists to travel to both destinations. Mr John Clunies-Ross agreed and outlined further initiatives to boost tourism on the IOTs, including: that there be no financial penalty for tourists choosing to extend their stay in the IOTs; and the use of holiday packages including both Christmas Island and the CKI.
The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (DIRDC) advised that the Department of Defence has allocated $200 million to upgrade the CKI Airport, and that it was undertaking ‘business planning processes at the moment.’ The Cocos Island Cooperative Society (CICS) advised that upgrading the runway will allow for larger aircraft and direct flights from Southeast Asia. Cocos Islands Adventure Tours (CIAT) further stated that the upgrades will address ‘some of the issues faced currently with aircraft cancellations and disruptions’, as larger aircraft will have less refuelling stops and reduced flying times.
The Administrator of Christmas Island and CKI (IOTs Administrator) stated that there is a ’risk of visitors being crowded out of tourist accommodation by workers from the mainland employed to work on the runway who will need temporary housing.’ As such, the IOTs Administrator stated that consultation with the tourism industry would be needed before work to upgrade the airport commenced. The CIAT advised that the Quarantine Station could be used as short term housing for people working on the runway upgrade. The DIRDC advised that the Department of Defence could also bring in their own ‘containerised accommodation.’
Christmas Island Airport
The Shire of Christmas Island (SOCI) stated that the current runway on Christmas Island needs to be lengthened in order to service more aircraft and make it a safer airport for landings. The SOCI stated that this extension would involve filling in a geological dip, and it encouraged:
… Christmas Island Phosphates (CIP) and the Commonwealth to make an agreement that would permit CIP access to known phosphate reserves in exchange for filling in the geological dip.
In contrast, advice provided by the IOTs airport manager stated that the current runway length is ‘more than adequate for conducting Boeing 737‑800 and Airbus A320 operations’, and that Australian airports including the Sunshine Coast, Ballina/Byron Bay, Hamilton Island and Mildura have shorter runways than the airport on Christmas Island.
The SOCI explained that due to current cabotage restrictions, ‘it is not permitted for international carriers to fly onwards to Cocos after touching down on Christmas Island’, which is a ‘significant setback for IOT tourism development.’ Mr Dennis Jones, the owner of accommodation on Christmas Island, agreed and stated that ‘the application of cabotage to the IOTs has been a serious disincentive to investment’.
The SOCI and the IOTs Administrator recommended that cabotage restrictions be lifted for the IOTs, to allow for triangulated flights from Asian airports to both the CKI and Christmas Island. The SOCI stated that there was interest from tourist investors about flying from Singapore to Christmas Island and the CKI and then onto another Asian capital city.
The Indian Ocean Group Training Association (IOGTA) drew attention to the 2015 Competition Policy Review (the Harper Review), which was commissioned by the Australian Government. The Harper Review recommended that cabotage restrictions be removed for ‘passenger services to specific geographic areas, such as island territories’.
The IOTs Administrator advised that the IOTs has a fortnightly air freight service which delivers fresh fruit and vegetables. The CIAT stated that this frequency was insufficient during the peak season, and suggested a weekly freighter for peak months.
The IOTs also receives goods via a freight shipping service, which is ‘a commercial service provided by the private sector.’ The IOTs Administrator advised that more competition was needed for shipping services, as the IOTs are currently dependent on one company.
Mr Clunies-Ross agreed and stated that the CKI ‘has the most expensive freight in the world and we’re getting some of the worst service.’ The Hender Property Group advised that for its tourism development on the CKI, freight costs are $12 000 per container. The Hender Property Group stated that this ‘adds significant costs … and will deter development.’ Mr Clunies-Ross recommended an inquiry into shipping to the CKI be undertaken.
As well as issues with cost, the IOTs Administrator advised that the IOTs had experienced significant delays with shipments, and that some ships had been turned back to ports in Asia without unloading the freight in the IOTs.
The DIRDC stated that the 2017 shipment delays had been caused by ‘a failure of the slew bearing in the main wharf crane on Christmas Island’, and that the DIRDC had provided funding to repair the crane, cover additional loading costs while the crane had been out of service, and purchased a crawler crane ‘to provide contingency to port operations’.
The mobile network on the IOTs is second generation (2G), and as such no data or internet is available on mobile phones. Further, the IOTs Administrator advised that the internet on Christmas Island is provided by satellite, making it slow and prone to drop-outs during rain. The IOTs Administrator stated that a cable is currently being laid to connect Christmas Island to Singapore, which will enable 4G access. This is expected to be completed in July 2018. This cable will not be connected to CKI.
The CKI is on a different mobile network to Christmas Island and mainland Australia, which means that mobile phones from Australia do not work. The IOGTA stated that ‘this is a significant detriment to [CKI] affecting not only tourists, but locals as well and additionally has impacts on safety and emergency communications.’ The CKI Tourism Association added that the limited connectivity inhibits social media marketing opportunities.
The CKI Tourism Association advised that the high cost of Wi-Fi on the CKI can impact on tourists and stated:
… Wi-Fi is quite expensive, so it would be nice—especially, again, for flight disruptions—to decrease the cost of Wi-Fi for tourists on the island for them to have the option to just quickly check their emails if they have received any flight updates regarding cancellations, recovery flights or just to stay in contact with their families.
The Shire of CKI advised that it would like to have the same connectivity access as Christmas Island. The IOTs Administrator stated that CKI would need ‘a new state of the art mobile data network … that will enable smartphone applications to be used.’
At the same time, the CKI Tourism Association stated that the limited connectivity could be ‘an opportunity to try and promote unplugged holidays…where people come here to unspoilt Cocos and don’t rely so heavily on their devices.’
The IOTs Administrator advised that CKI residents are unable to obtain home insurance, which impedes housing construction and deters new tourism operators from moving to the CKI. Similarly, home insurance on Christmas Island is difficult to obtain for many residents. The CIAT stated that, as banks will not allow people to borrow against uninsured properties, raising funds to start a tourism business in the IOTs was difficult. While insurance for businesses on the CKI was somewhat available, it was described as being ‘insanely expensive.’
Mr Clunies-Ross considered that mutual insurance was ’the right tool to reintroduce affordable insurances to Northern Australia.’ The CIAT suggested the Australian Government consider whether it could underwrite insurance on the CKI.
Support for Tourism Businesses and Investors
The IOTs Administrator advised that the IOTs needs a one-stop-shop for investors, to stimulate growth in the tourism industry. The IOTs Administrator commented that the government had commenced work to this end:
The Commonwealth Government’s recent funding of a regional investment officer for the [IOTs] Regional Development Organisation is a major step in the right direction. The [DIRDC] is also preparing an investment prospectus for the Indian Ocean Territories. This is another important step forward.
A gap in support identified by the CIAT and the Christmas Island Tourism Association (CITA) was the need for business mentoring for new and established small businesses. The CIAT and the CITA advised that this had previously been available through the WA Small Business Development Corporation. The CITA further stated that the IOTs were excluded from many grant programs offered on mainland Australia, and recommended that the IOTs be given access.
Governance of the Indian Ocean Territories
The CITA advised that governance arrangements on the IOTs, which involve the Federal, WA and NT Governments, are ‘fractured, complex and inhibit private enterprise.’ The CITA stated that in order for tourism on the IOTs to grow, these different levels of government, local communities and stakeholders must work together.
Strategic Planning for the IOTs
The DIRDC advised that it ‘is providing $200 000 to the local regional development organisation to develop strategic plans for Christmas Island and for the [CKI].’ Phosphate Resources advised that, despite this funding provision, a strategic plan was yet to be published. Phosphate Resources stated that:
… as there appears to be no coherent or agreed view between government agencies as to [the] economic future of [Christmas] Island, government decisions (to the extent they are made) have been confusing and contradictory when viewed through an island wide economic growth lens.
Phosphate Resources recommended that the Australian Government endorse a strategic plan for the future of Christmas Island. Mr Clunies‑Ross similarly recommended that the Australian Government develop a two, five and ten year development and economic plan for the IOTs, and also communicate its aspirations for the IOTs.
The IOTs Administrator advised that the strategic plan for Christmas Island will be developed in consultation with stakeholders by the end of 2018. At the same time, the IOTs Administrator stated that any plans for Christmas Island and the CKI needed to be implemented in the broader context of the IOTs.
IOT Tourism Associations
The IOTs Administrator stated that there was a need to ‘act regionally’ and position the IOTs as a single entity. The IOTs Administrator recommended that the CITA and CKI Tourism Association consider forming a single IOTs tourism association. While the CITA and the CKI Tourism Association were open to this idea, the CKI Tourism Association advised that ‘people on the ground’ at each location would still be needed.
The CITA stated that its budget has been ‘cut over the last four years while expectations and costs have increased.’ As such, the CITA recommended the Australian Government provide an additional $77 500 per annum to reinstate CITA’s budget. The CKI Tourism Association recommended funding be provided on a three to five year basis (instead of annually) to enable long term and strategic planning.
Potential Tourist Markets
Opportunities to develop tourism markets on the IOTs includes:
Nature Based Tourism: Already a strong market for the IOTs, Parks Australia considered there were further opportunities to expand tourism in Christmas Island National Park, by establishing new walking and mountain bike trails and camping areas.
Educational Tourism: options for educational tourism:
Parks Australia considered there were environmental research and field work opportunities within Christmas Island National Park for domestic and international students.
The CITA advised that Christmas Island had previously hosted school groups from Singapore, but that re-establishing this program would require student accommodation and the support and capacity of the local high school.
The Islamic Council of Christmas Island advised that there may be opportunities for religious schooling.
Phosphate Resources stated that a tax incentive could be used to encourage an education provider to establish itself on Christmas Island.
International Markets: The CICS stated that the high Muslim population on CKI and its close proximity to Asia was an opportunity to target tourists from Muslim countries. As such, the CICS had developed a ‘Gateway to Asia’ strategy, a goal of which is to develop ‘Muslim friendly tourism in the CKI.’ The Islamic Council of Christmas Island stated that a ‘drawcard’ for Christmas Island would be ‘the comfort and security that the Muslims would find here in finding halal food, a mosque and a close-knit Muslim community’.
The IOTs Administrator stated that the IOTs could ‘better target the growing Asian tourism market’ by marketing the IOTs as ‘joint destinations.’
Cultural Tourism: The Shire of CKI advised that there was an opportunity for the Cocos Malay community living on Home Island to do cultural tours, which would also generate employment.
Tourism Infrastructure and Development – Christmas Island
Phosphate Resources described the public infrastructure on Christmas Island as being ‘poor and not conducive [as] a modern tourist destination’, and it recommended the Australian Government undertake an audit of the infrastructure and commit to a three year funding program to bring it up to ‘mainland standards.’ The CITA similarly recommended tourist amenities be maintained and upgraded.
Mrs Gee Foo, a local tourism operator, described the state of the roads on Christmas Island as being ‘potholed and battered, making car journeys a bumpy and uncomfortable ride.’ The SOCI recommended the Australian Government invest in sealing roads on Christmas Island.
Mrs Foo also advised that Christmas Island does not have a berthing facility that could allow cruise ships to disembark passengers directly to shore, which is cutting off the cruise ship market. The IOTs Administrator agreed and stated that she would ‘like to see an exploration of what more would be needed to moor cruise ships in the IOTs, especially during the swell season, which occurs during the peak holiday season.’
Mrs Foo advised that there are only 50 rooms of ‘rentable condition’ on Christmas Island, which is a significant barrier to growing visitation. The CITA agreed, stating that peak periods are ‘already heavily booked through to 2019’, with customers being turned away. The IOTs Administrator stated that ‘we urgently need to increase good quality accommodation on [Christmas] Island by building first-class fully serviced hotels and resorts, as already proposed by a number of local investors.’ Mrs Foo added that, even if cabotage restrictions are lifted, no airline will consider it viable to fly to the IOTs until there is enough accommodation to house a plane full of tourists.
Access to Crown Land
Phosphate Resources stated that 19.2 per cent of Christmas Island is uncommitted Crown Land. On 23 May 2018, the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, the Hon John McVeigh, announced that the Government was proposing to sell seven parcels of land and offer long-term leases on four parcels of land, subject to approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth).
Before this announcement had been made, the SOCI had advised that ‘the bulk of new tourism development interest on Christmas Island’ was waiting on the finalisation of this land release process. The DIRDC stated that the activities that had been proposed for these sites included tourism activities.
The SOCI also raised concerns that new principles regarding the clearing of native vegetation, developed by the Department of the Environment and Energy ‘will bottleneck development’ and could inhibit development of urban zoned areas on Christmas Island. Phosphate Resources agreed and stated that the Department of the Environment and Energy’s requirements seem ‘to mean that investors purchasing or leasing the [Crown] land will not be permitted to develop it.’
The SOCI further stated that:
… the 65 per cent of Christmas Island that is National Park [should] be protected and resourced adequately to support the unique biodiversity especially in the eradication of invasive species. The balance of the island which is not Commonwealth National Park and is Commonwealth Vacant Crown Land that has been put to the market should not have onerous environmental burdens placed on development.
The Department of the Environment and Energy advised that the new principles are part of a ‘draft policy on vegetation clearing’, and that it is aware of community concern that the principles may be interpreted as inhibiting development. Further, the Department stated that ‘before that particular draft policy is progressed … we need to look at it, and we need to engage with folks to make sure it is useful and not appearing to shut things down.’
Phosphate Resources advised that, even before the Department of Environment and Energy’s requirements were developed, ‘the processes for seeking approval to clear native vegetation were complex, time consuming and expensive.’ The IOGTA expressed similar sentiments and stated that the Australian Government ‘should ensure that any red and green tape is manageable and reasonable.’
Christmas Island Casino Resort
Christmas Island Casino Resort operated on Christmas Island during the 1990s. Following its closure, Soft Star purchased the Christmas Island Casino Resort in 2000 based on its understanding that the Australian Government would reissue a casino licence. In 2013, Soft Star submitted a ‘625 page, full and detailed proposal and business plan for the proposed casino operation’ to the Australian Government. Soft Star advised that ‘nearly five years later there has been no result, we are still waiting for the Commonwealth to act.’
Soft Star outlined the benefits that the casino could have to tourism, including increased and lower priced flights, opportunities for local businesses, and new opportunities for investors. The IOGTA stated that reopening the Casino Resort would provide employment following the closure of the IDC and scaling down of the phosphate mine.
The SOCI also supported the reissuing of the casino licence and stated:
SOCI records our disappointment at the total lack of progress in re‑establishing the Casino/Resort on island … every report of a Parliamentary Committee that has considered the matter has made a recommendation for the issuing of a Casino Licence on Christmas Island. Indeed in 2014 the [Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia] made the recommendation to the Government that a casino re-open on Christmas Island.
The Malay Association of Christmas Island also supported the granting of a casino licence. In contrast, the Islamic Council of Christmas Island did not support the reopening of the Casino.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) advised that reopening the casino may lead to an increase in demand on community policing resources to deal with potential alcohol and drug related incidents, domestic violence and road-related incidents, money laundering, transnational crime and prostitution issues that may arise. The AFP further advised that this may have financial implications due to a need to increase the police presence on Christmas Island.
Phosphate Resources advised that, whether or not the Australian Government approves a casino licence, a decision needed to be made to end uncertainty. Phosphate Resources further stated that:
A potential investor in tourism accommodation may be hesitant about making any financial commitment in a new resort or the like if there is a chance of tourists being lured away to casino accommodation if a licence is granted.
The CITA agreed and stated that the issue ‘must be resolved to enable the resort to reopen or the site to be used for another tourism venture.’
The DIRDC advised that it had commissioned KPMG to undertake ‘a comparison of the states and territories legal frameworks for casino operations and to provide recommendations around a best practise model for Christmas Island.’ The DIRDC advised that this process should be completed ‘shortly.’
Proposed Developments – Christmas Island
Redevelopment of the Settlement Sports Hall: The SOCI advised that it had submitted an application to the Australian Government’s Building Better Regions Fund for the redevelopment of the Settlement Sports Hall. The SOCI stated that it planned to repurpose this as a tourist space and recommended the Government support this project.
Facilitate development on Gaze Road: The CITA stated that an investor has purchased land on Gaze Rd to build tourist accommodation, but that ‘after a year or so, the proponent is still waiting on approvals to enable building to commence’.
Flying Fish Cove: The CITA advised that ‘half [of Flying Fish Cove] and the car park are unusable at the moment due to a landslide in June.’ The CITA recommended the Australian Government create a master plan to ‘create an inviting multi-use space at Flying Fish Cove.’
Seek World Heritage Listing: the CITA stated that ‘a commitment is needed to commence [this] process.’
Water access for tourists: Extra Divers advised that currently, swimmers and snorkelers are forced to use boat ramps to enter the water, which can be dangerous, and that water access that is ‘properly maintained and regulated’ is needed.
Upgrade the jetty at Flying Fish Cove and the Ethel Boat Ramp: Extra Divers stated that there is a need to make these safer and more accessible for recreational boats. In the 2018-2019 Budget the Australian Government committed to replacing and upgrading the mooring system at Flying Fish Cove.
Consideration of the future use of the IDC: closing in mid-2018, there was uncertainty as to whether the IDC could be used for other purposes. The IOGTA stated that it had inquired whether it could use the disused commercial kitchen, but it was refused.
Tourism Infrastructure and Development – Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Small scale development and community consultation: The Cocos Islands Islamic Association recommended any investment on the CKI should be: small scale, involve consultation with the Cocos Malay community, and primarily take place away from Home Island.
Quarantine Station on West Island: The CIAT recommended the Quarantine Station and its facilities, which are owned by the Australian Government but not operational, be used for tourism purposes such as housing short-term workers and a commercial laundry.
Basic services: The Shire of CKI advised that any increase in visitation will have to be supported by increased waste facilities, and water and power capacity, as West Island is already at capacity during the peak tourist season.
Home Island Mosque: the Cocos Island Islamic Association stated that it was sourcing funding to establish toilets and showers at the Mosque, to enable tourists to use the Mosque as base.
Shire Council involvement: The CIAT recommended the Shire of CKI stimulate tourism by giving longer term leases to businesses, facilitating the establishment of temporary or permanent structures on CKI beaches, and making decisions in a timely manner. The Shire of CKI stated that it provides longer term leases for significant investments, and was limited by building regulations regarding building structure on beaches but was looking into the issue.
Fast track development: The IOTs Administrator advised that a priority was to ‘encourage the Cocos land trust, through the Shire, to continue to identify sites for fast tracked tourism development.’
Relocating the golf course: the current golf course on West Island crosses the airport runway. The Hender Property Group advised that there was an opportunity to build a golf course on ‘Lot 100’, which would be ‘fantastic for the island.’
Staff Accommodation: Mr Clunies-Ross advised that there is a need for affordable staff accommodation on CKI, and recommended the Australian Government release unused land to the SOCI for this purpose.
Waste and Asbestos Disposal
The CICS advised a large proportion of federally-built housing on Home Island contains asbestos. The CICS further advised that any waste or asbestos to be disposed of needed to be shipped off island, but that the Australian Government had not taken responsibility for managing the removal of the asbestos from the houses. The DIRDC advised that the Shire was currently managing asbestos arrangements. Further, the DIRDC stated that ‘there is an impediment in the current regulations to importing asbestos to Australia for disposal purposes’, and that the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Jobs and Small Business was looking to amend these regulations to allow for the removal of asbestos from the CKI and importing it to the mainland.
The Shire of CKI further explained that there was a large pile of gas cylinders and fire extinguishers that had been brought to CKI by the Australian Government, but were no longer in use. The Shire of CKI stated that these items had to be removed from the ground due to risks of chemical leakage, but that it is waiting on a decision by the Australian Government as to whether they could temporarily move them to the Quarantine station. The DIRDC stated it was looking at working with the Shire of CKI to organise a ‘one-off large disposal of waste from the islands’.
Box 6.3: Case Study: Hamilton Island, Queensland
In June 2017 the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia visited Hamilton Island to hear from local tourism operators and organisations about opportunities to stimulate the tourism industry. The Committee heard accounts of how tourism operators managed the impact of Tropical Cyclone Debbie, challenges associated with attracting and retaining a permanent workforce, and the role of foreign investment in the development of Hamilton Island.
Tropical Cyclone Debbie
On 28 March 2017 Tropical Cyclone Debbie landed on the coast of Qld. The cyclone impacted islands in the Whitsundays including Hamilton and Daydream Islands, as well as the mainland towns of Airlie Beach, Proserpine, Bowen and Collinsville. Major flooding also occurred in southeast Qld and New South Wales.
Tourism operators described differing levels of support from government following the cyclone. The Palm Bay Corporation, a boutique resort on Long Island, stated that it had not received any assistance following the cyclone. Explore Group Hamilton Island similarly stated that there had been ‘no government support available for a business of [its] size.’ Hamilton Island Enterprises (HIE) did receive assistance, but stated that clean-up grants, which were provided by the Australian Government and then allocated by the local council, had been insufficient. The HIE stated that it had been apportioned 30 large skips to remove rubbish, but that it had rubbish that would fill over 100 skips.
Access to insurance following the cyclone was another concern raised by the HIE. The HIE advised that it had observed ‘cartel-like action’ among insurance and construction companies and stated:
The insurers came in here when the cameras were around … and got things going very quickly. As soon as that hullaballoo died down, things have slowed down to a crawl. Those incumbent construction companies that are allied or tied to the hip of the insurers have fenced up properties, and we are not seeing a lot of action … So the whole economy, the whole commercial model of a little island like this is completely hamstrung by the decisions of those entities that are holding the purse strings for the remediation of the properties of Hamilton Island.
Tourism operators in the Whitsundays region, including the HIE and Daydream Island Resort and Spa, stated that they experienced difficulties in attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, due to their remote locations. The HIE expressed concern in regard to proposed changes to the Regional Skilled Migration Scheme permanent residency visa eligibility and conditions, and recommended any changes that would impact on Hamilton Island’s ability to ‘maintain its hard-earned status as a world class holiday destination … be revised.’
Foreign investment in tourism development on Hamilton Island was described by the HIE as having ‘mixed’ results. The HIE stated that it was:
… interested in seeing how Chinese investment could help us further develop the islands and the infrastructure here but, on the other [hand], it also probably inflates the price of acquisition of property in the region, and that has some notable impacts as well on domestic investment.
The HIE further advised that some properties in the region had been purchased by foreign investors, but since then they had ‘not moved forward … in any development capacity.’ To prevent this occurring in the future, the HIE considered that:
… due diligence is necessary to make sure that these properties are sold to people who will invest in the short term; otherwise there needs to be some remediation, penalties or something like that.
Tourism Whitsundays agreed, stating that island resorts in the Whitsundays have been sold and no investment has occurred, which has affected the Whitsunday brand ‘enormously.’ Tourism Whitsundays recommended that a condition of purchase needs to be that a resort will be invested in and reopened – ‘you use it or you don’t get it.’
Box 6.4: Case Study: Great Keppel Island, Queensland
Great Keppel Island is located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and features 17 white sand beaches. A 30 minute ferry ride to Yeppoon connects it to the mainland.
Capricorn Enterprise stated that current tourism businesses on Great Keppel Island include accommodation, water sport operators, and private homes that are rented out. Capricorn Enterprise further stated that, while it had been a ‘tough decade’ for Great Keppel Island following the closure of the Great Keppel Island Resort, visitor numbers had steadily increased over the past eight years.
The LSC advised that Great Keppel Island could support ‘substantially more visitors’, giving tourists ‘direct access to the southern Great Barrier Reef for swimming, snorkelling and fishing, as well as unique nature-based island adventures.’
To stimulate the growth of tourism on Great Keppel Island and the Capricorn region more broadly, the LSC supported the redevelopment of the Great Keppel Island Resort, which is currently listed for sale. Developing the marina along with the Resort would also enable boutique cruise ships to travel to Great Keppel Island.
The LSC further advised that the Qld Government has committed $25 million towards connecting Great Keppel Island to mainland water and electricity, and that the LSC was seeking additional funding to support development of Great Keppel Island through the Australian Government’s Regional Growth Fund.
The LSC stated that investment in Great Keppel Island will have positive flow on effects for tourism throughout the Capricorn Coast region, as well as increased employment opportunities.
The predecessor Committee’s report Pivot North: Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia (Pivot North) identified the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses and employment as a major opportunity for the north. The Committee reiterates this finding in the context of the tourism industry.
Greater representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism businesses within existing tourism bodies (such as Tourism Australia) and through the establishment of a regional and/or national peak body for Indigenous tourism would stimulate the development of authentic cultural tourism experiences and products.
Business development assistance could also enable the growth of cultural tourism. A crucial part of this would be providing assistance to individuals or communities who have a tourism business idea but are not equipped to apply for funding, develop a business plan or attract investment.
The Committee was pleased to hear about successful examples of tourism training programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Northern Australia. These included the National Indigenous Training Academy at Uluru, and training and mentoring programs that are linked to employment outcomes.
The Committee acknowledges and respects the decision to close the climb up Uluru from 26 October 2019. The Committee believes that attention should now turn to the development of new, authentic and unique tourism experiences to ensure visitor numbers are sustained over the long-term in the area. The Field of Light exhibition at Uluru has boosted visitor numbers and is a fantastic example of the type of event that can stimulate tourism in the region.
Nature Based Tourism
Northern Australia’s national parks are drawcards for tourists, and private sector investment could increase visitation and improve the visitor experience. Currently, national parks may be managed at the state, territory, or federal level. In addition, some parks are jointly managed with traditional owners. Developing a consistent approach to regulation and private investment across all national parks will simplify processes for potential tourism operators and could therefore attract further investment.
In particular, the Committee considers that examination of opportunities to stimulate investment in Kakadu National Park should be prioritised.
Drive tourism was described by one inquiry participant as the ‘bread and butter’ of tourism in Northern Australia. This is particularly the case for remote regions which are primarily accessed by road. Improving road infrastructure is critical to growing the drive tourist market as discussed in Chapter 4. Further incentives to attract drive tourists, particularly grey nomads, includes the development of scenic drive routes and improving roadside facilities and tourism signage. Streamlining hire car regulation will also make it easier for tourists to drive across state and territory borders.
Industrial Tourism and Educational Tourism
The resources industry is a large employer across Northern Australia. The Committee was pleased to hear from towns and communities that had turned their resource industries into an industrial tourism opportunity. The Committee considers that regions such as the Pilbara in Western Australia could further investigate the potential for industrial tourism.
International students who study in Northern Australia are likely to visit tourist attractions during their time in the north. Further, they may host their family and friends, which creates another potential tourist market. The Committee considers that incentives to encourage international students to study in Northern Australia are worthy of further investigation. In addition, tourism packages for visiting friends and relatives could also attract more international visitors.
Indian Ocean Territories
The Committee was pleased to visit Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and hear from local residents and organisations about ways to stimulate tourism in this remote part of Australia.
The Committee considers there are a number of outstanding issues the Australian Government should address in order to stimulate tourism in the Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs). This includes deciding the future of government assets, such as the Quarantine Station on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island. Further, the government should outline its strategy to remove asbestos from Commonwealth built housing on Home Island.
Cabotage is a major inhibitor to tourism growth in the IOTs. The IOTS are much closer to Indonesia than mainland Australia and it makes economic sense for a foreign airline to fly a triangular route from Asia to Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
Pivot North and a number of reports of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories have recommended the Australian Government facilitate the reopening of the Christmas Island Casino Resort. The Committee reiterates this recommendation and notes the extensive length of time over which this issue has remained unresolved. The Committee strongly urges that without delay the Australian Government reissue a casino licence to Christmas Island Resort to provide certainty for the future of tourism.
The reopening of the Casino Resort is critical to the economic future of Christmas Island, particularly in the context of the imminent closure of the Immigration Detention Centre and scaling down of phosphate mining operations and the expected resulting loss of employment. Further delay in the reopening of the Casino Resort would also lengthen the reconstruction period and cost of repairs that are needed, as the asset will continue to depreciate over time.
The Committee commends the resilience of tourism operators on Hamilton Island and within the Whitsunday region more broadly, who worked tirelessly to continue to operate following the devastation caused by the recent Tropical Cyclone Debbie.
The Committee heard that some resorts in the Whitsundays have been sold to private investors but were subsequently never reopened or developed. The closure of a major resort on one of these islands can have a devastating effect on other local businesses. The Committee considers that there may be a need to ensure investors who purchase large assets in this region will develop and open them in the short term.
Great Keppel Island
The Committee heard that the reopening of the Great Keppel Island Resort could stimulate tourism on Great Keppel Island and the Capricorn Coast more broadly. The Committee was pleased to hear that the state government was working to connect Great Keppel Island to mainland services, and that an application had been made to the Australian Government to support the development of Great Keppel Island.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government, in partnership with the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia Governments facilitate and fund the establishment of a peak body for Northern Australia representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism operators. This body should work with Tourism Australia and state and territory tourism bodies to develop a strategy for the development of cultural tourism in Northern Australia.
The Committee recommends Tourism Australia work with Indigenous Business Australia to re-establish the Indigenous Tourism Champions Program.
The Committee recommends the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet consider expanding the scope of its Indigenous Ranger projects to include opportunities to support the tourism industry in remote areas.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government review business development programs to ensure they stimulate the creation and growth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism businesses in Northern Australia.
The Committee recommends that (in recognition of the closure of the climb up Uluru) the Australian and Northern Territory Governments consult and work with traditional owners to consider and implement options to increase tourist visitation to Uluru (for example, through events and/or new tourism experiences).
The Committee recommends that Parks Australia be given increased funding to improve infrastructure within National Parks. Infrastructure in Kakadu National Park should be upgraded as a priority, to stimulate private investment and improve access for tourists.
The Committee recommends Parks Australia and its state and territory counterparts establish an agreed and consistent regulatory approach to the consideration of investment in national parks, including private-public partnerships.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government, in partnership with the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia Governments implement a trial of the harmonisation of regulatory arrangements regarding hire cars, to assist in stimulating the drive tourism market.
The Committee recommends that cabotage restrictions be lifted for the Indian Ocean Territories.
The Committee strongly and urgently recommends the Australian Government reissue a licence to enable the Christmas Island Casino Resort to re-open.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government develop and implement plans (in consultation with local residents) for the following assets on the Indian Ocean Territories (including consideration of their potential to support the tourism industry):
the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island following its expected closure in mid-2018; and
the Quarantine station on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government as a matter of urgency commit to removing asbestos from Commonwealth built, owned and privately sold infrastructure on the Indian Ocean Territories (including residential properties) and other dangerous and toxic materials (such as gas cylinders and fire retardant canisters) as soon as possible.
Hon Warren Entsch MP
21 June 2018