It’s been a tough year for tourism across the board but because of the long stretch of water separating Tasmania from the mainland, the southern state has been suffering even more acutely. In fact, Tasmania was the worst performing caravanning destination for the month of November, with falls of 40 per cent on last year.
The data comes from the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, which found that although Tasmania is consistently in the top three most desired caravanning destinations in the country, it’s missing out on the quick recovery everywhere else is now experiencing.
And, according to the industry, it’s none other than the Bass Strait that’s stopping Tasmania from making a full and lucrative return to the tourism sector. While everywhere else is kicking off their driving-based holidays, interstate travellers either don’t know how or don’t want to pay to bring their cars across the water.
Getting a vehicle across the water involves boarding the Spirit of Tasmania ferry for a trip that could take anywhere between nine and 11 hours depending on the weather. The ferry departs from Port Melbourne in Victoria and arrives in Devonport in Tasmania during the day or overnight.
Currently, the Federal Government offers rebates for eligible travellers under the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme, which covers part but not all of the trip. The rebates currently include:
However, tickets on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry can often exceed this cost by quite a bit. Prices can vary depending on when you buy them (purchasing earlier means cheaper tickets), what time of year you go over, what you take (a vehicle, a caravan, a partner, a pet, or just yourself) and your accomodation. Plus, eligible seniors are able to get discounted fares if they hold a Services Australia or Department of Veterans’ Affairs Pensioner Concession Card.
But according to the Spirit of Tasmania booking page, the one-way price for a pensioner and a vehicle towing a caravan could range anywhere from $439 if you book more than six months in advance and $609 for bookings within the month. However this price doesn’t include accomodation, which could be a necessity if you’re travelling overnight.
A single reclining chair is free to book, while cabins range from about $100 for shared cabins to $500 for the deluxe range. However, the price could change depending on the time of year, with peak travel periods usually falling during the middle and end of the year.
But now, in light of the current tourism crisis, these prices could be changing, with the state’s caravanning industry urging the government to help struggling local operators by extending the current rebate scheme to provide completely free travel for cars and caravans across the Bass Strait.
According to Bronwyn Wild, president of Caravanning Tasmania, many operators are still struggling to recover coming out of Covid-19 restrictions and haven’t experienced the same bounce seen in other caravanning markets.
“Caravanning and camping is one of the safest Covid activities around, with the ability for families to get out of their house, while controlling their own environment, whether that be in stand-alone roofed accommodation, or through the use of your own car and caravan,” she said. “Despite this, summer bookings remain soft across the state, and some urgent intervention needs to occur to give the necessary stimulus for interstate visitation to return. If something doesn’t happen soon, Christmas caravanning travel will be lost to other states, resulting in millions of lost spending for the Tasmanian economy.”
Meanwhile, Stuart Lamont, CEO of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, echoed these statements by saying that encouraging people to board the Spirit of Tasmania will mean they stay longer, spend more and disperse further, which helps support not only Tasmania but also Victoria – due to the location of the port.
“The Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme is meant to normalise the costs of travelling on the water as if it was part of the road network, with the government saving millions of dollars, as Bass Strait has been largely closed during Covid with border closures between Victoria and Tasmania,” he said. “The government must act quickly to save Christmas for many local caravan park operators who are already struggling to survive and whose pipeline bookings are much softer than they should be for this time of year.”