CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Tourists can carry on climbing Uluru, the massive rock in the heart of the Australia’s central red desert, after the Australian government on Friday ruled out banning the popular ascent, for now.
Every year about 350,000 people, half from overseas, visit Uluru — previously known as Ayers Rock — with 100,000 choosing to climb the 348-meter (1,142-ft) rock which is sacred to the local Aboriginal people.
But last year the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park called for a ban on climbing the world heritage-listed rock, a top tourism drawcard, out of respect for the indigenous owners.
They also voiced safety fears and concerns about visitors littering and using the monolith, which is 9.4 km (5.8 miles) in circumference, as a toilet.
But the proposed ban caused uproar in Australia’s tourism sector, coming at a time when the industry was under threat from the global financial crisis.
A new management plan prepared by the board and approved by Environment Minister Peter Garrett on Friday ruled out banning the climb for now but left it open to be closed at a later date.
They set three conditions, saying the climb could be closed when one of these specific preconditions was met.
The three conditions were that the number of people climbing Uluru must drop from the current 38 percent of visitors to fewer than 20 percent, that the attraction of the climb must no longer be the primary reason visitors travel to Uluru, or that a range of new experiences be in place for visitors.
“I know that there are differing views on whether or not the climb should be closed,” Garrett said in a statement.
“However I believe the future for this internationally significant icon lies in visitor experiences that reflect its World Heritage values. It is one of the few places in the world renowned for its stunning natural environment, alongside living Aboriginal culture and these are great tourism drawcards we need to develop.”
Garrett, who sang at Uluru about Aboriginal land rights during his former career as lead singer of rock band Midnight Oil, said the tourism industry was guaranteed at least 18 months notice before any closure so it could adjust its marketing.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Sugita Katyal