On Track’ is a world first study that is engaging communities across Australia to explore whether a competitive and sustainable desert 4WD tourism industry is viable and what is needed to make it work.
Charles Darwin University’s Dr Dean Carson is driving this Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) project with a team of researchers from CSIRO, CDU, Murdoch, James Cook and Curtin Universities.
“Desert 4WD tourism remains unexplored territory even though the demand for off-road experiences is soaring,” Dr Carson said.
“There are growing concerns about the impact and safety of an increasing number of self-drive adventurers”, Dr Carson said. “These concerns, coupled with the desire of desert communities to benefit from this growing market, means we urgently need to build our collective knowledge about 4WD tourism.”
On Track is engaging closely with people who stand to benefit from the 4WD tourism market and with those who bear the cost of servicing it, to build a comprehensive picture of how 4WD tourism 'systems' work.
At the heart of the study is On Track’s Knowledge Community - a network of organisations providing information that will be collated, analysed and used to inform marketing and management practices.
“We have already built a network of over 50 organisations, ranging from Aboriginal community councils and land councils, pastoralists, local government, roads and emergency services, national parks and the tourism industry - the list is growing every day,” Dr Carson said.
The Arltarlpilta Community, 230 km north-west of Alice Springs, provides information about environmental impacts and safety hazards, 4WD Victoria is surveying 4WD enthusiasts about their experiences and expectations, Hema Maps are updating their desert maps and a network of Northern Territory business operators are identifying travel hotspots that will inform land management questions.
"So much of what is known about 4WD tourism in the desert comes from peoples' experiences as business operators, land managers, community representatives, and travellers.
“The value of this research is in keeping that knowledge alive and making it relevant to decision makers.
“The On Track Knowledge Community is our most important research tool,” Dr Carson said.
Anyone can become a member by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members will receive regular updates and can contribute their own knowledge to the project.
Industry, community and government partners include Arltarlpilta Community Government Council, 4WD Victoria, Direct 4WD, the Northern Territory Tourist Commission, Central Land Council, Parks and Wildlife Service NT and the Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts NT.
Information is being gathered now for a preliminary report in September 2006.
By Linda Cuttriss, Coordinator Community Engagement at Charles Darwin University.