ESTIMATES COMMITTEE B
Thursday 21 June 2007
Mrs Smith (Chair)
Hon. Paula Wriedt, Minister for Tourism, Arts and the Environment
Department of Tourism, Arts and the Environment
Scott Gadd , Secretary
Mr FINCH - I want to ask about Tasmania's Temptations and where that sits in the scheme of things as far as Tourism Tasmania is concerned. We have recognised it and talked about it at budget estimates as one of our successful operations but there has been criticism that there is duplication between Tas Temptations and the TT-Line do. I am trying to flesh out the future of Tas Temptations and your view on that operation.
Ms WRIEDT - I didn't quite get the question, sorry.
Mr FINCH - I am after your view on the operations of Tas Temptations and its future.
Ms WRIEDT - It certainly has a continued role to play within Tasmania's tourism scene. When we reviewed distribution we included looking at Tas Temptations in Launceston and whether Tourism Tasmania should continue its involvement. The view was yes, we should and there is no secret in the fact that their revenue is declining –
Mr FINCH - To what extent, Minister?
Ms WRIEDT - It is significant. As I think we discussed previously we have some commercial in confidence issues with some of the figures because they are a tourism wholesale arm. I can give you a ballpark figure and indicate that over the last four years their revenue has declined about 20 per cent over that time. I would be very hesitant within this open forum to provide exact figures because they do operate in a competitive environment so we need to be careful about the information that we do provide. That decline reflects the move to a different way for consumers to book which is Internet-based. Having said that the decision of the board of Tourism Tasmania is to retain Tas Temptations as a Government operation but looking at what the reduced income means in terms of staffing levels and so on.
Mr FINCH - How many staff are there now?
Ms WRIEDT - There are 66 FTEs. I might have to take that one on notice as I cannot give you a comparable figure for the previous financial year because the distribution figure that I have includes Melbourne and Sydney travel centres.
Mr FINCH - But do they work for Tas Temptations?
Ms WRIEDT - No, but the 2005-06 figure I have for distribution was made up of the travel centres plus Tas Temptations; it included Sydney and Melbourne Travel Centre FTEs, so I cannot give you a comparable figure at the moment. I will take it on notice.
Mr FINCH - Can you confirm that 40 jobs have been lost from Tas Temptations in the past 12 months?
Ms WRIEDT - Forty is not just Tas Temptations. That 40 that you refer to includes the travel centres of Melbourne and Sydney. In Melbourne and Sydney we had about 25 positions, and the balance of 15 positions were within the Tas Temptations call centre in Launceston. They were not positions lost; there were people on temporary contracts and those contracts were not renewed. Having said that, there were a number of people on temporary employment who have been put onto permanent employment. The nature of the work force has changed. Some people gained permanency and some who on fixed-term contracts that we did not renew because of the decreased demand.
Mr FINCH - Are the employees there now nervous about their future?
Ms WRIEDT - I do not know. I know there has been a lot of communication with them.
Mr FINCH - Have you been to Tas Temptations, Minister?
Ms WRIEDT - Not to the call centre.
Mr FINCH - Have you seen the operation since you have been Tourism minister?
Ms WRIEDT - No. There is a great deal of communication between the staff of Tourism Tasmania and the operation to make sure that they are aware of the processes we have been undertaking. They are aware of the changing nature of the tourism industry. Within the context of the review I talked about earlier that was undertaken about 18 months ago, communication was improved to ensure that they were aware of what was going on and the outcome of the review. The review I am talking about is the one that led to the closure of the Sydney and Melbourne travel centres. We worked very closely with them to make sure that they were aware that Tas Temptations was not going to be closed; it was the board's decision to continue to operate the centre
CHAIR - The Tas Temptations part is funded in this budget.
Ms MARIANI - We are taking a look at both our digital strategy and our distribution strategy. As part of that process, the staff have actually been engaged in talking about how we can realign the business and make it operate differently. The minister's comments about the commitment to Tas Tempts and its continued operation are absolutely correct. The board agrees that Tas Tempts has a role into the future but we are now looking at how to realign that business in a way that makes it more relevant with the way the consumers are now behaving in terms of accessing craft. We have a range of activities that we are undertaking with the staff and they are feeding into the process of looking at how they can engage with the business in different ways. We are trying to keep those levels of communication very open.
Mr FINCH - Can you assure me that they are positive about their involvement with
Mr MARIANI - I think most of them are. It would be unrealistic for me to say that 100 per cent of the people are happy all the time. We are trying to engage everyone as best we can and to keep them as involved in the process as possible. If we can have the majority of our work force happy about where things are going and feeling comfortable, that is the important thing.
We have now started much better dialogue with the Launceston operation than we have had for years. Our executive team goes up there once a month. We hold our executive meetings in Launceston. Our executive team moves back and forth and spends a lot more time within the operation than we ever did in the past. We are trying to fully integrate the Launceston operation into the entire business of Tourism Tasmania as opposed to it operating as Tas Tempts over here and Tourism Tasmania over there.
Mr FINCH - Thank you. Just finally, Minister, on this subject, has selling Tas Temptations ever been discussed?
Ms WRIEDT - When we did the review of all our distribution channels that was one of them. Quite honestly, yes. To do a review like that what are your options? Your options are to (a) continue; (b) not continue. The board took the view that it should be retained. I know there are several people within the industry who have a contrary view but I think on a whole the industry is of the opinion that we should continue to be in that business.
It is interesting that in other States most other State tourism organisations do not operate a wholesale distribution arm. Most of them have gone out to the private sector and increasingly what we have seen is a rationalisation within the private sector as well as companies merging and being taken over.
Mr FINCH - Have you seen the offer to buy it?
Ms WRIEDT - I think from time to time people express offers but I do not think we would have received anything formal. There have been throw-away remarks in meetings that I have had in the last couple of years where people have said that they would really like to buy that. But there has been nothing put to us and I think that is because it has been made clear last year when we made the announcement after the review that we wanted to continue to operate it.
Mr FINCH - Thanks, Minister.
CHAIR - The summary of financial information, table 12.3, shows a decline in the budget for employee entitlements. Is there a presumption of staff numbers going to be less or changes or particular programs that mean it changes in staff entitlements? I have added it to about $419 000. Can you give me some information?
Ms WRIEDT - That reflects the figures that we had last year for the closure of the Sydney/Melbourne travel centres and the entitlements of those staff.
CHAIR - That is clearly entitlements and no-one is losing their job. Thank you.
I only have one other issue that has been brought to my attention by some of the information centres. I am just looking for some clarification here. I believe there is some concern in some information centres about the relationship of the department and a group called Book Tasmania and I am just looking for someone to give us a short brief of where the department is in relation to online booking systems. Perhaps if I give you my concern you then know where it is coming from. There is some concern that there may be a direction that information centres must use this particular operation. It is hearsay; I have not checked it but I was quoted that Hobart Travel Centre have been told they have to use it now. You can deny or clarify that. They are expressing some concern that their appears to be a relationship where Book Tasmania is pushing them in that direction and away from other mechanisms. I just want to clarify it for the benefit of Hansard back to the industry of course as to some comfort that systems they prefer to operate are going to be possible and they are not going to be dictated to as to where they should be directing these things.
Ms WRIEDT - There is no particular company that we do mandate for any of the operators. Book Tasmania is one that has been around for just over 12 months. I think they launched formally at the Tourism Council meeting last year. There is no formal relationship between Tourism Tasmania and Book Tasmania but I do know that Book Tasmania is a system that has been fairly widely embraced by individual operators themselves, particularly I think smaller operators, because they provide a product that enables smaller operators to have access to a whole range of capabilities that otherwise they would not have been able to afford. They also provide merchant facilities and so on, through them rather than directly. So, they certainly are offering a new product and one that I understand increasingly that operators are taking advantage of. Whether operators choose to do that or not is entirely up to them, but certainly there is nothing that mandates that the visitor information centres use them. I understand they have a very good product. I have seen it. In fact I launched it. I have heard nothing but good things about it from people within the industry and the opportunities that it does present. It is, as I understand it, different from other products that are around in terms of capabilities that it offers, so there are some significant points of difference. Maybe that is what is making it attractive to a lot of people.
CHAIR - But you are quite comfortable that the department is not promoting this company over any other companies?
Ms WRIEDT - Yes.