Kakadu intent to up the luxe

2030 Master Plan calls for upmarket accommodation and cruising EOI

credit: Tourism NT/Daniel Tran

Kakadu National Park has proposed a suite of upmarket lodging and top-shelf experiences to attract a greater number of high-yielding visitors over the next decade.

A Tourism Master Plan for 2020-2030 has flagged new opportunities for investment in sustainable projects including luxury accommodation, aerial tours, cruising and fine-dining experiences.

The draft 1o-year strategic framework comes as Kakadu acknowledges that “visitation has slumped and the proportion of international visitors has decreased markedly”.

There are three key goals outlined in the roadmap:

  • Increase visitor numbers, length of stay and seasonal visitation
  • Increase the number of Bininj/Mungguy and commercial tourism businesses
  • Increase revenue

Visitation aim

The Kakadu National Park Tourism Master Plan is targeting a conservative 220,000 visitors annually by 2025 and 250,000 by 2030. Should COVID-19 see infrastructure investment fast-tracked in the Northern Territory – due to increased domestic tourism demand – that figure may rise to 325,000 by the end of the decade.

In 2019, Kakadu welcomed 195,700 visitors, well down on its peak period following the phenomenal success of the movie blockbuster Crocodile Dundee, when the park welcomed 237,500 visitors in 1990 and 240,000 four years later. The next most recent visitor high was in 2008 when there were 229,000 arrivals.

“These higher visitor numbers demonstrate Kakadu’s ability to attract and host a large number of visitors. It shows that the target visitation of 250,000 people per annum by 2030 is achievable if targeted investment is undertaken and action is taken to improve the visitor experience,” the Master Plan says.

The plan does note, however, that the impact of COVID-19 may mean it could take “at least three to five years” for visitor numbers to return to those of 2019.

Visiting Jim Jim Falls | credit: Tourism NT / Shaana McNaught

The current average visitor length of stay could also increase from the current 3.5 nights to five and tourism revenue could jump from $3.2 million (in 2020) to $4.1 million.

Kakadu target market

The document states that based on industry feedback, Kakadu lacks tourism infrastructure to lure “high value travellers,” a shortfall the master plan aims to address.

“This is an ideal opportunity for private sector investment, where expertise in delivering high-end and bespoke visitor infrastructure and activities could add significant value to tourism in Kakadu,” the roadmap said.

Among the suggested accommodation options is a “five-star ecolodge” and semi-permanent satellite safari camp at Bukbukluk in the Mary River precinct, and a family-friendly property to replace the now-shut-down South Alligator Aurora Kakadu resort.

“The types of accommodation that should be considered, particularly to attract high value travellers, include:  private glamping accommodation, luxury or ‘high-end’ accommodation options, wellness retreats with associated wellness activities tailored to Kakadu, ecolodges with low-impact footprint, accommodation that is architecturally designed and unique to Kakadu,” the 276-page Master Plan says.

New experiences

Among the range of suggested experiences are aerial tours of Kakadu (via helicopter or light plane with the possibility of departing from Darwin), luxury river cruises, infrastructure with a wow-factor, such as glass-bottomed elevated platforms/walkways, ziplines at spectacular locations, wellness activities (spa treatments, meditation, yoga or health retreats based on bush tucker and Northern Territory produce, including cooking classes), fine-dining options, private art activities and corporate events.

Helicopter flight over Kakadu National Park | credit: Tourism NT / Shaana McNaught

The plan also noted Kakadu has a limited number of  year-round water-based activities, with swimming being the most in demand, “and no high-end or luxury cultural activities on offer. There are minimal offerings in growing tourism sectors such as special-interest groups, health and wellbeing and eco- or nature-based products.”

Other key initiatives flagged include a World Heritage Visitor Centre, viewing platforms at Twin Falls, Cahills Crossing and Jim Jim Falls plunge pool; and mountain biking trails in the Mary River Precinct.

“Improved visitor infrastructure and activities will attract more visitors to Kakadu, encourage and provide meaningful and diverse experiences, drive growth and contribute to improving social and economic outcomes for Bininj/Mungguy,” the vision statement said.

Ayal Aboriginal Tours | credit: Tourism NT

Kakadu National Park also cited threats to its growth by competing parks in the Northern Territory, namely Litchfield National Park (due to its close proximity to Darwin, ideal for day-trips) and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (due to direct flight access, luxury accommodation, Uluru itself and the Field of Lights exhibition).

“There is potential for Kakadu to capture visitors looking for soft adventure now that the climb has closed at Uluru,” the master plan noted.

Lead image: Couple enjoying the sunset at Ubirr | credit: Tourism NT/Daniel Tran

Kakadu waterhole | credit: Tourism NT / Johan Lolos

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