Published Northern Territory News, Saturday Extra

NATURAL landscapes like Uluru and Kakadu remain icons of Australia, as well as major drawcards for domestic and international visitors.

This week Territory documentary Kakadu, showcasing some of the best of the Northern Territory, won a top gong at New York's best television and film night.

The filmmakers noted the beautiful natural landscapes, the indigenous culture and how priceless Kakadu really is.

Kakadu is a key driver for the Territory economy, worth an estimated $15 million a year. When Kakadu thrives, jobs flow throughout.

There is also a bottom line for traditional owners.

Tourism activities in Kakadu are a way to support the aspirations of traditional owners when it comes to employment, and most importantly tourism is directly linked to managing their land and their culture.

At Kakadu approximately 38 per cent of visitor revenue goes straight to traditional owners.

In the past five years visitor numbers have significantly decreased. In 2008 Kakadu visitor numbers were around the 229,000 mark, compared to a low 187,500 visitors in 2013.

This significant drop in visitor numbers has substantially impacted on revenue. In 2010 2011 Kakadu saw a high of revenue from visitation of $2,823,370.

Just four years later, and only three months out from the end of the financial year, the revenue is at a low $1,881,038.

When visitor numbers fall it is not only the Parks Australia budget that takes a hit, so does the revenue that helps traditional communities advance.

In recent years the real reduction in the number of visitors to Kakadu has resulted in real reductions in lease payments to traditional owners.

Improving our tourism infrastructure and the unique experiences we offer visitors, especially through the development of new indigenous businesses in Kakadu, is essential to rejuvenate tourism and visitation among the rapidly growing potential international market. This may require new facilities, but may equally entail new tours or experiences with little or no built infrastructure needed.

The protection of our natural or cultural assets and the pursuit of economic growth are far from mutually exclusive. The more we can achieve complementary cultural, environmental and economic outcomes in Kakadu or Uluru the better we can guarantee the preservation of their iconic heritage.

Kakadu already has Aboriginal people running their own tourism business and indigenous clans are keen to share their culture with visitors. Quite rightly, they want to do it their way, by running their own businesses. By working with indigenous clans to develop new experiences and cultural tours, we can support the aspirations of traditional owners.

We know that increasing numbers of people are visiting Darwin. However, the challenge is to entice them to take that step further and extend their trip to Kakadu or Uluru and beyond, for visits that build an increasing number of visitor nights.

In real estate they talk of location, location, location. In tourism location morphs with experience.

Our parks can and should offer the best of both. Through Parks Australia we are working with Tourism NT and Tourism Australia to better coordinate our marketing for greater impact, but we cannot rely on marketing alone and must continue to develop the products available to be marketed.

Successfully reversing visitor decline will provide employment and income opportunities for traditional owners, as well as ensuring the best possible conservation of our environmental assets.

It doesn't get more win-win than that.