Tourism Lessons From Tasmania

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - May 23, 2007
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(This column is based on a recent trip I made through Tasmania and uses U.S. dollar figures.)

Devil Campervans of Tasmania gets asked questions such as “What time of the year are the rhinoceros races?” He has to write back that “Maybe you’re thinking about Africa? We’re part of Australia.”

That it is. It’s a 190-by-180-mile-sized island south of the Aussie mainland. A fantastic, under-visited place that really has its eco-tourism act together. Its people sense that an island can’t have millions of tourists a year without junking up the place. It draws 700,000 visitors a year. We get about 7 million.

Best seen - take my word on this - by camper van with a poptop, stove, fridge and even a TV if you’re into that.

That’s because Tasmania has set aside 3.5 million acres as wilderness and has 19 national parks. Hawaii has no wilderness and two national parks.

Tasmania’s Green Party (the Greens started there) has obstructed hydro-electric projects and logging. Don Davey, father of our well-known North Shore surf photographer Sean Davey, is one of the vocal opponents of a proposed pulp mill that would send emissions downwind to Launceston, Tasmania’s second-largest city.

Tasmanians pay a price for their Greenness. Their unemployment rate is approaching 7 percent. Ours hovers between 2 percent and 3 percent. We have a per capita gross state product of $36,000, while Tasmania’s is about $18,000.

Their federal Fair Wage Commission has set a $10.50 minimum wage. Hawaii’s is $7.25. Australia sets a minimum weekly wage for workers. We do not.

As I van-camped this gorgeous, transfixing place, I realized one of the things we could have done is what Tasmania did with its Freycinet Peninsula on its east coast. The access road only goes a tiny way in. Anyone who wants to get to the beaches and bays must walk a minimum of one hour. Similarly, the entire southwest mountain, lakes and coast area has but one paved road, that one into Mt. Field National Park. The rest is all by dirt tracks and difficult foot trails.

We seem to need to assure access to most everything but the tippy-top of Mauna Loa by the family sedan. Yes, we have a local push for eco-tourism, the kind that leaves a small footprint. People who hike and bike and camp or stay in small B&Bs. But that doesn’t fill hotels or our big-ticket tourist attractions. And when they’re not filled, the jobs drop off.

I appreciate Hawaii’s $36,355 average per person income versus $24,000 average per household income in Tasmania. More money is better, right?

Maybe someday Tasmania will be Hawaii with hotels crowding out the shoreline and the quaintness of Hobart turned into a kitschy Lahaina or KailuaKona. Its western seacoast town of Strahan already has gone that way.

The key is limited and tightly controlled resort development, controlling rental cars, not opening wilderness to roads, keeping those high minimum wages, encouraging the Green Party candidates and not junking up the place.

Everything we did not do. Ah ... but that unemployment rate.

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