AYERS ROCK, Australia -- Ayers Rock in Australia's Red Center is
becoming increasingly popular with Americans.
According to Nick Baker, Ayers Rock Resort's director of sales
and marketing, U.S. visitors increased 14.6% in the past nine
months to 7,694, compared with the previous nine-month period. He
attributed this, in part, to increased U.S. sales and marketing
efforts, with the area being included in more tour operator
However, a major reason for an overall traffic increase was the
extension of the resort's airport runway in late 1996. It now can
take 737-400s. Previously, it could handle only smaller 737s, and
Qantas and Ansett increased seats by more than 30%. "We're now
getting more people coming up from Sydney for the weekend, a
two-hour-and-50-minute flight," he said.
Ayers Rock Resort, with five hotels totaling 600 rooms, has a
monopoly on accommodations and is 12 miles from Ayers Rock, known
to the aboriginal people as Uluru. Uluru is a spiritual center as a
well as Australia's geographic center and is the centerpiece of the
820-square-mile Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
"People who have not been here see it as a single rock in the
desert, but there is much to see and experience," Baker said. "We
have the native culture and plenty of different plants and
Uluru, 1,400 feet high, is six miles long. Activity options
include walking tours and tours by air, four-wheel-drive, the back
seat of motorbikes (or ride your own), motorcoach and, the latest,
camel. Camel tours range from cocktail rides in the resort to treks
in the desert. Baker said more ecotours and adventure tours and
activities are planned, including the opening of an isolated
12-tent luxury campground late this year.
The resort opened 12 years ago -- about the same time ownership
of the region reverted to the local Anagu people who leased the
park area back to Australia's national park authority. It has
tennis, shopping, an outdoor amphitheater with nightly aboriginal
entertainment and a campground. Including the campground, the
resort can house up to 3,000 people a night.
Properties are the luxury Sails in the Desert Hotel, Desert
Gardens Hotel, Emu Walk Apartments, Outback Pioneer Hotel and the
Spinifex Lodge. A conference center opened in 1994, and in late
1996 the resort completed a $24 million renovation and expansion.
The project included the renovation of rooms and public areas at
Sails in the Desert, a room addition at Desert Gardens and the
Most Americans stay at Sails in the Desert and others at Desert
Gardens, with the market split 50-50 between FITs and those on
escorted tours. Hotel rates start at approximately $81. At Sails in
the Desert, rates range from about $275 to $496.
The resort is owned by Ayers Rock Resort Co., in which the
Northern Territory Government has a 40% interest. The company has
expanded, buying properties at the two other Red Center
destinations. In February, it bought the Kings Canyon Resort, with
105 hotel rooms and 80 dormitory beds, at Kings Canyon, 190 miles
from Uluru. Two years ago, it bought the 120-room Alice Springs
Resort in Alice Springs, 300 miles away.
Ayers Rock is the region's major attraction, followed by the
town of Alice Springs, with aboriginal cultural attractions. With
the two additional properties, the resort plans to increase touring
activity options and programs, opening up little known areas. Few
Americans go to King's Canyon, which besides its rock formations
includes a green valley, Baker said.
He said the average stay at Ayers Rock is two nights, adding
that meetings and incentives are a growing business, now accounting
for 4% to 5% of business. Recently, for example, it had a Heineken
group of 300 people -- one of its largest groups ever -- from
Italy. About 61% of its visitors are international (Europe, 48%;
Asia, 33%, and North America, 14.5%).
Last year, the resort appointed Sterling Hotels & Resorts,
an international reservations company, to handle its bookings.
Sterling: Phone (800) 637-7200