Controversy over the operation of Ayers Rock Resort could place at risk not only the revival of the property but also the extensive opportunities being provided to the Indigenous communities by the tourism sector, according to the Australian Tourism Export Council.
Chairman John King branded recent comments by Indigenous Land Corporation chairman Dawn Casey as “unfortunate and misguided”, underlining the credentials of the board and management of Voyages Indigenous Tourism which has been managing the resort since its acquisition in May, 2011.
“In spite of severe headwinds brought about by factors such as three years of reduced international travel to regional and especially remote areas, and a significant reduction in airline services and capacity, the Voyages team had been increasingly kicking goals,” he said.
“The sacking of the Voyages Board is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
King insisted that Ayers Rock Resort had been trading profitably, with Voyages making considerable headway in reigniting the interest of the higher yielding corporate meetings market, and increasing the average length of stay at the resort through its program of events and its close alignment with the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park.
What had been an under-performing business was showing signs of a turnaround, he continued.
However, it is the resort’s impact on Indigenous communities that is most impressive, according to King who was appointed Indigenous tourism business leader appointed by former tourism minister Martin Ferguson.
“The most outstanding achievement is its success in training and currently employing more than 220 Indigenous employees in ‘real jobs’ in one of the most successful programs in Australia,” King said.
That number puts Voyages ahead of its target of reaching 500 Indigenous employees by 2015.
“Having stayed frequently at the resort, the quality and professionalism of Indigenous employees, is now world class and the whole place is starting to have a really positive buzz about it, which it has not had for many years,” he said.
The ILC’s decision to sack the Voyages board, which led in turn to the resignation of managing director Koos Klein, was “short-sighted”, King argued.
“Nearly all tourism operators experienced downturns in both profitability and asset value and those who succeed take a longer term view and are able to position themselves to benefit from the upturns,” he said.
The resort’s ability to offer of quality experiences that can compete on a global stage is essential not only for the Northern Territory but for Australia as a whole, he added.