By Andy Szollosi
These days, it is hard to imagine Tasmania being left off the map.
With the advent of affordable flights, cruises and ferries, Tasmania has become a trending destination among Australians and international visitors. In 2018, we reached a record number of visitors, 1.32 million people. But how exactly did Tasmania go from being a sleepy little island at the bottom end of the world to a global tourist attraction?
Tasmania’s trajectory as a rising tourist destination began in 1997 with the forming of a powerful partnership between the Tasmanian Government and the private sector of Tasmania’s tourism operators, represented by Tourism Industry Council Tasmania (TICT). As a result of this partnership came Tourism 21, which became known as T21, the masterplan for growing Tasmania’s tourism industry.
T21 set clear targets to be achieved by the year 2021. One of these was to increase visitor numbers to 1.2 million people per year. The latest progress report, published in May 2019 stated that this target has been exceeded and a new target for 2021 has been set: 1.5 million visitors per year.
In fairness, increasing visitor numbers is not the sole aim of T21. The strategy is also in place to get visitors to stay longer, disperse to regional areas and spend more money. While some of these goals have obvious economical and cultural benefits to Tasmanians, a vital question has been left out of the T21 progress report. For how long are we going to be able to sustain the growth in visitor numbers without affecting the character of Tasmania that attracts people here in the first place?
At the end of 2008, we had 897 000 visitors to Tasmania per year. Ten years later, at the end of 2018, this number has grown to 1.32 million. If we were to maintain this current increase of 5% per annum, the power of logarithmic growth predicts a dire future for Tasmanians. Continuing this trend, we would have 2 million visitors by 2031, 3 million visitors by 2041, 10 million visitors in 2071 and 85 million visitors by 2121. I doubt that even Will Hodgman would advocate for 85 million visitors to Tasmania each year.
We must accept that the number of visitors to Tasmania must plateau and find a steady state solution at some point in the future. We cannot continue to grow visitor numbers indefinitely. Nevertheless, T21, assessed by its own standards, has been a successful strategy. It has grown the tourism industry sector considerably and has provided a variety of new and meaningful experiences for visitors.
With the intended deadline of this plan drawing near however, it is time to articulate a new vision for Tasmania. And when articulating this new plan, we must address the failures of the old plan. We must come up with a long term strategy that isn’t dependent on increasing visitor numbers. There is a very good reason why this is in the best interest of all Tasmanians.
Hobart City Council is one of 975 jurisdictions in 18 countries that have declared a climate emergency. In Tasmania, we have seen a sharp spike in the occurrence of dry lightning strikes. This can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. And fire is not simply a local issue. 2019 has been the year where we have seen fires in the Arctic on a scale previously unseen. As I type these sentences, there are hundreds of fires burning in the Amazon rainforest. Fires around the globe are becoming more prevalent. Millions of tonnes of carbon that have been stored in vegetation are currently being released into the atmosphere, adding to the Earth’s greenhouse effect, trapping more heat, causing more fires in the future, which will release more carbon and so on and so forth.
The fundamental shortcoming of any strategy that’s based on economic benefit from tourism is this: visitation to Tasmania is only possible through the emission of greenhouse gases. Yet the T21 strategy fails to account for this contribution to our current climate crisis. Surely if we are actively encouraging more people to jump on flights, to travel on big boats running big diesel engines, we would at least contribute towards developing emission free transportation solutions?
As far as I’m aware, there are no feasible transport alternatives that can move over a million people to and from Tasmania that are emission free. Perhaps this technology will become available one day. But in the meantime, we must find a way to address the Earth’s warming and the consequences that this process implies. We cannot encourage people to take more flights in good conscience, when we know that emissions from aviation are contributing to rising sea levels. We must come up with another way to earn our living.
If we are brave, we will acknowledge the effects that climate change is having on people outside of Australia. We must remember that the growth of our tourism industry is accelerating global warming. Pacific Island nations are being submerged beneath the ocean, partially as a result of our growing economy.
Yet, it is not enough to consider other people alone. We also need to acknowledge the basic needs of all life forms on this planet, both on land and in our waterways, our oceans and our airways. Our destiny is intricately tied to all other living beings on Earth.
People have lived in Tasmania for over thirty thousand years. If we wish to live here for another thirty thousand years, our approach to the way we interact with our landscapes, and our biosphere must undergo a fundamental shift. We must find it within ourselves to turn from conquerors to custodians. We must find a way to articulate a long term vision for Tasmania, and come up with a sensible plan that sees us working towards a solution together.
So what’s going to happen beyond T21? When we tick over to the next decade, and we have attained 1.5 million visitors per year, what will Tasmania aim to do next? What will be the name of the next strategy that will guide the development of our island over the coming decades? Will we build a cable car on Kunanyi and invite more and more people to fly to our dream isle? Or will we think of an alternative strategy that addresses the crisis that we find ourselves in?
My voice is one of many, but I invite you to take a thought experiment here. Treat my idea as a hypothesis and consider its consequences.
What I propose is that the Tasmanian community needs to develop a one hundred year plan. I ask all Tasmanians to give their foresight, their inspiration and their good intentions to make this happen. And from this vision, let’s create a strategic one hundred year plan. Let’s call it ‘Tasmania 2121’.
It takes courage, creativity and a sense of community to articulate such a vision. One person cannot do it alone. But imagine the possibilities if we were able to work together and create this communal vision!
Part of a long term plan would be to set clearly assessable goals, and checkpoints would need to be placed at ten year intervals to measure progress. If the plan was to succeed, it would require the commitment of both the Tasmanian Government and the private sectors.
My personal contribution to T2121 would be this: to consider the needs of our paleo-endemic species. These are species that have survived on Earth for much longer than us, and occur nowhere else on Earth. Think of these species as ancient and rare living relics. Some might refer to them as our Elders. If we let our lifestyles lead to conditions that wipe out our paleo-endemic heritage, what does that say about us? If we kill off our Elders, who will be left here to guide us a hundred years from now?
In particular, I invite you to consider the future of our native pines, the King Billy Pines, the Pencil Pines and the Huon Pines. Some of these pines that currently stand were already alive when Jesus was born. And all of these trees are almost certainly going to be wiped out if our fire regime continues to evolve along its current trajectory. Our wildfires are getting more frequent and they are getting more severe. These trees have survived in the wet and cool pockets of Tasmania, often in alpine areas that have been sheltered from fire for thousands of years.
If we are unable to mitigate the effects of climate change, I have no doubt that our native pines are going to burn and die, within the next hundred years. And this is why I wish to propose an alternative. A vision for Tasmania that is not a three year plan, but a hundred year plan, that takes into account the necessities of our natural systems.
I ask you to take this thought experiment and consider a future in which we value our natural heritage the same way we value our own homes and families. But this is not all I ask. If we are to succeed, we must all learn to articulate our own vision for Tasmania.
So let’s create this vision together. The time is now or never.
Andy Szollosi is a wilderness photographer based in Tasmania who finds the call of remote mountainous country irresistible. In the past, he has been blamed for being ringleader of adventures where not everything has gone to plan, yet this doesn't deter his enthusiasm for planning his next trip into the wilds.