Public money used for private company Three Capes Walk marketing, ABC reveals

A commercial walking company in Tasmania has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state government for marketing costs associated with an exclusive private walk, the Three Capes Track, which it operates in southern Tasmania.

Information obtained by the ABC through a right to information request shows the Tasmanian Walking Company has invoiced the government for just over $ 300,000 for marketing costs since 2019.

It was paid $ 126,000 for marketing activities carried out last year, when the tourist industry saw a significant downturn due to border closures.

The Tasmanian Walking Company is the only commercial business licensed to operate guided tours through the Three Capes Track.

Signed in 2016, the lease and license agreement between the company and the state government said the company could charge the government for “marketing costs reasonably and properly incurred by the operator”.

Concepts for Three Capes Track adverts.(Supplied)

A marketing program is agreed on each year by the company and the Minister for Parks.

It can include things such as event management, signage, television commercials and hosting journalists, travel writers and social media commentators.

Concept examples of billboards and signage in the marketing plans show advertising that includes the Tasmanian Walking Company logo, but no government branding.

The company said the agreement requires the current adverts to be co-branded.

Invoices sent to the government include charges for flower arrangements and live music at the launch of the company’s Three Capes Lodge Walk.

Also included are Tasmanian Walking Company “brand positioning and development”, and charges for “various jobs”.

The individual amounts paid for these itemized charges have been redacted.

Company says it’s contributing millions to economy

Breakfast with a view at Mount Fortescue for this bushwalker on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania.
Breakfast with a view at Mount Fortescue for this bushwalker on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania.(ABC Open contributor colly_mack)

A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Walking Company said their agreement with the government allows them to “claim back a portion of fees that have been paid.”

“All costs are directly associated with fees already paid, with no government funding provided,” they said in a statement.

The company pays $ 50,000 or 5 percent of its profits, whichever is greater, for the lease and license to operate.

It charges between $ 1,795 and $ 3,395 for the walk, or walkers can go independently, staying in public huts, for around $ 500.

The agreement with the government states the company cannot charge more for marketing costs than it has paid for its lease and license, but can charge up to that amount.

This would mean it could recover the costs paid to the government for park fees.

The spokesperson said the company had delivered millions of dollars into the Tasmanian economy through tourism and employment.

“The Tasmanian Walking Company has contributed 2.5 times what we have claimed in Park fees,” the spokesperson said.

“This collaborative approach to promoting Three Capes can be attributed to delivering more than double the projected numbers.”

Taxpayers ‘slugged’ for marketing: Greens

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor has called the agreement “disgusting.”

“Not only does Tas Walking Company get extraordinarily low-cost access to one of the most iconic coastlines in the country, they slug the public purse for their promotions and marketing,” she said.

“Wilderness lovers have watched the Liberals give away free real estate in national parks to developers, and now they’re giving them public money.”

Woman stands with her arms folded in front of a tree.
The Greens’ Cassy O’Connor labeled the agreement “disgusting”.(ABC News: Luke Bowden )

Other bushwalking companies contacted by the ABC said they did not have similar arrangements in place with the government.

One tour operator said they were gutted to hear about the agreement.

Tasmanian Expeditions marketing manager Brad Atwal said his company had not been offered marketing support on any of its range of Tasmanian adventure holidays and the company was unaware of the arrangement between the Tasmanian Walking Company and the state government.

“Both Tasmanian Expeditions and Australian Walking Holidays have invested heavily in promoting our Tasmanian product for the last year, to attract walkers to Tasmania and we would have welcomed assistance from the Tasmanian government,” Mt Atwal said.

“With border restrictions forcing us to cancel the majority of our Tasmanian trips in the last 12 months, it has been a very challenging time and we would definitely have applied for assistance if it was available as I’m sure others in the industry would have also. “

Deal ‘maximizing’ brand

Aerial view of south-east Tasmanian coastline.
The government says the deal was a marketing partnership to maximize the brand and economic benefits.(Parks and Wildlife Service / Tasmanian Government)

A spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment said the government entered a marketing partnership with the company to maximize the brand and economic benefits, and the company’s offerings were not in competition with theirs.

The agreement lasts for 10 years, or until 15,000 walkers have been through, whichever comes first.

“Through this partnership approach, the PWS branding is included in all promotional material, events and advertising and this promotion results in visitors spending additional nights on the Tasman Peninsula or other parts of the State,” the spokesperson said.

‘No commercial advantage’

The government did not answer questions about whether similar arrangements were in place for any other operators. ‘

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Walking Company said the agreement took several factors into account, including the amount it had invested in infrastructure and the uncertainty of return.

“The performance-based arrangement provided no commercial advantage to Tasmanian Walking Company who have made large investments in the park where competing operators have not,” the spokesperson said.

A bushwalker takes a break on the Cape Raoul Walking track in south-east Tasmania.
The track was developed at a cost of $ 33 million.(ABC News: Ellen Coulter)

Billed as an “iconic walk”, Three Capes is one of Tasmania’s premier attractions.

It was developed by the state and federal governments at a cost of $ 33 million.

The walk – which takes three to four days on the Tasman Peninsula – was completed in 2019 and, pre-COVID, had an estimated economic impact of $ 19 million a year.

There is currently a proposal to build the next iconic walk at the Tyndall Ranges in Tasmania’s west, which has drawn fire from environmental groups.

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