ABSTRACT

Introduction Central Australia – also known as the ‘Red Centre’ – has been one of Australia’s most iconic tourism destinations, with major attractions such as Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Watarrka (Kings Canyon) featuring prominently in national and international tourism-promotion campaigns for decades. Yet, much time has passed since the Red Centre’s tourism heydays in the 1990s, when it was a ‘must-see’ destination on tourist itineraries in Australia and annual visitor numbers were at around half a million tourists. Tourism in Central Australia has been facing an unprecedented crisis over the past few years, coming off a decadelong decline in visitor numbers, increasing disinvestment of external tourism and transport operators, and a lack of new and innovative tourism products that could rejuvenate an increasingly tired destination image (Carson et al. 2012). Drawing on recent debates in evolutionary economic geography (EEG) (MacKinnon et al. 2009; Martin 2010, 2012; Hassink et al. 2014), this chapter traces the development path of tourism in Central Australia to investigate the extent to which path dependence and negative lock-in may have contributed to the failure to pursue change even as the crisis has deepened.