A business lobby group has made a controversial call to reopen the Uluru climb to help kickstart Northern Territory’s tourism industry.
The climb was permanently closed in October at the request of traditional owners.
But there has been talk of a “grand” reopening of the climb, said Dave Batic, chairman of Alice Springs Major Business Group and general manager of Alice Springs airport.
Mr Batic said “bold” thinking was needed to rebuild tourism when NT borders reopened, possibly by August.
“We are competing against every other state and territory in Australia for the tourism dollar,” he said.
Mr Batic said opening the climb for two to three years, in partnership with the traditional owners, would be a windfall for Territory tourism.
“The concept there is that the traditional owners would provide tours for paying climbers and have a safety harness system in place just like the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” he said.
“I guess it would be a grand opening or reopening of the Northern Territory.
“There’s three iconic destinations in Australia that we talk about: The reef, the rock and the Sydney Opera House. The rock is actually going to be our saviour from a tourism perspective.”
Mr Batic acknowledged that it would be up to the traditional owners to manage any reopening of the climb, but it was important to have the discussion.
“We know that when the rock climb closed, we had 10,000 less people through the airport per month,” he said.
“We know that the rock climb [closing] had a direct impact on tourism straight away.”
But the idea was flatly rejected by Sammy Wilson, who was chairman of the Uluru Kata-Tjuta board of management in 2017 when the decision was made to close the climb.
“No. Enough is enough. The word is no,” said Mr Wilson, who remains on the board.
“We don’t want to open a can of worms or put more logs on the fire.”
Traditional owners say closing the climb presents an opportunity for visitors to experience the spectacular country around Uluru and learn about the Anangu people and culture.
In the lead up to last year’s closure, tourists flocked to the sandstone monolith and images of hundreds of visitors snaking their way up the rock received global coverage.
The closure coincided with the 34th anniversary of the park being returned to traditional owners.
“The closure represents the long-held wishes of the park’s traditional owners, Anangu,” a Parks Australia spokesperson said.
“At Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the board has been working with tourism businesses for several years to develop new attractions.”
The spokesperson acknowledged it was a difficult time for tourism in central Australia, and beyond.
“When the park is open it offers cultural workshops and demonstrations at the Cultural Centre every day, and the free ranger-guided Mala Walk each morning,” the spokesperson said.
“Visitors can discover ancient rock art, learn about the park’s amazing plants and animals and their significance to Anangu, and find locally made, authentic Indigenous art and crafts at the art centre.”
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is closed until June 18 when the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act is due to expire.