Government Estimates – (Hon Paula Wriedt MHA)
Wednesday 25 June 2008
3.2 Tourism destination development –
Tamar Valley’s future – Pulp Mill
Mr FINCH - Minister, I know that you are fully aware of the issues that a lot of operators in the Tamar Valley have in respect of the recent past but also their future in regard to the pulp mill.
Ms WRIEDT - The ghost of Estimates past!
Mr FINCH - I am wondering if research has been done into the implications for the tourism industry in the Tamar Valley if the pulp mill does proceed? There would be some variances because we had announced not so long ago by Gunns that there would not be as much of a requirement for the work force as they had previously. What are the projections? What do they intend to do in respect of accommodating the workers who may need to come here? Will the tourism industry be able to accommodate their tourists as well as provide extra accommodation that might be needed for workers? Is Gunns going to build something?
Ms WRIEDT - No, my understanding is that they were planning to accommodate the work force through a combination of building some accommodation themselves in George Town but also using existing accommodation providers in the area. There is divided opinion in relation to the benefits to the tourism industry in the Tamar Valley and George Town areas as a result of the pulp mill and that was borne out by the survey that the Tourism Industry Council did last year in about August. It showed that quite a large number of the tourism operators believed there would be a benefit for the tourism industry from the pulp mill. I am aware, for example, that the Pier Hotel in George Town has made a substantial investment, over $1 million I think, because they believe that they will benefit from the influx of workers into the area. Likewise you have had Errol Stewart make a multi-million dollar investment in George Town, so there is certainly a lot of activity in that area.
On the back of the discussion last year and the concerns that were raised in relation to the tourism operators, I conducted a couple of forums, the first of which was very well attended. I think we had more than 50 people. I think attendance dropped off a little for the second one and there was third follow-up one that Felicia did some time ago that had fewer again. What we developed out of that was a four-point plan of what we would do in relation to the proposed mill and the perceived impact on the area. We said that Tourism would continue to monitor the health and the ongoing integrity of the Tasmanian brand through Roy Morgan Research Holiday Tracking surveys to help us to continue to identify visitor preferences and intention to visit. If, for example, that shows us a sharp decline in visitor preference for coming to Tasmania, certainly that would be something that we would look at.
Mr FINCH - Have you done that work, or will that be done if the pulp mill goes ahead?
Ms MARIANI - That work already exists. The information that the minister is referring to is part of the Roy Morgan Research Tracking studies. The benefit of this is that we have the benchline data. This information has been collected for preference and intention, brand awareness and brand health. That is part of the Roy Morgan Research Tracking studies which we have been doing for years. We have a really good baseline of information. If those numbers start to change we will know we have a problem. At this point there has been absolutely no change and the preference and intention is performing extremely well for Tasmania.
Ms WRIEDT - The other thing we said we would do is to make sure that we work with our international managers in all our core markets and also with the public relations agencies that we have overseas to make sure that they are monitoring any impact on the brand that they perceive. For example, in the United States alone DCI, the company that we use there, monitors some 10 000 print and online publications including the larger ones like New York Times and Los Angeles Times and so on but also broadcast media such as CNN et cetera.
Mr FINCH - That is like media monitors.
Ms WRIEDT - They monitor all that to pick up any negative stories related to the pulp mill. We do the same in our national media through the six mainstream newspapers and magazines. We get feedback from them and also any other stakeholders like international airlines and so on to see if any of them indicate a declining preference. I also seek feedback when I travel overseas, and I have just come back from Japan and Hong Kong where I met with Qantas, and they have not indicated any difficulties.
There is a drop in Japanese visitors but it is not related to the pulp mill. Despite the Greens having been there advocating against it, nobody seemed to know about it. Likewise in G'Day USA there was no mention of it. We have not been asked about it, and I know that the Leader of the Opposition indicated that it was never raised with him in his recent trip around the world either. Out of curiosity, I asked a few people in Hong Kong, an emerging market for us, and nobody had even heard of it. We are monitoring all of that. We do not want to rely just on word of mouth.
As part of the four-point plan that we put out, we will map out the potential stresses on the accommodation supply in the region relative to when the highest demand for accommodation would be. Demand for worker accommodation is estimated to be 1 000 people per month over a 26-month period, but part of that will be picked up by the purpose-built facility that the company will establish. Once construction of the mill is complete we will work with the local and regional tourism authorities to develop a proper communications plan to advise tourists of the availability of accommodation. If it looks like there is a squeeze, we will certainly work with them to mitigate any perceptions that have arisen. Finally, in the event that any of those things have highlighted an issue, or there is a blip in any of the data we are tracking, we will develop some strategies to mitigate those. As I said at the time, we cannot say what those mitigation strategies would be until such time as we know what this problem is. We would have to develop an appropriate response to the problem if and when one eventuates in our research. Felicia has formed a group that is doing some ongoing work on this.
Ms MARIANI - We have our first meeting on 14 July working in conjunction with the Launceston Tamar Valley Tourism Association. Because the accommodation issue is a bit unknown, I have formed a working group with some of the key people in the Launceston area to monitor some of the issues that could arise. I asked that this working group be formed because we need the intelligence on the ground. We need to know what rooms are available, where the stresses and strains are happening over the various periods of time.
Mr FINCH - Tamar Valley people as well, not just Launceston?
Ms MARIANI - Yes, it is Launceston Tamar Valley Tourism Association, so Peter Neilson is the person on the ground to pull together the responsible parties to work with us.
Mr FINCH - Okay. Thank you.
Ms RITCHIE - Minister, going back to your comment about the lack of supply of accommodation at the premium end as a potential issue in Tasmania, please comment on whether you feel that there is a correlation between this and the real estate boom in Tasmania. Even though we have experienced property price increases, we are still very competitive compared with mainland property prices. Do you think that is going to position us well to attract developers to Tasmania to develop such accommodation premises, based on the fact that our property prices are very competitive compared to mainland States?
Ms WRIEDT - Definitely, I feel a slogan coming on: You can still afford to buy in Tasmania. Certainly I think that there is still an opportunity for people who want to develop at the premium end, in particular, to come and look at investment opportunities here. We have under way at the moment a tourism infrastructure investment strategy to identify strategic gaps in the area, such as premium accommodation in Hobart and there may be other areas. I know the Huon Valley suffers from not having anything of significant size with a large number of rooms and they could benefit. For example, having a small boutique hotel would be a great boost to that area.
Ms RITCHIE - Is this infrastructure investment strategy aimed at providing detail to potential developers about what they can come and do in Tasmania?
Ms MARIANI - It is almost a notion of alluding to Tasmania as an investor-ready destination. We are also looking at not just the gaps in the type of product, but also things that could impinge upon a developer's intention to build in Tasmania. So things like ensuring that they have good access in and out of whatever the destination might be - the water issues, the sewerage issues - so there are more things that are also around inhibitors to what would make a particular development difficult to build in Tasmania. So there are two sides of it. One has to look at the gaps in the type of product but the other is more broadly looking at the things that could inhibit the success of a development moving forward. It is a very broad program that is being done in conjunction with Economic Development. So Tourism and Economic Development are working together on this particular strategy.