North west Tasmania, the new tourism Mecca of the future – if only…

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By Font Strategic Partner Paul Arnold

Tourism is reported to be the second-largest economic contributor to the Tasmanian economy, worth around $1.3 billion per year. The MONA-led tourism recovery is serving southern Tasmanian tourism interests in an amazing way and the sight of construction cranes building new accommodation is most welcome. It’s a long time since we witnessed such optimism in tourism, and Hobart and its surrounds will enjoy the fruits of this expansion for decades to come (by the way, it is frustrating for us north west folk to be unable to get a bed at the usual haunts on so many occasions, so the removal of the bottleneck is something to look forward to).

Northern Tasmania too is experiencing growth, particularly around its food and wine routes and the cheaper air fares, which drive economic developments (a quick Tassie break does no one any harm).

The north west on the other hand, is picking up the crumbs from the current tourism explosion and operators are quietly pleased at the growth in bed nights. But oh – the opportunity!

It has to be said, the tourism industries of the North West and West Coasts of Tasmania are operating at just a smidgen of what they could be. News about our sustainable competitive advantages is slowly being leaked by a variety of sources across the world. Those sustainable competitive advantages include unparalleled landscapes, seascapes, the purest air in the world, pristine wilderness, mountainous seas (to surf at your own risk), and above all else a welcoming and engaging community of people like nowhere else.

It’s true we are blessed with some unique accommodation places such as Eagles Nest, Cradle Mountain’s various options, incredible B&Bs, Tall Timbers and so on, but we are in no position to capture the potential market.

Tourism entrepreneurs are few and far between in this neck of the woods, and a strong case exists for the Co-Ordinator General’s office to get involved quickly. Too many developers face the dead hand of bureaucracy and the pages of history are littered with lost opportunities.

While visiting King Island’s unique Cape Wickham Links golf course recently, it is easy to see just what a quirky little development can become by taking advantage of our region’s competitive assets. Already rated informally as one of the top dozen golf courses, King Island will soon have a problem which is sadly shared by the whole north west: insufficient and inadequate tourism accommodation and poor experiences are both serious impediments.

Just imagine if we could attract developments to Cape Grim, Boat Harbour, Arthur River, Sheffield, Sisters Beach, Stanley, Seven Mile Beach, deep into the Tarkine, not to mention Wynyard, Burnie, Ulverstone and Devonport, and so on. All of these areas are ripe for development by the right developers, for the right attraction.

Our form with respect to developers is to scare them off. Planning systems, environmental do-gooders and NIMBYs all combine to ensure the north west will forever languish, unless someone, some organisation, or some government has the courage to reverse the usual mantra aimed against developers.

The sad reality is that most of us in the north west fail to see the opportunity in front of our collective noses. We don’t appreciate the massive advantages we have and the attraction we could be. Our area is way too beautiful to keep to ourselves and progress will come, albeit slowly, for those brave enough to last the approval distance.

One of the killer handbrakes across all aspects of tourism and all areas of the state is the archaic penalty rates system and the minimum hours required per session, a system so broken that it simply highlights all that is wrong about Tasmanian Workplace relations. It’s a crying shame that we have thousands of young people wanting to work in the hospitality sector, but the workplace rules makes it unrealistic to employ them. It’s ridiculous in this modern society that you can’t even get a decent coffee on long weekends due to penalty constraints. The precious existing workers seem to be hell bent on protecting their entitlement at the great cost to tourism development. A small compromise to spread some of the penalty into a flat rate for 7 day trading, would herald a new dawn of hospitality growth.

What is needed is a dose of reality – reality about our unique characters that in themselves would become a marketable attraction. Not to mention the many experiences to be had in every nook and cranny across the region. A change of attitude would be a good start and just a bit of hospitality awareness wouldn’t go astray (if I hear, “Are youz right?” once more I might just scream, “Baaa”).

The plethora of people coming to see our unique area will force this change in due course, but we will miss the opportunities before us unless someone acts in support of a brave new north west Mecca, and some meaningful workplace relations reform.

The self-congratulatory time is over. The time to attract and grow tourism is upon us. If only…

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