Monday 22 June 2009

Output group 3
3.1 Tourism -

Mr FINCH - Minister, do you accept that the Tasmanian tourism industry is responsible for the highest share of employment and gross state product of any State?

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes.  Is that a trick question?

Mr FINCH - No, no.

Ms O'BYRNE - Okay.  The Northern Territory actually has a higher response, but they are not a State.  That was my confusion there for a moment.  There is a larger percentage in the Northern Territory but they are not a State, although they probably help my argument better-

Mr FINCH - But as the Minister for Tourism, where would you place Tasmania in respect of the performance of industries in the State - the fishing industry, the forestry industry -

Ms O'BYRNE - I cannot comment on other industries other than to say that Tourism 21 and the partnership work that we have done through the Industry Council of Tasmania and the Tourism Tasmania Board has moved our industry into a far more professional industry.  We have a far better experiential outcome for that.  I am happy to put on the record that I rate it extremely high and extremely important to the economy, if that is the answer you are looking for. 

Mr FINCH - But as an industry, I am just wondering where we are placed - whether we are second, third, fourth, fifth on figures that might come from Treasury.

Ms O'BYRNE - I guess it depends on whose data you might use, though.  I understand Forest Industries put out some data, which was probably -

Mr FINCH - Good for forestry.

Ms O'BYRNE - I do not have it with me, but I did look at it.  It indicated that forestry delivered more in terms of jobs and economic benefit than tourism did, but tourism is an incredibly important provider for both jobs and the economy.  Sorry, that one was based on return of investment and subsidies, yes, right - so given the amount of money that they might get from the State Government, what they then return.

Mr FINCH - I am just reflecting here that sometimes tourism, I think, is not put on the pedestal that I think it should be placed on in respect of what it does for the economy of Tasmania and, as I say, it is just not given the importance that I think it perhaps deserves.

Ms O'BYRNE - I think that is probably an unfair assessment, because I think there has been no greater friend to tourism in Tasmania than the State Labor Government since 1996.  We made the massive investment in Spirits 1 and 2.  We have worked to deliver low-cost carriers.  We have worked with airlines to deliver those opportunities here.  Many of the additional flights that we have here have been based on research and targeted work and business cases that have been prepared by Tourism Tasmania - by this Government - to get those airlines to come here.  We committed an extra $3 million a year every year to 2010 for increased tourism market economies.  We had $16 million - two-year funding in 2006 - for marketing and development.  So that is an extra $28 million over four years that we are committing to tourism.  We are focused on delivering and we are delivering the best e-commerce opportunities for tourism in the country and this has been recognised by the long-term study.

If I can just wave this lovely document around, this is the Federal Government's Jackson report on behalf of the steering committee for reforming the long-term national tourism strategy.  They recognised that what we are doing is leading the nation.  Tasmania is ahead of the pack in how smart we do tourism and that is because this Government has recognised and invested in it.

[4.45 p.m.]

Mr FINCH - Okay.  So you get a sense that the Government now does hold tourism in high esteem?

Ms O'BYRNE - I as Minister, Tourism Tasmania and this Government are absolutely committed to tourism.  What we have, however, is a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall which, when you make a decision to protect frontline health, frontline education, frontline policing, means that the savings that have to be made fall across Government and we have to take our share of responsibility within that.  That does not mean that we give up on doing tourism things.  What it means is that we have to do it smarter, and we are known for doing creative, smart tourism initiatives that deliver conversion - not just being able to tick the box and being able to say that we spent money on marketing; we deliver conversion and that is the difference.

Mr FINCH - There is no fear about tourism jobs being lost at this time? What is the sense that you are getting from the marketplace? Is there a fear with the recession?

Ms O'BYRNE - Tourism numbers are up.  There is a 7 per cent increase in tourism to March 2009.  We have been suffering the impact of a global financial crisis for some time now.  That did not just arrive last week and we are suddenly trying to work out how we are going to manage it. 

We have been changing our strategies and working on our strategies around tourism since late last year, when it became clear in terms of the economic environment we were working in.  That is why we did the consumer confidence and consumer intention survey.  It is why we have invested in our IT, because we know that there are a whole host of things that we need to be able to do smarter if we are going to get conversion.  So I would say that we have been absolutely committed, and we continue to be.

Mr FINCH - I have a question about Tasmania's Temptations Holidays and its operation in Launceston - a thing of the past now, of course.

Ms O'BYRNE - Not yet actually, no.  It is still going.

Mr FINCH - We still have it, but surely it is becoming a thing of the past.  It was a good idea originally?

Ms O'BYRNE - Thirty years ago there was a clear market failure in the capacity to have a wholesale distribution operation in Tasmania.  Over the years that market failure has changed, and there has been a number of reasons for that.  There have been providers who are in a better position to offer a broad range of services.  We have changed where Tasmania sits in terms of consumer demand.  Tasmania is somewhere people want to come now, so it is in the interests of wholesalers to have us on their books.  Also, there has been the change in Internet bookings.  We found that we got to the point that we were only providing a service for a small proportion of Tasmanian tourist providers, and most of them only used us when they could not get a better deal somewhere else because, particularly with internet programs such as wotif, lastminute.com, getitnow and all of those sorts of markets, they were the sorts of decisions that providers were making.  They were only coming to us as the last resort.

That is not a failing of the staff who all worked incredibly hard and adapted significantly to try to resolve this.  We made a decision last year that it was clear that the market was changing and that we would have to make changes with it.  We hoped at that stage we would not have to get to the point we ended up getting to.  We did not anticipate the impact would be as fast as it was, but there is a massive growth in people using the Internet for their holidays.  I think that will continue, which is why we need to e-enable as well as we can.  We are still opening and still running until 30 September and we are going through a process with those staff now.  I do not have the figures in terms of the decisions of individual staff, but I am not quite sure where you want to go with the next question.

Mr FINCH - I want to ask a question about the staff and be assured that they are being taken through the process well and that they are being dealt with properly.

Ms O'BYRNE - This was a decision that I am responsible for.  This is a decision that the board put before me and it is the right decision.  It is not an easy decision.  Making that decision in your own backyard is even harder than making the decision somewhere else, which is why I went to speak to the staff and explained to them the decision.  I needed to be able to do that face to face.  When I did that, we had people from Human Resources ready to go.  We had people from the department ready to go.  We were able to provide advice as quickly as possible to people about what it meant for them and what their circumstances were. 

There is still an operation that will exist beyond 30 September.  It is not Tasmania's Temptations; it is a contact centre that will provide support for industry, and 12 FTE positions are attached to that.  We managed to transit four of our IT people directly to Economic Development.  That had been a move that had already been progressed.  With all of the other people, we began seeking expressions of interest on 8 May for the 11 positions, and the twelfth, the head of distribution, moves straight over.  For those others, we have had a redundancy program available.

So we have looked at opportunities where jobs might exist in other areas, and Economic Development has been assisting with where those opportunities might be.  We have offered training and upskilling for people who have clearly identified that they have another need or another skills need that might take them through.  But I think, as difficult a process as it has been, it has probably gone as well as we could possibly have imagined.