The Territory is firmly back on the map for both international and domestic meetings and incentives.
With a new Convention Centre now open in Alice Springs, one on the drawing board for Darwin, a luxury tented village at Uluru (Ayers Rock), and a much larger luxury bush retreat for 600 lucky delegates in the Top End (The Ridge) both now open.
Several hotel upgrades and expansion are complete or underway. Add to this the "Never, Never" railway, the long-awaited extension of the famous Ghan line, ahead of schedule and opening in early 2004, after a century of bickering, dithering, and controversy, not to mention a forecast 80,000 new jobs over 20 years if the Timor Sea's massive gas reserves are brought on shore, and there's a exciting recipe for growth. And the Territory has been chosen, against strong competition from the rest of Australia, to host Dreamtime, the Australian Tourist Commission's prestigious incentive showcase in September, with the cream of the incentive world set to experience some very special (and secret) themed events in Alice Springs and Uluru. This serves to illustrate the worldwide interest in the "Real Outback" and its developments.
But the appeal of the Territory is ageless. A rich mixture of a vibrant Aboriginal culture, a stunning natural environment, tourist icons such as Uluru and Kakadu, a vivid pioneering history of trial and tribulation, and a rich vein of hospitality adds up to a "new" destination with wide appeal. New and upgraded facilities are now on stream to serve the heightened interest in the unspoiled heart of Australia. The Alice Springs Convention Centre (ASPCC) opened for business in April, with a stylish building designed in harmony with its backdrop of the MacDonnell Ranges. With theatre-style capacity of 1200, 74 new rooms, and a similar number of totally refurbished existing rooms, the centre is within walking distance of three other hotels. Early bookings are extremely strong, with incentive programs of 1200 qualifiers already on the books and notable conventions such as the Australian Local Government Association in November 2002 (the first time ever outside Canberra). While Alice has less than 28,000 residents, it has an efficient infrastructure, and short transfer times to most attractions.
The ASPCC will also host Australia's first ever international "showcase, gathering, symposium and Expo of Desert Knowledge – the Wisdom of the Outback" in August/September, as a keystone event of the Year of the Outback. An extra 11 flights a week to The Alice by Qantas from June add to a wide choice of flights from Adelaide, Broome, Cairns, Darwin, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and new flights direct from Brisbane. Alice Springs is a wonderful touring base and a great destination in its own right. In just 15 minutes driving there are a host of attractions, including the world class Desert Park, the atmospheric Telegraph Station or the beautiful Simpsons Gap. The Alice is closer than Cairns from Melbourne and Sydney, with a flight time of less than three hours. The famous "new" Ghan train from Adelaide to Alice (and being extended to Darwin), with connections from Sydney and Melbourne, is popular with smaller meeting and incentive groups, with a meeting carriage available. Incidentally, the old Ghan line is still around – just 16km of line), and groups of up to 120 can enjoy a steam train ride and sunset drinks on board
Australia's best known icon, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is served twice daily from Sydney into its own jet airport, with increased flights from several other ports. Voyages hotels and resorts offer here a comprehensive choice of hotel styles and standards, from the funky new Lost Camel to the stylish five-star Sails Resort. Sounds of Silence, the award-winning cocktails and dinner under the stars concept remains a must-do for every Australian and international visitor, (Exclusive use and menu and themed enhancements are available for groups). The resort at The Rock has a meeting facility for 300. But now there is Longitude 131, a truly deluxe safari style resort of just 15 habitats, close to, but quite separate from the main resort complex, and with the best view of the Rock. The Territory's Top End seems almost better known to Europeans and Americans than to Australians. Perhaps it's the fact that Darwin is closer to Singapore than Sydney, or a belief it's too far, too hot, or too wet at times. But to be in the Top End during the Dry Season is a wonderful alternative to the cooler climes of "southern" towns. with sunny warm days and mild nights. And the steamier days of the tropical summer see the refreshing rains revitalise the rainforest and savannah, and create the best time of year to see the abundance of wildlife.
Flying time to Darwin from Sydney, on direct flights is actually shorter than to Perth. Darwin, a cosmopolitan modern capital city, is an ideal gateway to the natural wonders and Aboriginal art riches of Kakadu, and to Litchfield and other national parks and attractions. With Qantas domestic seats increased 25 per cent from July, and a new entrant, Virgin Blue, providing welcome competition, Darwin is generating steady international and domestic visitor growth. The Northern Territory Government is committed to a Darwin Convention Centre, to cater for larger flexible meetings, with proposals being considered as this edition closes. An opening in early 2005 is mooted. Resource and defence developments, the new railway, and the possible processing of Timor Sea gas on shore bode well for Darwin's rapid growth, as capital of one of the nation's fastest growing jurisdictions. An exciting development close to Darwin is The Ridge, a luxury tented village built by Amway Australia for a major incentive in August 2002, with a total of over 1000 qualifiers. The 250 tent Habitats feature wooden floors, private toilets and electric light and fans, with adjacent jacuzzis and swimming pools on site.
Less than 90 minutes from Darwin. it is an ideal base for touring into Kakadu and the nearby Litchfield National Park. The Ridge will be available for Dry Season (April-September) high-level incentive groups in subsequent years, with self-drive 4WD-based touring a key feature. The NT also features many smaller locations ideal for a corporate retreat, These include Cape Don, a 40 minute light plane ride from Darwin, accommodating 10 in an old lighthouse keeper's house, and the luxurious Seven Spirit Bay. Both are in the stunning Cobourg National Park, each with their own airstrips, and boasting superb fishing, touring and wildlife. Another venue worth considering is Bullo River, almost on the border of Western Australia, with rugged scenery, great fishing, and Aboriginal rock paintings. Mount Borradaile is a more basic safari camp in Arnhem Land, with a breathtaking collection of rock art, and abundant wildlife. Team-building and soft – or hard – adventure activities abound here, from remote area 4WD expeditions, to abseiling, hot air ballooning, and cattle mustering, or to dot-painting with an Aboriginal community.
If this sounds too hectic, there's always golf. The Alice Springs Golf Course, backing onto to most of Alice's major hotels and the Convention Centre, is rated in the top ten desert golf courses worldwide, and Darwin has some excellent lush courses to choose from. So the Territory has much to offer, with modern facilities and timeless blue skies and rugged scenery. And that Outback feeling.
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