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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 45, December 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, to you all!! My own Christmas came early this year. So many good things have happened since my last newsletter that I'd like to share them with you.

If you live in or near Hobart, please make sure you have a look at the Overseas section below.

Willis's Walkabouts

In this issue

The new website is live!

After months of work, the new website went live on 1 November. If you haven't had a look, please do.
Willis's Walkabouts new website

Tracey Dixon (many, many thanks, Tracey) spent an untold amount of time working on the design and the coding. I spent a lot of time rewriting many of the pages, doing my best to make them both more informative and more visible to search engines. The What's New page lists all the pages which have had major revisions. I'll keep working on these and will list the revised pages on the What's New page as they are done.

If you have any comments or suggestions about the new website, please let me know.

There's more about the website in the Reality, Perception and Advertising section below.

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New Trip

Russell's Light Wet Special has the same name that was mentioned in the last newsletter, but the trip has changed completelynew dates, new itinerary and no longer fully accommodated. It's the best itinerary I could think of while keeping it a very easy trip. We will carry overnight packs for between two and three hours on only two days. On three of the four nights we'll be camping, we'll be in some kind of shelter.

I like this trip so much that I've agreed to run it for one person at no extra charge. What higher recommendation can I give? Why not join the two of us and see what makes this trip so special.

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A New View of Kakadu

Anyone who has walked with me in Kakadu or the Kimberley has almost certainly heard me talk about the northern cypress (Callitris intratropica). Healthy stands of cypress (of which there are very few) indicate good fire management. In exchange for some assistance with trip planning for a cypress researcher, I recently got a free two hour flight over some of the non-tourist areas of Kakadu. It's amazing just what's out there.

When we flew past Hill 420, the highest point on the Arnhem escarpment, I saw what looked to be a fascinating area, just off the routes I've walked before. I could hardly wait to get back. Two days later, I got my first booking for the Baroalba - Hill 420 Explorer: 7-20 March. I want to do it, so I'm making three special offers to try and make sure the trip runs.

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Small People Win — You Can Too

The Bungle Bungles in the Wet trip has only run once in the nine years that it has been in the program. I led that trip and wanted to do it again, using what I'd learned on the first trip to make the second one even better. By October, I had three people booked. I needed five to run it — or did I?

The only way to get into the Bungles in February is by helicopter. Although the helicopter can seat four, the length of the flight restricts the weight to the point where it can carry only three average sized people plus packs. I had another look. At 73 kg, I am 5-6 kg heavier than the next heaviest person. It will be tight, but we can do it. I've guaranteed the departure for the three.

By driving gear and some people from Kununurra to Turkey Creek, a second flight such as we had in 2008, costs only half as much as the first one. It would be nice to pay myself at least a fraction of the normal guiding wage so I've put some special offers on the website in the hope of attracting at least two more. (One more simply covers the extra cost.)

If you want a better idea what it's like, have a look at our Bungles in the Wet photo gallery, or some video clips from 2008.

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Special Mention

The following 2010 trips all have bookings. Some need only one or two more bookings to become definite departures.

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Nature Parks or Tourism Parks?

I recently read some information about the continuing battle for the future of parks in NSW — are they primarily for nature conservation or should they be commercialised? The Colong Foundation has a page describing the issues.

The NPA of NSW says, "The NSW Government has adopted pro-tourism industry recommendations that put our national parks at risk. Weaker national park protection laws are being developed to encourage the construction of damaging private cabins, lodges and 'eco-resorts' inside our national parks." You can read more on their, Stop the Commercialisation of National Parks page.

Politicians don't like publicity about some of their more controversial decisions. The Christmas-New Year period is a good time to try and sneak something past the public. Sadly, it's a good time to keep your eyes open and to push your views with the powers that be.

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My Ecotourism Christmas Present

Back in February, I began the process of applying for Ecotourism certification. With everything that's happened this year, it was a long and drawn out process. Finally, on Friday, 4 December, I was informed that I'd been successful and had received the highest level of accreditation, advanced eco certification. The eco certification label will appear on the website home page as soon as I can arrange it.

As proud as I am to have achieved the certification, I'm always looking for ways to make the trips and business even more environmentally friendly. Suggestions welcome.

You can find out more about ecotourism certification on the Ecotourism Australia website Willis's Walkabouts should be listed on their site fairly soon.

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Reality, Perception and Advertising — Can You Help?

In tourism marketing (and in marketing in general), what you are perceived to offer matters much more than what you actually have to offer. A simple example is tropical beaches. Cairns, which doesn't have any real beaches in town, is thought of as a beach destination so lots of backpackers go there in search of beaches. Darwin has tens of kilometres of sandy beaches, perfect for swimming in the dry season, yet they are almost unknown so we don't get the backpacker business that Cairns does. Perception overrules reality.

I've got a similar problem.

Willis's Walkabouts offers something special, a kind of trip that is hardly offered elsewhere. About 50% of our customers each year are repeats. The overwhelming majority of the rest come based on recommendations from friends. That's a wonderful recommendation. On the other hand ....

Our paid advertising is a disaster. I know the message I'm trying to get across, but our print ads don't work. Not including bushwalking clubs, only 6% of our new clients in the past three years said they first heard about us from one of our print ads. If I can't improve that in 2010, I'll have to give up the hope of attracting a reasonable number of new clients and phase out all print advertising. As good as it may be, I've even been told that the new website may be chasing away some people I'd like to attract before they really have a chance to think about what is on offer.

I need help! If you can assist with any of the following, I'd love to hear from you. The more feedback I get, the more likely it is that I'll get it right. If I get it right, I should be able to continue for at least a few more years.

  1. Have a look at the photos on the new website home page.
    What message do they give you? Is that the message that I should be trying to convey? If not, what kind of photo would work better?
  2. Testimonials. I used to include testimonials in my brochures. I've been told that it would be good to include them in my ads — and on the website. I've got some in my personal comments book. I'd welcome some more. If you'd like to write something and would be happy for me to quote you along with your name and the city or town in which you live, please send it along.
  3. Photos. Although I've taken many thousands of photos over the years, I've taken very few which show people up close and enjoying themselves while walking or at camp. A picture like the first one on the Bungles page would have had more impact if the people were larger relative to the background.
    If you've got any photos from one of our trips which you think would be useful and which you would be happy for me to use on the web or in an ad, I'd love to see them.
  4. Video clips. I've now got two small video clips on the website (from the 2008 Bungles in the Wet trip). I could use more. If you have a short video you think would be suitable, I'd love to see it.

A bit of nostalgia. While thinking about testimonials, I went back through some old brochures and found one of my all-time favourite quotes. "We walked a wild and lonely place..... The rewards were always there with the ancient land revealing its secret areas of paradise — water pure and translucent in giant canyons and cathedrals of rock older than mankind. The freedom to frolic in stream and waterfall, lissome white figures dwarfed by the environment — spring time and eternity, the agony and the ecstasy — and a pang of sorrow at each departure that I may not come this way again." Frank Sander, Sydney

I feel those sentiments are just as applicable to day as when Frank wrote them, almost 20 years ago.

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Kakadu Bushwalking Review

A major review of bushwalking in Kakadu has been a priority for many years but there was always something getting in the way of beginning the process. But, now that process has begun. Someone has been appointed to a position a major part of which will be working on the review. That review sill affect everyone who walks in the park whether on a commercial or private trip.

The review will almost certainly come up again at the next meeting of the Kakadu Tourism Consultative Committee in February. I'll have more in a later newsletter. In the mean time, if you'd like some background, please let me know and I'll send some information, now somewhat dated and in need of revision, but useful nonetheless.

I sit on that committee as the bushwalking representative. One of my early Christmas presents was having the KTCC reschedule the February meeting so that I could do the Bungles trip and still attend the meeting.

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Overseas Trips

2009 was the first time in many years that none of our overseas trips ran. I couldn't let the year finish without going "overseas" somewhere so I'll be off to Hobart in a few days. I'll only be there for a week or two but it would be good to catch up with a few of my Hobart friends. Time doesn't allow me to contact you all direct, so if you'll be around, please send me an email and maybe we can get in touch while I'm there.

Further overseas

If Tasmania isn't far enough overseas, I'll be offering three overseas trips in 2010, two of which will be very like the ones that didn't get the bookings in time to run this year.

For more information, including some of what we plan to offer in 2011, have a look at our Overseas Trip List page.

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An Optimistic View of the Future

Although here in Australia we've been pretty well insulated from the financial crisis that rocked the world in late 2008 and early 2009, I know several people who had to put off retiring because they had suddenly seen their retirement savings evaporate. My friends and family in the US have it far worse than we do. Unemployment there is likely to remain well over 10% for years; as in Australia, it would be higher still if they counted people who've given up looking for work. Personally, I don't think any major political party in any western country really understands that the system is broken, or if they do, their short term interests demands that they keep quiet.

Combine that with all the environmental problems we face and economically and environmentally, I've tended to be a bit of a pessimist. I much prefer an optimistic outlook so I really enjoyed an article which was so upbeat that I felt I had to share it. It's a bit long and it's a bit America centred, but I like the thoughts. I hope you do too.

From a John Mauldin Newsletter

"Let's look at some changes we are likely to see over the next few decades. My view is that we have a number of waves of change getting ready to erupt on the world stage. The combination of them is what I call the Millennium Wave, the most significant period of change in human history. And one for which most of us are not yet ready."

"Some time next year, we are going to see the three-billionth person get access to the telecosm (phones and internet, etc.). By 2015 it will be five billion people. Within ten years, most of the world will be able to access cheap (I mean really cheap) high-speed wireless broadband at connection rates that dwarf what we now have."

"That is going to unleash a wave of creativity and new business that will be staggering. That heretofore hidden genius in Mumbai or Vladivostok or Kisangani will now have the ability to bring his ideas, talent, and energy to change the world in ways we can hardly imagine. When Isaac Watts was inventing the steam engine, there were a handful of engineers who could work with him. Now we throw a staggering number of scientists and engineers at trivial problems, let alone the really big ones."

"And because of the internet, the advances of one person soon become known and built upon in a giant dance of collaboration. It is because of this giant dance, this unplanned group effort, that we will all figure out how to make advances in so many ways."

"Ever-faster change is what is happening in medicine. None of us in 2030 will want to go back to 2010, which will then seem as barbaric and antiquated as, say, 1975. Within a few years, it will be hard to keep up with the number of human trials of gene therapy and stem cell research. Sadly for the US, most of the tests will be done outside of our borders, but we will still benefit from the results."

"I spend some spare study time on stem cell research. It fascinates me. We are now very close to being able to start with your skin cells and grow you a new liver (or whatever). Muscular dystrophy? There are reasons to be very encouraged."

"Alzheimer's disease requires somewhere between 5-7% of total US health-care costs. Defeat that and a large part of our health-care budget is fixed. And it will be first stopped and then cured. Same thing with cancers and all sorts of inflammatory diseases. There is reason to think a company may have found a generic cure for the common flu virus."

"A whole new industry is getting ready to be born. And with it new jobs and investment opportunities."

"Energy problems? Are we running out of oil? My bet is that in less than 20 years we won't care. We will be driving electric cars that are far superior to what we have today in every way, from power sources that are not oil-based."

"For whatever reason, I seem to run into people who are working on new forms of energy. They are literally working in their garages on novel new ways to produce electric power; and my venture-capital MIT PhD friend says they are for real when I introduce them. And if I know of a handful, there are undoubtedly thousands of such people. Not to mention well-funded corporations and startups looking to be the next new thing. Will one or more make it? My bet is that more than one will. We will find ourselves with whole new industries as we rebuild our power grids, not to mention what this will mean for the emerging markets."

"What about nanotech? Robotics? Artificial intelligence? Virtual reality? There are whole new industries that are waiting to be born. In 1980 there were few who saw the rise of personal computers, and even fewer who envisioned the internet. Mapping the human genome? Which we can now do for an individual for a few thousand dollars? There are hundreds of new businesses that couldn't even exist just 20 years ago."

"I am not sure where the new jobs will come from, but they will."

In ten years time, maybe people will be paying for a virtual reality experience that gives them the sights, sounds and scents of what people now experience on our trips without having to step outside their houses. Whether or not that comes to pass, I believe there will always be a place for the real thing. My dream is to still be doing what I'm doing now in ten years time. That may or may not be realistic, but it's a good dream.

The quotes above were from a newsletter put out by John Mauldin, an American financial writer who puts out a free email newsletter. My newsletter goes out to about 1500 people. His goes to over a million. It's a big difference in scale, but we're both doing the same thing, living our dream.

Including the quotes above came with a price. "You have permission to publish this article electronically or in print as long as the following is included: John Mauldin, Best-Selling author and recognized financial expert, is also editor of the free Thoughts From the Frontline that goes to over 1 million readers each week. For more information on John or his FREE weekly economic letter go to: www.frontlinethoughts.com/learnmore."

As if that wasn't enough, Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs & Steel, Collapse and a number of other interesting books, just had an optimistic op-ed piece in the New York Times. Will Big Business Save the Earth? It won't be just big business, but if enough people speak up, politicians might decide to listen to what scientists like Diamond and some business people are saying, we might be able to make the world a better place after all.

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Special discounts — combine them and save even more

Book now and save! As in the past, if you are one of the first three people who quote this newsletter when booking any Australian trip within two weeks of when we sent it out, you will get an extra 10% discount on any trip where your total discounts are 10% or less. You'll get an extra 5% off if your total discounts are 15% or more.

Note 1. There has to be a limit. The maximum total discount on any trip is 35%.
Note 2. This offer does not apply to trips where the special offer specifies no other discounts apply.
Note 3. It's amazing how few people take advantage of this offer. You have to ask to get it.

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News About This Newsletter

This is only the second newsletter in the new format. I got no complaints about the last one so I take that as a good sign. If you have any comments, positive or negative, about the new format, I'd appreciate an email letting me know what you think.

The newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

Emails sent to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol @. I am trying not to put that address any place where it can be harvested by spam bots.

We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.

Our email address is walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au.

Note. The program we use to send this newsletter has an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. My newsletter mailing program will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

If you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them.

May the coming holiday season bring you as much optimism and happiness as the last few weeks have brought me.
Russell Willis

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Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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