Australia's Outback Is Calling

Travel Agent recently caught up with Marie Tetlow, chief executive of Tourism Northern Territory, while in Los Angeles promoting the region she describes as "Australia's outback—the quintessential Australian experience." Between Western Australia and Queensland, the Northern Territory is twice the size of Texas. With 204,000 people, the Northern Territory accounts for less than one percent of Australia's total population, and Aboriginal people make up 30 percent of its population. Longitude 131 offers immersions in the wilderness of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

"The Northern Territory has rock art, fabulous nature, lots of open space—it's a great choice for families and couples," says Tetlow. She provided a snapshot of a typical Northern Territory visitor: "They're looking for more than a vacation—they're experience seekers beyond the 'fly and flock' crowd," she explains. "They're into self-development, college-educated, Internet savvy, with disposable income." Tetlow adds that they're actively targeting university alumni groups and members of the Smithsonian Society.

Representatives from Venture North Australia were also at the meeting with Tetlow. "We can arrange tours for as few as one person," says Brendan Bainbridge, director of Venture North Australia. "It's a cross-cultural experience—we go to areas that aren't overrun." Bainbridge describes his tours as being ideal for families and special interest groups, especially those interested in viewing rock art in southern and central Kimberly. "For visitors to have an authentic outback experience, they have to sacrifice some luxuries," advises Bainbridge. The travel agent liaison for Venture North Australia is Director Nerida Hilly. She can be reached at venturenorth@bigpond.com. Dreaming Trails

The average visitor to Australia spends 10 to 14 days, while the average length of stay in the Northern Territory is three to four days. Tetlow recommends visitors devote at least three days to exploring the Northern Territory and one day in Darwin, the region's capital.

"Only two percent of outbound visitors to Australia come from the U.S.," Tetlow says. "The long-haul flight is the main barrier." Competitive airfare is also a consideration. However, Qantas has re-established Aussie Airpass, priced from $1,099 (plus taxes and charges), which is an encouraging sign. The pass provides a roundtrip international flight, plus three flights within Australia. The price varies according to season, initial destination within Australia, as well as airport and region in the U.S.

Tetlow adds that lodging in the Northern Territories is mid-range for the most part, with three-and four-star properties being common. Luxury accommodations can be found at Longitude 131, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

"We have an education program for agents, Northern Territory Specialist, which is a subsection of the Aussie Specialist program," says Tetlow. Visit www.tourism.australia.com or www.australiasoutback.com for more information.