Tasmania gaining popularity in U.S.

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- More Americans are finding their way to Tasmania, Australia's smallest state, across the Bass Strait from Melbourne.

The U.S. is Tasmania's largest overseas market: 16,060 arrived last year, up 15% over 1996, out of 72,280 total visitors. Canadians accounted for another 4,300, up 8.5%. Tasmania is benefiting from Australia's increasing number of repeat U.S. visitors (35% of total U.S. arrivals, according to the Australian Tourist Commission) and they are looking for new destinations.

About the size of Ireland, Tasmania has a population of less than a half-million. The Port Arthur Settlement"We have a diversity of natural attractions, wilderness, small towns and villages, and historic sites," said Daryl Hudson, Tourism Tasmania's regional manager, North America.

Hudson, previously with ATC and now based in Toronto, Canada, was appointed to the position in January. He is Tasmania's first North America representative in a decade. He was interviewed while in Palm Springs attending Oztalk 98, an annual meeting of Australian suppliers and U.S. wholesaler staff. With him was Karen Fraser, Tourism Tasmania's general manager, international sales.

Fraser said Hudson's appointment shows a renewed commitment to the North American market. She spoke of the country's diversity: from the rolling hills and sheep of the north to the rugged, dramatic wilderness of the west.

The nation has wineries and cheese and dairy products; it "exports onions to France, fresh oysters to the U.S. and Japan, and tulip seeds to Holland," she said. Tasmania claims to have retained more of its colonial past than other states, with architecture ranging from Georgian to Edwardian. Many old buildings have been converted to hotels and lodges.

The British began a Tasmania penal colony in 1803, with convict transportation continuing until 1853. The ruins of the Port Arthur penal settlement, east of Hobart, are the island's best-known historic site. Under construction there is a new visitor center and sound-and and light show, scheduled to open next year.

The most popular vacation for Americans is self-drive touring, followed by motorcoach tours. All major U.S. wholesalers selling Australia feature Tasmania car rental and motorcoach products. Tourism Tasmania suggests driving itineraries, starting with five nights, covering Hobart and Launceston and either the west or east coast. Avis, Hertz, Thrifty and Budget, and a local firm, Advance Car Rental, are the major rental firms.

Visitors reach Tasmania by flying to Hobart on Qantas or Ansett from Sydney or Melbourne (a one-hour flight) or by overnight ferry. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry operates year round with three roundtrips a week, from Melbourne to Devonport on the north coast. Last peak summer season, December through April, a second was added for the first time. Called the Devil Cat, it brought in an extra 40,000 passengers and 17,000 vehicles, and starting this December, Devil Cat will be replaced by a larger vessel.

Almost half the island, which has a temperate maritime climate, is wilderness and national parks. A three-hour drive from Hobart, the state capital in the south, is Launceston, the main northern town. Outdoor adventure activities run the gamut, including trout and game fishing, hiking, birdwatching, scuba diving, rafting and horseback-riding.

For further information on Tasmania, contact Hudson at (416) 693-8480; fax (416) 691-8955; or email [email protected].

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