Ayers Rock Resort is emerging from “challenging” times, with Voyages Indigenous Tourism executive general manager Ray Stone confident the business has turned a corner with solid growth expected this year.
Recent turmoil involving the board and the management resulted in the departure of former Voyages managing director Koos Klein at the end of October amid reports the resort was barely scraping through.
While Stone admitted the much-publicised debacle did impact the resort’s performance “at its height” in November, things have been looking up with both domestic and international markets, particularly in Europe, gathering pace.
“Since mid-December, we’ve seen some pent up demand,” he told Travel Today. “We’ve launched a new advertising campaign and the booking pace has been really tremendous particularly in January, February and March.”
Shortly after Voyages announced it was commencing a new seasonal charter service between Melbourne and Ayers Rock Airport this month, Jetstar followed suit launching a four times weekly service between the two ports. The low cost carrier also decided to boost its four times weekly service from Sydney to daily. Those changes take effect from June 29.
The service changes add 130,000 annual seats to Ayers Rock, with Stone confident the benefits will be felt at the resort. With the additional capacity and Jetstar’s marketing support, the resort expects to see an increase in its leisure business of between 12% and 15%.
That represents a “really significant” improvement on last year, which was flat.
“We’ve been working really hard to make changes over the last two years,” Stone said.
Value for money has been an important focus of the turnaround strategy, with free guest activities now forming an integral part of the program.
There has also been a major renovation program which saw its five-star property Sails in the Desert overhauled and the creation of its Uluru Meeting Place conference centre.
Both have delivered tangible results. Sails now boasts the highest occupancies in the resort, while Meeting Place has grown business events at the resort from between 2% and 3% of overall business to around 8%. Stone said he was confident it will reach its target of between 12% and 15% within the next couple of years.
Events are also a major part of the strategy, with the Djungu cultural festival – scheduled to take place over Anzac weekend – looking set to sell out in its inaugural year. The resort also hosts The Astronomy Weekend in August, to be hosted by TV and Triple J radio personality Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.
And then there is the Royal Visit. Prince William and Prince Kate, along with baby George, will arrive in Uluru on April 22 for an overnight stay. They will visit the resort’s National Indigenous Training Academy where they will hand out certificates and meet trainees before spending time at the base of Uluru with the land’s traditional owners.
“That’s obviously going to get some significant coverage, possibly even more than we’ve anticipated, not only from Australia and the UK but other markets too,” Stone predicted.
The resort is fully booked that weekend, he added.