Sunday, 5 March 2017

TASMANIA: Adventure Tourism To Sustain Tourism Boom

The small town of Derby in Tasmania's north-east is abuzz with activity, as it tries to keep up with a visitor boom.

An extra 25,000 people a year have visited the town since the Blue Derby mountain bike trails were opened in 2015.

Once-empty cottages and deserted shopfronts have been snapped up by developers and converted into tourist accommodation, shops, cafes and other businesses to cater for the boom.

Virginia Valentino was one of the first in the town to renovate her cottage two years ago to rent it out to tourists.

"The moment we went live on the internet with it, we started getting bookings and we've been pretty well booked out ever since," she said.

"I think in the two years since we opened, at least 15 other accommodation places have opened, and there's more ready to open."

Georgia Costello and her husband live in Melbourne but invested in Derby late last year.

"My husband went mountain biking here and came back raving, but he said the downside was he couldn't get any accommodation," she said.

"So the entrepreneurial side of us thought, oh well, maybe we can get an old, little cottage up here and do it up and provide accommodation.

"We've already had a lot of interest before even putting it online."

Dorset Council economic development manager Neil Grose described the growth in Derby over the past two years as significant.

"Two years ago, you'd come to Derby, you probably couldn't find anywhere to stay," he said.

"If you were here on a weekend, you probably couldn't find anything to eat.

"Now there's probably 15 different places you can stay in Derby, and there's probably five different places that you can get a really nice something to eat, and something to drink."

The focus is now on preparing for 3000 visitors coming for the Enduro World Series international mountain bike race in April.

Race director Ian Harwood is busy preparing the trails and the town for the race, which is being held in Australia for the first time.

"It's some of the best mountain bike riders in the world doing what they do for a living," he said.

"They'll be taking on six or seven stages of these Blue Derby trails.

"Across the weekend, we're going to have around 500 participants. They all bring with them spectators and support staff."

Neil Grose said accommodation in the north-east had been booked out for months.

"It spreads out to Scottsdale, to Bridport, over to the east coast, to St Helens, Bay of Fires, Winnaleah, Branxholm, Ringarooms — all the little places that no one's ever heard of before," he said.

Ahead of the race, the region's mobile phone black spots have been improved, and the NBN installed six months ahead of schedule.

"It means that people in Derby can Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook what's going on right now, they can upload videos and that sort of thing," Mr Grose said.

A long-standing boil water alert for the town will be lifted in coming months.

The Dorset Council is also considering other upgrades to ensure the town can cater for the crowds, which are expected to reach 50,000 a year after the Enduro.

The council has put a number of its properties and assets on the market to generate more retail and accommodation development.

Tasmania's tourism industry wants to capitalise on the boom in adventure activities, like mountain biking.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said those who took part in adventure activities tended to be return visitors.

"People who come to a destination because they want to walk a particular track or they want to cycle a particular mountain biking circuit, they're generally people who are passionate about what they do and will absolutely invest accordingly, so they're high yielding," he said.

"They also come back.

"When we get them and we get them down here, overwhelmingly they have a really great experience and we offer so much more so they just want to keep coming back and returning to do the next great walk or the next great cycle or the next great river."

Tasmania Visitor Survey data shows the number of people taking part in mountain biking in the state increased by more than 120 per cent in the 12 months to September last year.

The number of visitors canoeing or kayaking increased by 73 per cent, while those bush walking jumped more than 40 per cent.

Mr Grose is confident new tourism operators will soon start to offer other adventure pursuits in the region.

"The whole tourism pitch has to be more than just mountain biking," he said.

"We've got some fantastic fishing in the north-east … we're only 40 minutes away from the Bay of Fires.

"We'll see trout guides perhaps come off the Central Highlands and start to guide in the north-east, we'll see bush-walking tours.

"We have to do some hard work to make sure that happens as well. So we've got plans to further grow the mountain bike trails in Derby."