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Tourism stories

West Coast revival

Edition 194_WestCoast

Moves are underway for a West Coast revival to take this stunning part of the world back to the top of Tasmania’s tourism pile.

The region is being re-branded and already things are starting to happen: an ‘iconic’ new drive, a new wharf and boat, and maybe even a new airport runway.

There is no doubt that Tasmania’s West has its own unique beauty. A world heritage wilderness full of ancient forests and untamed rivers, historic mining towns, and a rich convict past.

There was even a time when the rugged West was one of Tasmania’s biggest tourist drawcards, second only to Port Arthur. That was back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

“Definitely our heyday,” West Coast Mayor Phil Vickers reminisces.

“In the aftermath of the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam our world heritage area was huge, and the Gordon River cruise taking visitors into that wilderness was an enormous tourist attraction.

“All this also coincided with the development of Strahan Village which was a game-changer.”

That was then, this is now.

Since 2002 tourist numbers have been slashed by half, and the population is down to a touch over 4,000 people.

“We have lost our way in the last 15 years,” Mr Vickers admits.

“We used to be second but now we rank eighth or ninth on the list of Tasmania’s most popular tourist drawcards.”

A 2014 report by the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania warned the West Coast was being left behind as it “has not had a significant level of investment in visitor-generating tourism products or attractions in the past decade.”

However, determined to turn that around and get a greater slice of Tasmania’s tourism pie, the local community and stake-holders have banded together and hatched a plan for a West Coast revival.

Just before Christmas they launched an ambitious project to re-brand the region: putting the identity and future direction of the West Coast under the microscope.

“This is not about a new logo or a new name: this is about a new beginning,” the Mayor explained.

“I have been in politics for 25 years and in all that time we have never sat down and looked at our brand and what needs to be done and where we are at.

“I think there is a lot of confusion in the market-place as to who we are. Are we wilderness? Are we mining?

“We really need to refresh how people see the West Coast.”

A consultant’s report is due shortly. But in the meantime, the Mayor has his own views on how this part of the world should be branded.

“We are still beautiful and untouched,” Mr Vickers said.

“But, I would like people to see us as a nice place for families to visit; safe and with lots of things to do that don’t cost money, like walking along miles and miles of unspoilt beaches without seeing another person.”

In the meantime, the first green shoots of a West Coast tourism revival are sprouting.

In mid-April the State Government unveiled the Western Wilds calling it, “Tasmania’s next iconic drive.”

Acting Tourism Minister, Jeremy Rockliff, described Western Wilds, the stretch of Lyell Highway between New Norfolk and Queenstown, as “a unique driving experience that will encourage visitors to explore and experience the wildness of Western Tasmania.”

He likened it to the hugely successful Great Eastern Drive, which led to “a 20 per cent increase in visitors to Tasmania’s East Coast since its development.”

Mayor Phil Vickers is excited by the prospect: “Tourism is booming in Hobart, and we need to find a way to feed on that and draw visitors out of the capital and to the West Coast.

“The drive here has always been one of our biggest obstacles, but the Western Wilds has great potential to turn that negative into a positive.”

There is also good news on the water as well.

A $6.5 million upgrade to Strahan’s wharf and cruise ship terminal has just opened.

And soon an impressive new boat, ‘Spirit of the Wild’ which replaces the 12-year-old Lady Jane Franklin II, will be pulling out from this wharf and taking tourists along the Gordon River and into the world heritage wilderness. 

However, one of the biggest game changers may well just happen at Strahan Airport.

A feasibility study has recently been commissioned into the viability of an airport upgrade, which could allow more direct charter flights in and out of the region.

“We have talked about this for a long time,” Mr Vickers said.

“But we have never had any evidence about the demand for extra flights or the cost of any upgrade. Hopefully this feasibility will give us some of those answers.”

Many of the answers may still be coming, but the West Coast it seems is already starting to re-claim its place at the top of Tasmania’s tourism pile.

“We are not just a mining community in the wilderness,” Mr Vickers points out.

“We should be a place that people want to come to.

“And that is starting to happen – again.”

Image Courtesy of The Mercury

8 May 2018, Edition 194

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