Capturing the Tasmanian Spirit

Bernard Dwyer tells Justin Merrigan how Spirit of Tasmania is helping the economy of Australia’s island state to grow

Capturing the Tasmanian Spirit
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Tasmania is a place of wild and beautiful landscapes, wonderful food and wine, and a haunting history evoked by world-famous convict ruins. It’s also Australia’s smallest state and the most geographically diverse with more than 40% reserved as national parks and UNESCO World Heritage wilderness. The island has been something of a best-kept secret, but that has changed in recent times and last year the state welcomed more than one million interstate visitors and reached the AUS$2 billion (US$1.5 billion) visitor spend mark.

Meeting that considerable tourism demand is Spirit of Tasmania, owned and operated by the Tasmanian government’s TT-Line. Running sailings across Bass Strait between Melbourne, Victoria and Devonport, Tasmania with sister ships Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II, the operation is one of Australia’s most iconic travel experiences.

Last year TT-Line ran a total of 33 extra day sailings over the peak season, with visitors arriving on Spirit of Tasmania growing by an impressive 17%. Forward bookings for the 2016-2017 summer season were up 14.5% from the previous year, and again extra day sailings were scheduled to keep up with the increasing market demand.

In the last Australian financial year, 418,831 passengers travelled with Spirit of Tasmania, injecting around AUS$500 million (US$378 million) into Tasmania’s economy explains CEO Bernard Dwyer.

“Spirit of Tasmania is an important part of the current government’s growth plan for tourism, jobs and the economy – visitors who come to Tasmania via Spirit of Tasmania stay longer, spend more, and visit more regions than those who arrive by air,” Dwyer says. “We work closely with Tourism Tasmania to maximise Tasmania’s tourism potential. In 2016 we launched two co-branded marketing campaigns with Tourism Tasmania, showcasing the State’s must-do attractions and unique experiences.”

The ships depart from each port at 7:30pm, arriving at 6:00am the following morning. During periods of high demand between September and May, Spirit of Tasmania also operates day sailings. The vessel will operate 138 day sailings from September 2016 until April 2017.

“Our aim is to provide our passengers with a memorable stress-free experience, one that is easy, convenient and delivered with the highest customer service,” comments Dwyer. “Our vessels provide a leisurely journey for thousands of travellers seeking a high-quality tourism experience to start and end their holiday, or as part of their holiday for those travelling around Australia. They also offer the additional benefit of convenience, flexibility and affordability as passengers can take their vehicles, bikes and even their pets with them. With ocean views and fresh Tasmanian cuisine, we encourage passengers to ease themselves into their Tasmanian holiday from the moment they board.”

Spirit of Tasmania I and II each have four main passenger decks, five vehicle decks, one restaurant, a convenience and gift shop, children’s play area, games arcade, a tourist information centre, three bars, gaming lounge and two cinemas. Passengers can choose their accommodation from 222 cabins (Deluxe, Twin Bed or Four Bed) and 121 recliners.

In 2015 the vessels underwent a AUS$31.5 million (US$23.8 million) refurbishment by UK-based firm Trimline designed to further enhance the passenger experience on both night and day sailings. “TT-Line is very proud of our highly rated customer service as evidenced by the results of our passenger surveys conducted with every sailing,” Dwyer says. “We continue to focus on our passengers, and aim to provide them with a seamless experience all year round. Training continues to be a key activity for all staff, particularly the training of onboard team members. The Discovery Series training programme focuses on aspects of service mindset, actions and discovering experiences on the journey.”

Dwyer adds: “Entertainment on day sailings includes live acoustic musicians, face-painters, artists and school holiday programmes. Tasmanian-based Creature Tales continues to produce Tasmanian-themed entertainment and educational services for the enjoyment of adults and children onboard.”

The onboard outlets offer different experiences on each deck to cater for all budgets and passenger needs. Travellers can select from a wide variety of food and beverage options during their journey, which showcase Tasmania’s finest produce and wine.

“The Tasmanian Market Kitchen, our casual self-service restaurant, menu is reasonably priced with main meals from AUS$24.50 (US$18.50),” comments Dwyer. “Children under five years old eat for free with an adult meal. The Pantry convenience store offers freshly prepared sandwiches and snacks from as low as AUS$3 (US$2.26).

The ships also feature three modern bars. “Bar 7 on Deck 7 offers a selection of Tasmanian premium cool-climate wines, local craft beer and boutique ciders,” Dwyer says. “The Terrace Lounge Bar on Deck 9 is bright and inviting with flat-screen TVs showing Foxtel and free-to-air channels located throughout. At the Top Deck Lounge on Deck 10, guests can relax in deck chairs surrounded by large glass windows offering ocean views.”

Spirit of Tasmania takes great pride in showcasing Tasmanian produce – 93% of wine served and 80% of food served in the 2015-2016 financial year was purchased through Tasmanian suppliers.

“From May to November, Flavours of Tassie showcases the best of Tasmanian gourmet food and beverage producers, featuring the state’s best cheeses, chocolates, preserves, beers, ciders, wines and spirits,” Dwyer says. “Travellers have the chance to enjoy free samples while they meet the makers behind the labels and learn what goes into these fine products. It’s all about uncovering the little-known gems of the state, and bringing the producer and the consumer closer together.”

Looking ahead, in November 2016, the Tasmanian Government announced it is preparing for the replacement of both Spirit of Tasmania vessels in the early-to-mid 2020s through the creation of a dedicated Vessel Replacement Fund.

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Justin Merrigan
By Justin Merrigan
Monday, May 29, 2017