Highs and lows for tourism

IT has been a significant 12 months for tourism in Tasmania, with big hotel announcements and the sale of major assets by the industry's biggest player.

In February the state's chief tourism entity Federal Group cancelled its West Coast Wilderness Railway lease with the state government, 10 years into a 20 year lease. It was a major blow for the West Coast community, and warning bells sounded that perhaps the premier tourism attraction would close.

It also signalled the start of a directional change for Federal Group, which had been dominating the Tasmanian industry for 40 years since the opening of its Wrest Point Hotel Casino in 1973.

The company has since sold four of its key tourism properties to industry newcomer RACT.

Federal Group chief executive Daniel Hanna said the move indicated a change in the company's strategy with a focus on higher end, niche products like Saffire Freycinet and the Henry Jones Art Hotel.

Mr Hanna would not give any hint of future products, other than to say the company would announce any new projects next year.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said a rise in private investments indicated a rising confidence in the industry overall.

Latest figures up to March this year revealed a 10 per cent increase in visitor numbers since 2012, with a 6 per cent rise in spending, up to $1.64 billion.

The new brand revealed in Tourism Tasmania's the Go Behind the Scenery advertising also represented a "fresh" approach to marketing the state, to gain national and international markets.

Confidence in the industry exists, but Mr Martin said discussions into the regeneration of investment into regional areas was needed, and a clear election focus from all political candidates was required in order to build upon the successful momentum of 2013.

Mr Martin said the Pumphouse Point redevelopment, in the Lake St Clair World Heritage listed area, would be a major project for 2014, as would be the mountain biking trails in Tasmania's north- east.

"Two years ago people weren't entering the industry but we have new operators setting up tours, farm gate experiences and new products, generally taking a really positive direction for the industry," Mr Martin said.

"Pumphouse Point is going to be a truly iconic product in every which way, and it is also going to reinvigorate interest in that part of the state. It will have a lot of flow-on effects," he said.

Mr Martin said air capacity into Tasmania, with a 12 per cent flight increase to Launceston and a 20 per cent increase to Hobart was fuelling tourism's growth.

TOURISM BREAKDOWN

SALES

•FEDERAL Group dropped the West Coast Wilderness Railway from its portfolio. Escalating repair and maintenance costs questioned the financial viability of the venture, but the railway will be reopened on January 6 under its state government operator. The government promises that a new private operator will be found.

•FEDERAL Group sold Strahan Village, Gordon River Cruises, Freycinet Lodge and Cradle Mountain Chateau to RACT, which made its first serious debut into the Tasmania tourism market.

•VIRGIN Australia has an increasing interest in Tasmanian tourism, highlighted by its acquisition of the Tasmanian Walking Company. The purchase, for an unspecified amount, included the Cradle Mountain Huts and Bay of Fires Lodge walks. Virgin Australia co-founder Brett Godfrey said the company had invested heavily in Tasmania in the last three years.It also owns Quamby Estate, near Launceston, the Low Head Pilot Station, and Lake House, at Cressy.

•PENNY Royal World came up for sale early this year and was snapped up by Josef Chromy and the JAC Group for more than $4 million. The self-made Mr Chromy has several ideas for the former Launceston tourist attraction, that consists of 33 motel units, 39 apartments, the tavern with restaurant and bar.

NEW HOTEL DEVELOPMENTS

•ERROL Stewart, ever the big developer in Launceston, spruiked some ambitious plans for the city. These were announced after his 20 metre tower proposal at Royal Park in 2012, and included a sky rail and a plan to convert the disused silos on Launceston's northern banks, into a hotel. The development would be 11 storeys, with 73 rooms and a restaurant worth $15million. A formal planning application has not yet been made.

•DEVELOPER Simon Currant began the restoration of the former Hydro Electric Scheme art-deco building at Pumphouse Point, Lake St Clair. Launceston and Hobart architecture firm Cumulus Studio was employed for the design, where 18 rooms will be inserted into the existing pumphouse building.

•THE development application for an eco-tourism resort at Musselroe Bay was accepted by the Dorset Council in October. The project, costing an estimated $185 million, is said to include a 100 guest suites, 200 units, 40 holiday villas, 80 serviced apartments and an 18-hole golf course..

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

•A $4.6 million North-East mountain bike network to develop mountain biking tourism, by Northern Tasmanian Development, has gained momentum throughout the year. Construction due to end in June next year. The three trails total 90 kilometres of world-class track, with all necessary infrastructure including bike wash stations.•A $23 million Tarkine tourist road received Federal government approvals in March. Up to 93 kilometres of road will be sealed, two bridges replaced, and tourist facilities upgraded. Work is due to start in May.

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