That’s the Spirit!

The two vessels operated by Tasmania’s TT-Line offer travellers a relaxing and unique experience as they journey to and from the mainland. Justin Merrigan talks to the line’s CEO, Bernard Dwyer

That’s the Spirit!
Inside a deluxe cabin on a TT-Line ferry
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Tasmania is home to one of Australia’s most iconic journeys, delivering on the company’s tagline ‘A trip to remember’. The 232-nautical-mile Spirit of Tasmania voyage between Port Melbourne in Victoria and Devonport in Tasmania crosses Bass Strait. The two vessels – Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II – provide a leisurely cruise for thousands of travellers seeking a high-quality tourism experience to start and end their holiday or even as part of their holiday for those travelling around Australia. Operated by TT-Line Company Pty Ltd, Spirit of Tasmania (SoT) employs more than 500 employees who work tirelessly to ensure every passenger has a memorable, relaxing and stress-free tourism experience. The company’s history dates back to 1985, when TT-Line (Transport Tasmania Line) was formed following the announcement that the Australian National Line (ANL) would no longer operate its service across the Bass Strait. After the cessation of ANL operations, TT-Line began a replacement service, using a German ferry that was renamed Abel Tasman, after the first known European to reach Tasmania.

Eight years later, TT-Line replaced her in November 1993 with a new and larger ship named Spirit of Tasmania. During this same year, TT-Line became an incorporated business enterprise wholly owned by the state government of Tasmania, TT-Line Company Pty Ltd. In 2002 the two current vessels replaced the original Spirit of Tasmania. Taking between nine and 11 hours, travelling at an average speed of 27 knots, the twins depart port every evening at 7:30, arriving the following morning at 6:00. Day sailings operate in peak season from December to April.

CEO of TT-Line is Bernard Dwyer, who took up the role in November 2014, bringing significant experience in the Tasmanian tourism sector to the business. Over the previous 14 years he held various senior management positions with the Federal Group, including nearly nine years as its Director of Tourism.

Little surprise then that Bernard Dwyer is focused on maximising the whole onboard experience of passengers travelling on the ship. With spectacular ocean views, fresh open air and sensational Tasmanian cuisine, he believes passengers can ease themselves into a relaxing holiday from the moment they board.

“Our aim is to provide our passengers with a memorable, stress-free experience that is easy, convenient and delivered with the highest customer service,” says Dwyer.

The ships have four main decks, five vehicle decks, one large restaurant, a ‘grab and go’ convenience store and gift shop, a kids’ play area, a games arcade, a tourist information centre, three bars, a gaming lounge, two cinemas and a reception desk. Passengers can cruise in comfort with a choice of 222 cabins (Deluxe, Twin Bed or Four Bed) and 121 Recliners.

“In August last year the vessels benefited from a AUD$31.5 million refurbishment including a new self-service restaurant area, two new cinemas, an upgraded lounge area and three new bars – all showcasing Tasmanian local produce. The accommodation lounge area has been fully refurbished with new recliners, more spacious seating layout and added comfort. The Deluxe Cabins have also been completely refurbished and new soft furnishings provided in the other cabins. The new internal décor, lighting and colour schemes are designed to all have a fresh, modern feel,” he says.

And the approach certainly seems to be working. In 2014 and 2015, a total of 384,501 passengers travelled onboard Spirit of Tasmania I and II. During that same time, passengers injected approximately AUD$440 million into the state’s economy.

There is obviously a very big emphasis on Tasmania onboard and the new facilities offered are doing much to maximise onboard revenue for the company. Dwyer explains: “The onboard outlets offer different experiences on each deck to cater for all budgets and passenger types. Each deck has digital signage highlighting meal deals, food and beverage combos and menus. Regular updates from reception announce the entertainment on offer as well as outlet offerings.

“The three news bars comprise Bar 7, located on Deck 7, which is a stylish and intimate bar with a selection of Tasmanian premium cool-climate wines, local craft beers and boutique ciders. Passengers who prefer something a little stronger can enjoy a nip of Tasmania’s finest quality whisky. The Terrace Lounge Bar, located on Deck 9, is bright and inviting with open spaces and colourful lounges. Flat-screen TVs with Foxtel and free-to-air channels are located throughout the deck. The Top Deck Lounge Bar, located on Deck 10, maximises the summer feel with deck chairs to relax in, soft synthetic grass to sink their toes into and large surrounding glass windows offering magnificent ocean vistas.”

Travellers can select from a wide variety of food and beverage options during their journey, which showcase some of Tasmania’s finest produce and wine onboard.

“Guests can dine in Tasmania Market Kitchen (TMK), our casual self-service restaurant. Our selection of delicious Tasmanian-inspired marketplace favourites, including a Tasmanian signature dish of the day, satisfies all taste buds. Menu options are very reasonably priced from AUD$14 to AUD$28 dollars. Children under five years eat for free. For something lighter, The Pantry offers freshly prepared sandwiches and snacks from as low as AUD$3. A range of Tasmanian food products and souvenirs are also available for purchase.”

When showcasing the very best a destination has to offer, it is of course paramount that staff have been equipped for the task and SoT has not been found wanting in that regard. “Retail & Hospitality has a service training programme which all our onboard team have completed to ensure consistent service and the ability to maximise sales opportunities,” Dwyer explains. “The latest Point of Sale systems are in place to ensure our crew can process the transactions in a seamless and timely manner.”

There is even a Tourism Hub: all local Tasmanian consultants can book just about anything from accommodation, tours, festivals, museums, National Park and fishing licences – and offer free local advice.

It is often said that Tasmania is Australia’s best kept secret but passenger numbers have been increasing over the past few years at a great rate. “We have carefully defined our customer types and understand the Customer Value Proposition that we must meet in the market where we operate,” says Dwyer.

“The recent refurbishment was a direct strategy to enhance our day sailings, to maximise the space for our passengers and also provide services that closely meet their needs.

“From a freight perspective, we are in a unique position of being the last carrier to leave port and the first to arrive in the destination port. This allows more time for producers to refine their logistics model to best suit getting their produce to market in the best condition it can be. Also running our services seven days a week provides surety for the producers in Tasmania.”

Regarding plans for the future, Dwyer says: “We are always looking to make our business more efficient. We will continue to review best practices from around the world and if appropriate add those to our model of operation.

“Our vessels will remain well maintained and up to date while we look around the world for innovations that keep us within the ever-changing regulatory framework that we operate in as well as providing the highest level of safety for our crew and passengers.”

Like all shipowners, TT-Line faces a major challenge around regulation in relation to fuels used. “Being in Australia we are limited in fuel supply and carefully manage our supply along with future directions of the legislation, both nationally and internationally,” comments Dwyer. “We are also facing great demand for our services so we are carefully planning our schedules over the next few years to maximise tourism numbers to Tasmania and ensure the excellent service standards that we prove now.”

While Australia is not subject to Emission Control Area (ECA) requirements in respect to fuel oils and sulphur limits, and at this time is not subject to any port-specific requirements, it nevertheless stays abreast of these emerging regulations and, notwithstanding any change in the immediate future, will be subject to global changes that are currently pending in 2020.

“Several years ago, TT-Line explored rudimentary scrubber technology and will look at all viable environmental control options later in 2016 given that there have been substantial developments in these fields over the last few years.

“On a smaller scale, through the vessels’ Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP), TT-Line tracks their efficiencies through the Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator (EEOI). This is fundamentally linked to new fuel meters that are providing better data on the efficiencies of machinery utilisation. In smaller areas again, TT-Line has earlier identified use of more energy- efficient lighting (LED), mandating all lighting be shut off whilst passenger cabins are vacant, and where possible introduces biodegradable and environmentally friendly chemicals and detergents,” says Dwyer.

Share this story

Justin Merrigan
By Justin Merrigan
Wednesday, May 4, 2016