Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce has said crime in Alice Springs had caused the number of tourists to drop but seemed to blame to the NT’s tourism industry for not doing enough to lure visitors back, rather the Fyles Government – whose leaders he had hosted at an exclusive cocktail party last week – for not doing enough to reduce crime.
Mr Joyce was in Darwin for a company board meeting, and his remarks made on Friday – which were quoted in the NT News – seemed to contradict Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison’s comments in Budget Estimates recently that interest rate rises are the real culprit for the NT’s sluggish start to its peak tourism season, not crime.
On Thursday night the outgoing CEO also threw a cocktail party for 90 guests including Chief Minister Natasha Fyles and Ms Manison, at Qantas’ old hangar in Parap.
Mr Joyce said Qantas flights to the Territory were nine per cent above pre-COVID-19 levels, while passenger flights into Alice Springs were at 70 per cent of pre-COVID-19 figures.
“Crime has impacted demand,” he said.
“We find when these things do happen there’s a lag effect where the issue’s resolved and it does take a while before demand comes back.
“We’ve tweaked capacity slightly but we’ve kept the capacity in place so there’s plenty of seats, we just need to have a concerted effort to start filling them again.
“All tourism organisations, once there are plenty of seats, they help to advertise, help to communicate through their database and show the wonders, the fantastic place Alice Springs is and getting people back to travelling there.
“The local tourist organisations really need to get behind this and do some really hard yards to get tourists to go back to Alice Springs.”
In late February Tourism Central Australia chief executive Danial Rochford said Qantas had confirmed to him it was planning to cut another 30,000 seats during the 2023 peak tourism season, including in and outbound flights for Alice Springs and Yulara between March and October.
On Friday he blamed Qantas’ flight reduction to the region on the drop in tourists to the region.
“Tourism Central Australia continues to be active in our marketing, including a current campaign that is subsidising airfares into the region by almost $200 in association with Webjet,” he said.
“Qantas has not only dropped capacity into Alice Springs but they have hiked airfares which is making it so much harder to compete against other destinations.
“On April 1 next year, you can buy a ticket from Melbourne to Hamilton Island for $287 which is a 2 hour and 55 minute flight, while travelling on the same day on the same aircraft type for 2 hours and 55 minute flight to Alice Springs is $350.”
Mr Rochford said the airline’s marketing strategies were strangling NT’s tourism industry and said, “but more importantly strikes at the heart of the liveability of our amazing town.”
Mr Rochford again called on the NT Government to “do more to drive competition into the region”.
“We need our government, like all the other governments of Australia who actively roll their sleeves up and attract and incentivise airlines to come to their jurisdictions,” he said in February.
Mr Joyce leveled no criticism at the Fyles Government for how they had dealt with crime.
During part of the peak of the pandemic, the NT government was thanked by the government for helping to keep operating a non-stop service to London.
From November 2021 to June 2022, when Western Australia had effectively shut its borders, Qantas began flying non-stop flights to London from Darwin rather than Perth. In May 2022 Qantas International chief Andrew David thanked both the NT Government and Darwin Airport management.
“The NT Government and Darwin Airport went above and beyond so that we could operate these services when WA kept its borders closed, and we’re extremely grateful for their partnership,” Mr David said.
The crime level led to a national negative focus on the central Australian town this year.
The now dormant Action for Alice Facebook page and its owner Darren Clark were central to the spotlight, with the baker reporting vastly more crime on his page over the three years it existed that NT Police had made public.
In late January, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was forced to make a last-minute visit to Alice Springs due to growing political pressure to hold meetings with community groups and police about the ongoing crime crisis that had exploded as a national issue in the days leading up to his visit, while Ms Fyles was forced to announce new alcohol restrictions as a result of the visit.
When asked about the effect crime was having on tourist numbers at Estimates on June 13, Ms Manison said while escalating crime “is certainly something we listen to the industry about” it was not the biggest issue stopping people from coming.
“For some people, I’m sure that [crime] has had an impact on their decision-making, but the majority of where we’re hearing that those pressures are coming from are interest rate rises, trying to pay the bills, but also having more choice now about where people can actually go,” she said.
Ms Manison would not say if the government was recording the impact of crime on tourists’ decision to come to the Northern Territory, but indicated the government felt things would pick up later in the year.
She also said she has been in “positive” talks with budget airlines Rex and Bonza about coming to the NT but would not say when the last time she spoke to the airlines.
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