Visitors to the Red Centre are taking a more relaxed pace to immerse themselves in Indigenous experiences compared to pre-pandemic times and the Uluru family market is thriving, the CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia Matt Cameron-Smith has revealed.
With trips to Queensland off the radar and overseas holidays to Fiji, Bali and Europe impossible for the foreseeable future, Ayers Rock Resort has witnessed a reemergence in family stays.
“Certainly our focus as we move through this melee is absolutely on the guest experience. Our goal and our mission is to enrich people’s lives through Indigenous tourism and offering meaningful and authentic experiences that they’ll remember for a lifetime,” he told media at an event on Tuesday night [17 November 2020].
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In the CEO position for just over 100 days, Cameron-Smith said he was thrilled for the return of direct aviation services to Uluru. During the pandemic as state and territory borders closed, flights to Ayers Rock Airport went from 33 weekly services to “donuts”, the former long-time Travel Corporation senior executive said.
“That was a bit of a challenge,” he admits.
After all, the Red Centre is not a ‘drive-to’ destination, rather a ‘fly-to experience’, with Cameron-Smith saying this week that “aviation is very critical to us.”
He lauded Jetstar for its initiative in relaunching flights to Uluru, saying Qantas’ budget offshoot had been “nimble, flexible and opportunistic” in its approach to kick-start tourism to the heart of Australia. Travel restrictions mean more and more Aussies are looking to explore their own homeland.
Though flights frequencies are a long way off highs of early 2020, Jetstar is now providing airlift to Uluru from Brisbane, Sydney and soon Melbourne, he said.
Cameron-Smith also heaped praise on Tourism Australia and the organisation’s ‘Holiday Here’ domestic focus. He believes the campaign could remain in play for years to come, not just a short-term drive.
“I think that’s really resonated with Australians. Telling Australians where they can go and that this really is the time to see your own backyard,” he said.
“We all have an embarrassment of riches that we’ve all flown over for so long.”
“Uluru, as we discovered, was on everyone’s bucket list, not their ‘to-do’ list. And our job was to move that forward,” Cameron-Smith remarked.
Voyages has used the past six months to reinvest in the Ayers Rock Resort. The company has nearly completed a $12 million revamp of the upmarket “jewel in the crown”, Sails in the Desert.
Rooms have been upgraded throughout, while public spaces, the restaurants, cafes and all the grounds are “looking their absolute best,” Cameron-Smith said.
Ayers Rock Resort trends: short lead times and Uluru family trips
With the re-entry of direct flights, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia has witnessed a number of trends emerge from the “changed traveller”.
“Often I think that Uluru was considered to be an ‘I’ve gone, I’ve done it’ destination. Either visitors climbed it or they didn’t, or they did the Sounds of Silence and looked at the stars and said ‘I’m done.’ ”
Visitors are now staying longer and including morning and evening tours. The average nightly stay from the Queensland market alone has grown from 1.75 nights to 3.1.
“Previously they’d come in and do the Sounds of Silence dinner, then Field of Light morning tour, then out to Kata-Tjuta. All they could possibly do in 1.75 days.”
Now, they are still including those activities but spending additional time looking at art, shopping, relaxing, laying by the pool or enjoying a meal.
The fabled Sounds of Silence dinner is booked solid almost every night, he said.
“[Visitors] really are immersing themselves in the destination and I think that’s given us the chance to reengage Australians in Indigenous culture. For us, that’s what we are about. We have a strong mandate around delivering Indigenous experiences, regularly and authentically.”
Other trends noted was a shorter-lead time for bookings.
Cameron-Smith cited one instance of a guest from Sydney he has met at the resort on a Sunday who had booked flights on the Tuesday that week to fly on the Friday.
“She said she’d done the Field of Light, a scenic flight over the Rock, was going to have some down time before going out to do the Sounds of Silence dinner. There is a repeat trend which I think is really exciting.”.
The repeat traveller market is also significant. Many of these travellers make family Uluru trips.
Jobs and Training
Next month, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia’s will celebrate its next wave of graduates from NITA (National Indigenous Travel Academy). More than 60 students will be acknowledged for achieving a Certificate III and IV in either Hospitality, Horticulture or Retail.
This next group will take the total number of NITA graduates to beyond 500, providing young Indigenous Australians a career in one those three streams around the country, and not just with Voyages.
Currently, 44% of employment at Ayers Rock Resort is Indigenous Australians, the highest level in around two years, Cameron-Smith said. At Voyages’ Mossman Gorge Centre in Queensland the employment level is 68%.
A 100% Indigenous team now delivers Tali Wiru, Ayers Rock Resort’s premium dining experience.
“From the chefs to the wait staff [at Tali Wiru], the whole thing. It really is about immersing yourself in the culture. And its always fantastic to see their smiling faces when they are wearing the ‘trainee’ badge, knowing we are giving someone a future. And that’s a really important part of what Voyages is about,” Cameron-Smith concluded.
Lead image: Tali Wiru dining experience at Ayers Rock Resort