Interview on MIX 104.9, 360, with Katie Woolf

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Uluru Rock; tourism in the NT.
30 October 2019

Katie Woolf: Now, as we know, Uluru closed to climbers on the weekend but that is not going to stop Tourism Australia's marketing team from featuring the iconic location prominently in upcoming international marketing. Now, the Federal Minister for Tourism Simon Birmingham joins me on the line.

Good morning, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: G’day. Good to be with you.

Katie Woolf: Now, Minister, Uluru closed to climbing on the weekend. Were you pleased to see this finally happen and- I mean, I know it's been an extensive process.

Simon Birmingham: It has been a very long process and I hope that with it now finally happening, the real focus from Territory authorities, particularly from Parks Australia, in managing Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa, working with the traditional owners, the tourism businesses in the region really is to make sure that there's strong awareness of all of the other amazing and incredible experiences that people can have from the Festival of Lights that I'm thrilled is continuing and has been extended through, of course, to the rich array of other activities and cultural experiences that people can have there. And that it's really about making sure that going forward, visitors know that that there’s much, much more that you can do as people have been doing increasing in numbers and proportions for many years now, instead of just climbing the rock.

Katie Woolf: Well, this is the thing: there's so many of us that realise that there is so much more that you can do at Uluru. I guess the concern is whether we're going to struggle to be able to sell that to the rest of Australia and indeed, the rest of the world. But that's where Tourism Australia- their largest global campaign strategy has come out or it is set to feature the rock from above in a helicopter. Is that part of the reason why you feel it's so important to ensure that the iconic location is still featured?

Simon Birmingham: It was definitely a factor but is an iconic location that will continue to be at the heart of Australia and the heart of our tourism marketing. There's no doubt that vast numbers of people visiting Uluru in recent years have had incredible experiences without the need to climb the rock, and that’s been an increasing proportion. And although we've had a lot of intense domestic focus around the closure in the last few weeks and even months, ultimately, internationally, the iconic status of Uluru, the unique landscape that's there, but importantly, the people and the culture of the region. And that's really what we're trying to bring to life in our next wave of marketing activities for Australia, is to continue to highlight and show the incredible images of Australia and the things that you can see. But also, we've got to give much more focus to the people you will encounter, the experiences you will have, because they're the things that take a trip to Australia from just what you see to how you feel, to making you feel good, to ensuring it's a rich and vibrant experience and that's going to be the heart of very much the campaign from here on in.

Katie Woolf: How important do you think the Northern Territory is in selling that message and sort of really focusing on Australia as being somewhere that's quite different, especially when you look at our Indigenous culture?
Simon Birmingham: I think the Territory has long been at the heart of promoting Australia as a different experience and that has seen significant tourism numbers to the Territory, and we're delighted to see a bit of a lift in recent times, with visitation up to nearly 300,000 international visitors and spending up some 9 per cent on the last data. And that's a trend that we want to see continue and part of it is about getting people to look beyond the big cities into other gateway points such as Darwin and then into the regions for experiences like Uluru, like Kakadu, where of course we’re now investing more than $200 million in upgrading facilities and we really want to bring Kakadu as a rich tourism experience back to life. It's an incredible part of the world. 

And also, critically, we're investing $40 million in building new Indigenous-owned and operated tourism businesses because that is also about the unique appeal of Australia. If we think about high value tourists from the United States or Europe or elsewhere who want a cultural experience, well making sure we have high quality Indigenous-owned, Indigenous-operated tourism products that those big spending tourists can come and get. A genuine authentic cultural experience is really going to be at the core of our success going forward.

Katie Woolf: Now, I know- you did just mentioned Kakadu. Many have felt that Kakadu is a little lacklustre at the moment – not the wonderful natural location. But some of the infrastructure supporting it, as you mentioned, there is set to be a massive investment into Kakadu. Where are things at the moment?

Simon Birmingham: So, my understanding there is that the negotiations between the Territory Government, the Federal Government and traditional owners and of course, ERA, the mine operators, continue to pin down progress of now all of the specific commitments that have been made. Money is on the table. Plans are there for the new facilities at Jabiru and for the real revival of a new gateway and entry into Kakadu. And it’s about getting that delivered over the next few years. It's a multi-stage project. Clearly, there are many different components to it. 

My real focus, noting that the funding is being driven and delivered partly through Indigenous Affairs, partly through Environment, my real focus from a tourism perspective is to raise awareness of the work that's going to happen but also hopefully to attract some complementary investment on the way through so that we can get even more investment into better quality accommodation, better quality resources and resorts and facilities there so that visitors in the future have a very fresh modern product to be able to choose from. The core experience is still an incredible one. But you're right, the facilities have become a bit dated and that's what we're seeking to drive the upgrade to.

Katie Woolf: So what type of additional independent investment would you like to see out there?

Simon Birmingham: I think making sure that we get private operators of hotel resorts, clamping style accommodation committed to the region is crucial, and so we want to package up what is going to be done to give potential investors confidence and see that with more than $200 million of federal funding, territory funding, other private sector funding, support, ownership, leadership from traditional owners that demonstrates their commitment that is actually a product there that people can have confidence of investing in for the future. That again will take some time, but it's about recognising that just having the government dollars on the table or just having the dollars associated with the mine closure on the table isn't enough, that we've got to make sure we try to use that as a springboard to attract other great tourism operators into the territory and the region.

Katie Woolf: Now Minister, just to go back to the marketing side of things. I know that Uluru is not the only location which is going to feature - you have touched on Kakadu and the Northern Territory more generally. Where is this marketing going to be seen?

Simon Birmingham: So we're running a national campaign right across 15 different countries. This is not about simply saying- and people might have seen the philosophy play on words there, to put the A-U-S in the middle of the word philosophy. But that's not a tagline that's going to be used everywhere. It's more about the strategy of a series of campaigns across 15 different countries that Australia has either big existing tourism markets in, or is seeing strong growth potential in and then we will then tailor the campaigns in each of those markets to the cultural factors in those markets, for the type of activities that that people want to undertake. And from there, we will be highlighting the, as I say, unique nature and experiences of Australia as well as the fact that those experiences are delivered by people who will guarantee a fun loving and enjoyable memorable time for anybody who comes here. And again, across each of those 15 different countries, the $38 million initially earmarked will be invested across different platforms; some of it on modern social media type marketing, others still using traditional television-based type marketing. And indeed for the really high spending, high-value traveller in markets like the US, we're looking at glossy coffee table type magazine that will feature a range of high profile prominent successful Australians talking about their love of Australia and really trying to bring to life those experiences that we hope can get the high value tourist, not just like Australia, but take the time to book a trip and come here.

Katie Woolf: Minister, I know one of the areas that the Northern Territory Government’s been quite heavily focused on in terms of tourism is China. Is that quite a focus for the Federal Government as well? 

Simon Birmingham: Indeed, China will continue to be and is one of those 15 countries. We also see opportunities elsewhere in Southeast Asia to continue to grow visitation into Australia. And Indonesia, another one of those very populous growing middle class, and of course incredibly close to Darwin in the Territory, so continuing a focus there. The Chinese market, we're seeing an evolution. For much of the last couple of decades, the Chinese market has been overwhelmingly dominated by big tour groups. We're now seeing growth of what the tourism industry calls free and independent travellers, people who come independent of the tour group, make their own bookings, travel their own journey- and that itself probably bodes quite well for trying to get more of those Chinese visitors to contemplate coming to the Territory and exploring that richness of Australia the Territory’s got to offer.

Katie Woolf: Well, Federal Minister for Tourism Simon Birmingham, great to catch up with you this morning. Just very quickly, we've got a great event taking place later this week, or it's kicking off later this week: Bruce Munro Tropical Light. Are you excited to see that arrive in the Northern Territory and do you reckon you'll get up here for it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Katie, look, I'm always keen to get to the Territory if I possibly can, and it's crucial in terms of getting more Australian tourists and more international tourists out of the big cities and experiencing the other parts of Australia to have that type of diverse product moving into areas like the Territory, and that's really welcome. And I hope certainly that I can get up to the Territory in the coming months.

Katie Woolf: Simon Birmingham, good to catch up with you this morning. Thanks so much for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much, Katie.

Katie Woolf: You are of course listening to MIX 104.9’s 360. That was Simon Birmingham who is the Federal Minister for Tourism.

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