Darwin the comeback capital

Sunset crowd at this year's successful Darwin Festival.

Is Darwin the comeback capital? The fact is it never went away, but two new deals have highlighted how Darwin has successfully managed the pandemic to emerge stronger than ever.

The latest coup for Darwin is the Qantas direct flight to London now relocating to the Top End.

While the re-routing is a result of Covid’s domestic border impact, it should come as no surprise to those watching Darwin over the last 18 months that the city is cementing itself as a gateway hub in many ways.

The new Sydney/Melbourne-Darwin-London service hinged on the NT government’s Covid-19 recovery plan, with the Territory showing a remarkable “can do” attitude throughout the last 18 months.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner described Darwin as the nation’s “comeback capital” with the new route set to showcase the Territory to the world.

“Darwin is Australia’s comeback capital, and now we’re taking the comeback direct to Europe,” he said.

“From Parap to Piccadilly, the opportunities are endless. The convenience of this route will mean tapping into brand new markets for tourism and business.

“It will also open up new opportunities for developing the aviation skills sector here in the Northern Territory.”

It seems fitting that Darwin should be Australia’s gateway to the UK again, with the city also the jumping off point for the national carrier’s first international flight in 1935 from Brisbane to Singapore via Darwin.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the new route via Darwin will be in place in time for borders reopening from November 14 until at least April 2022, but left open the possibility of an extension further down the track.

“The NT Government has worked closely with us to make these flights happen and I’d like to thank the Chief Minister and his team for finding a solution that is safe and streamlined,” he said.

“The Kangaroo route is one of the most iconic on the Qantas international network and we are delighted that Darwin will play a vital role in Australia’s post pandemic reopening to the world.”

Darwin has also secured another contract that is set to build on its growing status as a hub for the Asia Pacific after signing off on a $100 million deal with network solutions provider Vocus, positioning the city as an international data connectivity hub for the region.

The new cable will provide a 1000km link between the existing Darwin/Port Headland cable and the Australia/Singapore cable, directly linking Darwin to one of the fastest and most reliable connections into Asia.

The Darwin-Jakarta-Singapore Cable will deliver 40 terabits per second of internet capacity between Australia and Asia when it is completed in 2023.

“All digital highways lead into or through Darwin and that will equal jobs of the future and burgeoning digital industry in the Top End,” said Gunner

“The Darwin-Jakarta-Singapore cable is a massive sign of confidence in the Top End and again shows why we are Australia’s comeback capital.

“It further cements Darwin as Northern Australia’s most advanced digital economy, and this will open the door to new opportunities for advanced manufacturing, data-centres and cloud-based computing services for Territorians and investors.”

While Covid emphasised the need for online connectivity, the Northern Territory still managed to keep its major event calendar going throughout the pandemic.

Eight events delivered or promoted by the Northern Territory Major Events Company (NTMEC) during the 2020-21 financial year raised an economic stimulus of $109.8 million for the Territory, of which $64.9 million was new money.

“The Territory is a ‘can-do’ kind of place, where people are used to going above and beyond to achieve,” NTMEC CEO Tim Watsford said.

“That’s especially true in the events sector. The team at Northern Territory Major Events Company is full of people who, when they see a problem, immediately start looking for a solution. That involves innovative ways of thinking and doing, and that’s what we needed to navigate through Covid.

“It wasn’t just us either, with our event partners and the industry as a whole all determined to hold events if at all possible. The result was a busy events season last year and this year, despite multiple border closures and travel restrictions.”

Parrtjima was held successfully across both 2020 and 2021.

The events included Parrtjima 2020 and 2021, Red CentreNATS 2020, Darwin Supercars 2020 and 2021, BASSINTHEGRASS 2021, Million Dollar Fish Season 6 and the NRL’s Eels v Broncos game in April this year.

“The Territory has hosted several largescale events over the last two years, at a time when events in other jurisdictions were largely cancelled,” Watsford said.

“As a result, all eyes turned to the Territory thanks to extensive media coverage of events such as BASSINTHEGRASS, which attracted a record crowd of 14,000 in 2021, and Parrtjima, which saw huge numbers of visitors enjoy the Red Centre in both 2020 and 2021. These two events in particular attracted more interstate visitors than ever before.”

While Darwin Convention Centre scaled back its operations over the last 18 months, its global reputation rocketed putting it in prime position to rebound strongly when the borders reopen nationally and internationally.

The Centre leapt nine places in the latest APEX Awards run by the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC), coming in number six globally and marking the first time it has cracked the top 10.

Tourism Minister Natasha Fyles described it as “an outstanding achievement”.

“This ranking strengthens the Centre’s professional reputation for service delivery and further positions the Darwin Convention Centre, and Darwin, as a globally competitive destination to attract and stage international business events,” she said.

Peter Savoff, Darwin Convention Centre’s general manager, said the result showed the venue was “punching above our weight”.

Darwin Convention Centre ranked sixth in the global APEX Awards.

“The Darwin Convention Centre is committed to delivering excellent service to its clients, and an impressive nine place rise in ranking is simply proof of the passion and commitment our team give to every event and our commitment to deliver world-class service to our clients,” he said.

“In addition, I think it is proof that Darwin is finally being recognised as an incredible regional conference destination of choice.”

While the travel restrictions had closed off the national and international markets throughout the pandemic, the Centre had nonetheless been working with clients to reschedule and postpone events, rather than cancel.

Some of those events on the horizon include the International Foster Carer Organisation Conference 2022; DevelopingEM 2O22; the World Conference on Ecological Restoration 2023; the Congress of the International Society for the Study of Iron in Biology and Medicine 2023; and the Quadrennial Congress of the World Federation of Neuroscience Nurses 2025.

Savoff said the Territory was one of the first destinations to see a return of events and group gatherings across Australia after the pandemic first hit, making Darwin a popular destination for many over the past 18 months.

“Add to this the strict Covid-Safe Plan the organisers must put into practice throughout the event and as a result, the NT has been able to hold large public gatherings with safe outcomes,” he said.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Territory is looking to become a major player in Australia’s push to increase the size of its domestic space sector to $12 billion.

An international contingent from NASA have headed to the Arnhem Space Centre in Nhulunbuy to work with Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) on their campaign to send three rockets into orbit from 2022.

Marking the first time NASA will undertake a launch from a commercial launch facility outside of the US, the rockets will carry scientific instruments into space to conduct astrophysics research and provide scientists with the opportunity to study astronomical objects that cannot be observed from the Northern Hemisphere rocket ranges.

“The NASA Sounding Rockets Program is thrilled to be returning to Australia after nearly three decades,” said NASA Sounding Rockets Program office operations manager Scott Bissett.

“It has been amazing to see the excitement build around our return to Australia, not only from the NASA science community, but from our Australian partners.”

Minister for Mining and Industry Nicole Manison said the rocket launches will “lead to new opportunities for business and investment”.

“The Territory is perfectly positioned to benefit from the space industry, with our proximity to the equator making it easier for rockets to move outside Earth’s gravitational pull, saving fuel,” she said.

Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Carley Scott said the program was an “historic activity” for the Territory.

“Working side by side with the team from NASA is an incredible opportunity for ELA, and the region,” she said.

“It positions the Arnhem Space Centre as a uniquely capable asset in the fast growing global space sector. It shows that we are ready to work with the world’s best.”

To find out how the NT can support your next event with its Business Events Support Fund head here.