Uluru’s big tourism boost before land back anniversary

Holly Hales |

Virgin is increasing flights to Uluru from Brisbane and Melbourne for people drawn to the icon.
Virgin is increasing flights to Uluru from Brisbane and Melbourne for people drawn to the icon.

As the 40th anniversary of Uluru being handed back to its traditional owners nears, the sacred site remains a booming tourist drawcard despite waning regional travel elsewhere. 

More than 200,000 visitors make the trek to Australia’s ancient heartland each year, attracted by the sandstone monolith and its surrounds. 

Virgin Australia, in partnership with the Northern Territory government, is the latest carrier to start ferrying tourists from capital cities to the red centre. 

The flights will inject more than 62,000 seats per year to the region and run to and from Brisbane three times and Melbourne four times per week from Thursday, June 6. 

Historically the spot has been a tourism hub since a base camp to the west of the Uluru climb was first established in the early 1950s.

This led to leases being granted for a hotel, four motels, a store, and a service station near the rock in 1959. 

Ayers Rock, as it was then known, was declared a national park in 1950 before being renamed Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park in 1977.

On October 26, 1985, following decades of campaigning, Anangu were recognised as the Traditional Owners after living in the region for more than 20,000 years. 

However, a government agreement required Anangu to lease the park to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for 99 years.

The year before, Ayers Rock Resort opened and expanded accommodation options for tourists at Uluru, becoming the main provider in the region.

Virgin’s expansion comes at a time of change within the industry.

Bonza, a low-cost domestic airline primarily servicing regional locations entered administration in May. 

The carrier was saddled with debts of more than $100 million after little more than a year in operation. 

It came as regional airline Rex, expanded its services with flights to Perth from Melbourne and Adelaide. 

Regional tourism in Australia experienced a renaissance during the pandemic when international borders were shut for almost two years.

However, many drawcard tourist spots struggled with the lack of foreign tourists and visitors to Uluru slumped to fewer than 100,000 in 2020. 

This triggered the then-Liberal government to bolster Uluru with $51 million in upgrades before the territory re-opened fully in 2022. 

The reporter was a guest of Virgin Australia and Ayers Rock Resort, Uluru.