Closing the climb at Uluru will not have a dramatic effect on tourist numbers, according to Parks Australia.
The Canberra-run body responsible for the care of Uluru said visitor figures had increased steadily in the past six years, including prior to the announcement of the closure.
“In 2018-19, the park welcomed 395,338 visitors, a 20 per cent increase from the previous financial year,” a spokesperson told the ABC.
“While there are certainly visitors travelling with the intention of climbing Uluru before the climb closure comes into effect in October, the ongoing rise in visitation is likely to be due to a number of factors.
“For example, there are a number of new direct flights to Ayers Rock Airport which has increased visitor capacity and enabled greater access.”
It comes as One Nation leader Pauline Hanson made calls for the climb to remain open, citing fears tourists would no longer want to visit the sacred site.
Speaking to ABC radio in Alice Springs, Senator Hanson said she “wouldn’t bother” visiting Uluru if she could not climb it.
“I think it’ll deter a lot of people from actually going out there if they can’t climb the rock,” she said.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) July 14, 2019
Senator’s comments labelled ‘ignorant’
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said Senator Hanson’s comments were “ignorant”.
“Absolutely part of [the closure] is safety, but more importantly this is of huge cultural significance to traditional owners, and I believe the long-term tourist value from an industry point of view is in maintaining its cultural value,” Mr Gunner said.
“What will see Uluru be a long-term viable tourism asset for Australia is genuinely recognising the importance it plays for traditional owners as part of their songlines.”
Since records began in the 1950s, 37 people have died while attempting to climb the rock. The most recent was a Japanese tourist in July 2018.
Parks Australia said its 2018 visitor survey indicated 86 per cent of tourists chose not to climb, and the closure would make way for new opportunities in the park.
“The closure of the Uluru climb is an opportunity to create new visitor experiences based on culture and nature, and to set a new direction for the park that aligns with the board’s vision that Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a place where Anangu law and culture is kept strong for future generations,” a spokesman said.
“As has been the case since handback, we encourage visitors to respect Anangu wishes and consider choosing not to climb.”
Hanson dismisses ‘cultural sensitivity’
Senator Hanson said she could not “see the cultural sensitivity when people have been climbing the rock all these years”.
“Now all of a sudden they want to shut it down? No, I don’t get it,” she said on Channel Nine.
“It’s no different to coming out and saying, ‘We’re going to close down Bondi Beach because there are some people there that have drowned’.
“How ridiculous is that?”
There has been a major influx of visitors to Uluru in recent weeks, with some people determined to climb the rock before it closes, as well as nationwide school holidays.