Behind the scenery

The allure of natural beauty has long been the primary drawcard for leisure and corporate travellers to visit Tasmania, but beyond its World Heritage sites and pristine national parks, there’s a whole lot more to be discovered, as Lauren Arena recently found out.

The aptly named Roaring Forties bring wild winds, wet weather and cool temperatures to Tasmania. Lately, however, these fierce winds are also heralding an air of change – spurring a cultural revolution that is ripping through the state, knocking out its quaint conservatism to make way for edgy, new hotels, stylish eateries that embrace local produce to create newfangled food trends, and awe-inspiring museums that baffle, arouse, excite and entertain.

While the state’s unspoiled landscape and unique wildlife remain so, in and around its cities there are more and more reasons why business travellers are choosing to go south. Most notable among these is Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

The seminal birth of MONA in 2011 has garnered attention from around the world and the unprecedented popularity and power of the art gallery (within a mere 12 months of opening MONA became the state’s top tourism attraction and remains so today), has encouraged many hotel and venue operators to pick up their game and make a few changes.

“Tasmania, as a brand, has developed a sense of confidence we didn’t have a few years ago,” Alfred Merse, markets manager, conference and banquets at Wrest Point, says.

“The Tasmanian story is one of humble and harsh beginnings and only now, in this generation, we’re beginning to celebrate and recognise our special features.”
“Before we were almost apologetic about it, but now we recognise that we can actually be quite competitive. We’ve got the wilderness, great food and wine and very friendly people. Life here is the way it used to be and perhaps how it should be because you can slow down, smell the fresh air and touch a leaf.”

In the last two years, Tasmanian operators have won hosts of awards, both national and international, including 10 Australian Tourism Awards. Conde Nast Traveller readers recently rated Hobart the second friendliest city in the world, while MONA

was judged Australia’s favourite museum, according to Trip-Advisor users in 2013.
Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm were also ranked among the top 100 golf courses in the world, according to GOLF Magazine, and four out of the seven Great Walks of Australia are found in Tasmania – these include Bay of Fires Lodge Walk, Cradle Mountain Huts Walk, Freycinet Experience Walk and Maria Island Walk.

Mr Merse, who’s worked in Tasmania’s tourism and hospitality sectors for 18 years as part of the Federal Group, says the installation of MONA has sent shock-waves through the industry and invigorated many operators to regroup, rebrand and refurbish.

“It’s very difficult for a small state to capture attention. We need to promote our quirkiness and slowly, more and more operators are beginning to understand that,” he says.
“MONA activated the wave but there’s certainly potential to connect more people with the stories of Tasmania and potential for further growth in the corporate events sector.”

Federal Group to invest in five-star

Since opening Australia’s first-ever casino, Hobart’s Wrest Point Hotel Casino in 1973, the Federal Group has played a vital role in promoting and supporting Tasmania’s tourism industry.
The family-owned hospitality and gaming company is once again leading the charge with a plan to further invest in Tasmania’s upscale tourism market – however, this means letting go of a number of its regional mass market tourism assets.

In July the group signed a heads of agreement with RACT regarding the sale of Strahan Village, Gordon River Cruises, Freycinet Lodge, and Cradle Mountain Chateau.

Sales and marketing manager at Federal Group, Matt Casey, said “We have a definite plan to invest further in upmarket properties, which includes additional investment into current assets as well as looking for new opportunities.”
The company recently opened the ultra-luxurious Saffire Freycinet boutique resort in 2010 and purchased the trend-setting Henry Jones Art Hotel on Hobart’s waterfront in 2007.
“Last year we focused heavily on the leisure market, but this year we’re very much concentrated on increasing our market share in the international incentives market,” he said.

As Tasmania’s largest private sector employer, the company assures the potential sale agreement also addresses community concerns.
“We wanted to ensure any potential new owners would be accepted by the community and would continue to invest in Tasmania’s hospitality industry.
“We’ve been offered a lot more money in the past, but as a family company, we want to ensure the family ethos is upheld. This sale is palatable because RACT is locally orientated with similar ethics and community links as Federal Group.”
At the time of print the heads of agreement was yet to be confirmed. m