A ban on climbing one of Australia’s iconic tourism sites has been accepted as a necessary decision by local tour operators, with some calling for restrictions on even more sacred sites in various parts of the country.
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board will impose a ban on the controversial practice of climbing Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, in the heart of the Northern Territory’s “Red Centre” from October next year.
The move has prompted speculation that other sacred sites would follow suit, sparking a debate between those who want to protect the sites and those who want respectful visitors to continue to have access to these locations.
But Intrepid Travel’s regional director Brett Mitchell thinks the decision to ban the Uluru climb for them is uncomplicated. “For us, that decision should have come a lot sooner,” he said.
“Yes, it’s a (bucket list thing for some travellers) to get to Uluru but once you’re able to explain why it’s sacred, those that might have been inclined to climb it will conclude that it’s a no-brainer not to climb it. So we haven’t had any negative feedback in that sense.”
The ban has long been supported by Tourism Central Australia, where CEO Steven Schwer believes the change won’t impact tourist numbers to the region. “The (tourist demand to climb Uluru) used to be a lot more prevalent than it is these days,” he said.
“Less than 20 per cent of all visitors who enter the park now climb the rock and the numbers are continuing to diminish. And what’s interesting is there are far more people who complain that the rock climb is still open than those who complain about it being closed.”
More than 300,000 people visit Uluru every year, with tourists choosing to climb the rock despite a sign by the traditional land owners expressing their wishes for visitors to avoid climbing the spiritually significant landmark as that is seen as offensive to the Anangu people.
Advocates for the ban have also cited safety issues, pollution and environmental degradation. There have further been reports of visitors disrespectfully stripping on the rock or using it as a toilet because of the lack of facilities.
“There are so many other ways you can experience the Ayers Rock these days that there’s no reason to climb it,” said Schwer. “There are segue tours around the base, also bike tours, helicopter flights, camel tours, the SkyShip which is an aerial experience, a Sounds of Silence dinner (to name a few) so it’s really just not necessary anymore to climb to feel like you’ve been there and experienced it.”
Mitchell would also welcome restrictions placed on other sacred sites in Australia like Purnululu National Park in Western Australia or Gariwerd National park in Western Victoria’s Grampians area. “Mass tourism is a concern and particularly in Australia where we’ve just got a very fragile environment. It’s a growing issue globally,” he said, adding that tourism has an important role to play in sustainability.
Ronnie Lan, general manager of Great Holidays, which specialises in inbound tourists from China, says his clients will be disappointed about the ban but will accept it. “It’s just the way it is,” he remarked. “I don’t think it will sway tourists to other destinations because Uluru is (quite) unique.”
The ban has also put into question continuing access to climbs on hiking attractions like Wollumbin-Mount Warning in North-east New South Wales and St Mary Peak in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.