Tourists at Port Arthur in the 1890s (AOT, PH30/1/2247)

Tourism developed in an ad hoc fashion in Tasmania until the 1890s, when its economic, social and political potential became evident to the community. Among earlier intrepid tourists were Anglo-Indians who experienced Tasmania as a reviving sojourn away from the searing summer heat of Bombay and Calcutta. They appreciated Tasmania's cool and invigorating climate, 'sublime' and 'picturesque' scenery and English appeal. Their travel accounts influenced the way tourism propaganda presented Tasmania as 'Sanatorium of the South', 'England of the South' and 'Garden of Australia'. By 1870, Tasmania was well known as a 'health destination' in India and England and was a popular destination for mainlanders escaping from hotter climates. Wealthier mainlanders were also attracted by social activities such as the Hobart Regatta, prompting novelist Anthony Trollope to comment in 1874 that 'Hobart Town, they say, is kept alive by visitors who flock to it for the summer months from the other colonies'. In 1869, Victorian Henry Thomas published his Guide for Excursionists from Melbourne to Tasmania, detailing the colony's attractions. Two years later, J Walch and Sons in Hobart published Walch's Tasmanian Guide Book: a handbook of information for all parts of the colony, the first Tasmanian publication specifically aimed at tourists.

Tourism intensified in the 1880s when the colony's rail network was established and travellers enjoyed greater mobility. Growing tourist numbers spawned a number of colourful tourism entrepreneurs. John Tyler co-ordinated local boat, coach and hotel operators to produce 'package tour' excursions to attractions as far apart as the Beaconsfield caves in the north and Russell Falls and the Huon Valley in the south. Signor Diego Bernacchi in 1888 optimistically developed his 'Grand Hotel' on Maria Island, claiming that soon the island could become the 'Ceylon of Australia'. In 1893, Thomas Cook and Son opened an office in Hobart, incorporating Tasmania into their ever-expanding global travel network.

That year, Premier Henry Dobson established the Tasmanian Tourist Association, a body subsidised by government and the travel industry to inform and encourage tourist traffic. The Association was a watershed in tourism development, the first such body to exist. Absorbed into the Tasmanian Government Railways, it became the Tasmanian Government Tourist and Information Bureau (1914), aiming to promote Tasmania as a tourist destination. ET Emmett became tourist director. The Tourist Bureau heralded the beginning of significant government involvement in tourism promotion and finally became Tourism Tasmania in 1997, its brief still to promote tourism, with an emphasis on strategic marketing and sustainable development.

The Tourist Bureau in Launceston, 1960 (AOT, PH30/1/1278 )

The eve of the Second World War saw much of Tasmania's tourism infrastructure established. Photographers and artists such as John Watt Beattie, Stephen Spurling, John Eldershaw and Harry Kelly promoted scenic attractions. The tourist-minded Ogilvie Labor Government (1934–39) vigorously undertook developments such as the Pinnacle Road to the summit of Mount Wellington and the Tasmanian Tree Planting Advisory Committee, with its focus on beautification for the benefit of tourists. The Scenery Preservation Board (1915) had set aside much of Tasmania's environment for future generations, including Mount Field and Freycinet Peninsula National Parks (1916), Port Arthur Historic Site (1916) and Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park (1922). Accommodation standards in hotels and guesthouses were regulated through the Licensing Act (1932) and the Guest Houses Registration Act (1937). Air travel began with Victor Holyman's pioneering flight from Launceston to Flinders Island in 1932, and by 1945 more people were travelling to Tasmania by air than ship. Increasing car ownership provided a market for the Bass Strait vehicular ferries, Princess of Tasmania (1959), Empress of Australia (1965) and Abel Tasman (1985). Fly/drive Holidays became popular, stimulating the state's motel and hospitality industry. A further stimulus was the opening of Wrest Point Hotel Casino in 1973. Around this time the 'Apple Isle' marketing image lost its bloom when Tasmania lost its traditional British apple markets. The 'Holiday Isle' became an image that government and travel industry interests anxiously sought to live up to.

In 1989 the airline pilots dispute hit hard, but 1993 saw the Spirit of Tasmania supersede the Abel Tasman to boost tourist traffic and spirits. A decade later, replacement vessels, Spirit of Tasmania I, II and III (2002–04) promised a stellar future for Tasmanian tourism. In 1939, Premier Albert Ogilvie said that he saw no reason why tourism should not come to be worth two or three million pounds. Estimated visitor expenditure in 2003 exceeded one billion dollars. An estimated 18 percent of jobs in the state are generated by tourism, and 2003 saw 743,000 visitors.

Over one hundred years after the establishment of the Tasmanian Tourist Association, Tourism Tasmania is still selling a refracted version of images developed in the nineteenth century: Tasmania's scenic wonders (wilderness), fertility (food and wine) and English appeal (history).

Further reading: J Mosley, 'Aspects of the geography of recreation in Tasmania', PhD thesis, ANU, 1963; S Harris, 'Selling Tasmania', PhD thesis, UT, 1993; D Young, Making crime pay, Hobart, 1996; J Richardson, A history of Australian travel and tourism, Melbourne, 1999; J Davidson & P Spearritt, Holiday business, Melbourne, 2000; M Walker, 'The road to Eden', THS 7/1, 2000.

Marian Walker