'Struggle' for Spirit ferry operators

SPIRIT of Tasmania ferry operators are facing an uphill battle to turn ``problematic'' day sailings into financially viable trips that are attractive to potential visitors to the state.

The Liberal government this week rejected Bass Strait ferry operator TT-Line's plan to run two freight-only ships to free up space for passengers on the Spirits.

Instead, the government wants the state-owned company to undertake a $10 million refurbishment of the existing ferries and offer more day sailings.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said spending all day on the ship had not been a popular option in the past.

``They are generally problematic, they generally lose money and that will be the challenge for TT-Line going forward,'' Mr Martin said.

``We've always sold the proposition of the ships' overnight passage and the markets always responded to that.''

Mr Martin had supported TT-Line's proposal to move freight off the ferries.

``The issue here is that for four months of the year, the deck space is packed on the ships and you've got us crying out for more space for passengers and you've got exporters crying out for more freight capacity.'' 

He said putting on extra day sailings would have to be accompanied by an aggressive marketing campaign.

Yesterday, Premier Will Hodgman, who also holds the tourism portfolio, said the government's decision would boost visitor numbers to the state, but was leaving the details to TT-Line.

``It's now over to the TT-Line to work on developing its business case and providing those outcomes,'' Mr Hodgman said.

Freight moving companies are relieved by the government's decision not to allow a state-owned company to expand its freight business.

Tasmania's largest freight mover Toll Group had warned the previous government it may rethink plans to buy two new ships.

Toll Group spokesman Christopher Whitefield said yesterday the new government's decision had been noted ahead of making a final decision later this year.

``While nothing is finalised, the announcement strengthens the case to improve our capacity and service levels for our Bass Strait customers for many years to come,'' Mr Whitefield said.

While TT-Line provides a vital service quickly delivering fresh produce and seafood to the mainland, Mr Hodgman said the rest of the freight volume was best left to the private market.

``We're going to free that space.''


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