Monthly Archive for July, 2009

Burnie: Gateway to Tasmania’s Wild NorthWest


Beyond the Ramparts of the Unknown

By Roderick Eime

Flying into the tiny north-western regional hub of Wynyard, you could easily imagine you are in the middle of nowhere – and that is why so many visitors come!

With a heritage that can be traced back to the early 19th Century, this far flung Van Diemen’s Land outpost was referred to in King George IV’s Royal Charter as “a huge tract of unsettled land, beyond the ramparts of the unknown.”

An easy 20 kilometre coastal drive from the working town of Burnie and a further 50 kilometres to Tasmania’s third largest city and Spirit of Tasmania ferry port, Devonport, Wynyard is perfectly placed to springboard nature lovers into the world-famous wilderness areas along the north and west coasts.

Before heading off into the wild, swing by Burnie and see why it is shaking off the outdated industrial character that has defined it for so long. At the Lactos Cheese Tasting and Sales Centre you can sample fine cheeses, including major brands Tasmanian Heritage, Mersey Valley and Australian Gold. Premium food produce is fast becoming a Tasmanian specialty and you’ll find Australia’s largest single malt whisky distillery in Burnie. Hellyers Road Distillery makes fine, single malt whisky distilled from Tasmanian grown malted barley and famously pure Tasmanian rainwater. The distillery also produces the Southern Lights brand premium grain vodka. If you’re visiting in winter, this stop-off is almost mandatory.

For a fortifying meal of local fresh seafood, visit Fish Frenzy located on the waterfront in Burnie. Tasting Tasmania author, Graeme Phillips, describes it as a “bright and spacious modern café with fresh fish and seafood every which way and then some.”

Eventually the lure of the renowned Tasmanian wilderness will beckon you but the “clarion call” will come from many directions.

Most will yield to the irresistible allure of the UNESCO World Heritage Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, a mere 70 kilometres drive. From the swank Voyages Cradle Mountain Lodge to modest hiking cabins, the options are plentiful.

The raw appeal of the Tasmanian mountainscape has captured the imagination of visitors for decades and none more so than pioneering outdoorsman, Austrian-born Gustav Weindorfer, who built a rough chalet next to the iconic Dove Lake in 1912.

Weindorfer is revered as the “founder” of Cradle Mountain wilderness recreation and is fondly remembered as an eccentric, idealistic yet jovial man who would host guests with generous lashings of his garlic and badger (wombat) stew.

“A mixture that would kill me in five minutes,” recalled local Bill Perkins in a eulogy to the colourful Austrian in 1982. Perkins first met Weindorfer in 1930, just before his death. Today you can see an authentic replica of Weindorfer’s cottage and outbuildings and get a feel for how people enjoyed the country almost one hundred years ago.

If you do nothing else, be sure to complete the Dove Lake circuit, a relaxed two hour dawdle around this imposing feature that is one of Australia’s most instantly recognisable vistas next to Uluru and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.

If you really want to earn your “Wild Tasmania” badge, head north west from Wynyard into the Tarkine Forest region (the largest temperate rainforest in Australia) and plot a circuit via Stanley, Smithton, Corinna, Zeehan and Strahan. Get lost in the oblivion of true wilderness, a commodity that is fast disappearing in our shrinking, globalised world.

The intriguingly-named Dismal Swamp is a natural blackwood forest sinkhole, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world. Thirty minutes (40km) south west of Smithton, the visitors’ centre showcases Tasmanian specialty timbers with a contemporary interior crafted from blackwood and Tasmanian oak. From there the walkway descends to the floor of the sinkhole, or if you’re game take the exhilarating 110m slide from the viewing platform to the swamp floor. There’s an electric buggy option too.

Proclaimed by Bass and Flinders in 1798, historic Stanley is a delightfully sleepy hamlet distinguished by its characteristic, 150m high “nut”, a long extinct volcanic plug that forms an imposing natural citadel overlooking the town. Take the chairlift or walk to the top for panoramic views of Bass Strait.

The nearby Highfield Historic Site epitomises the optimistic early settlement and is the site of land granted to the Van Diemens Land Company (VDL) in 1824. The homestead is a rare example of the elegant Regency period. Edward Curr, the chief agent of the VDL, started construction in 1832, and later additions were made by John Lee Archer, the colony’s first important architect. The harsh life reaped a toll on the residents, particularly the convict labourers and there are many stories of ghosts still wandering the dark corridors including that of Curr’s infant daughter killed in an accident. She has been known to tug on the skirts of women visiting the property. If you dare, take the popular night-time ghost tour.

From Smithton, it’s a two hour drive to the remote village of Corinna, a former gold mining town settled in 1881. Today the entire village is a self-catering, eco-wilderness experience with authentic miner’s cottage accommodation, a totally refurbished hotel and river cruises aboard Arcadia II, a magnificent Huon pine river vessel. Kayaking, walking, fishing, bird watching and nature experiences are some of the activities available to guests.

A further 100 kilometres via Zeehan is Strahan, a once thriving lumber town, now a picturesque bayside site overlooking gorgeous Macquarie Harbour. Before Strahan, there was Sarah Island located within the harbour and reputably the worst penal colony in the land. The ruins are still there and “is remembered only as a place of degradation, depravity and woe.” (Rev. John West, anti-transportation activist and publisher, 1842). Local historian and author, Richard Davey, conducts semi-theatrical lamplight tours of the island and he almost channels the spirits of the long-dead convicts as you survey the scattered brickwork that once served as shelter for the wretched men. He’ll tell you glee the tale of the men who escaped from the island and turned cannibal and those who seized a boat they built themselves and were eventually arrested in South America.

Complete your experience with a day cruise on the harbour and into the now legendary Gordon River or take the historic steam train to Queenstown, one of the most significant such journeys in the country.

Where to Stay:

Luxury: Voyages Cradle Mountain Lodge
“showcases the best Cradle Mountain has to offer”
1300 134 044

Motel: Best Western Murchison Lodge, Burnie
“Your base for a North Western experience”
03 6435 1106

Wilderness: Corinna Cottages
“an oasis in the heart of the Tarkine”
03 6446 1170

B&B: Sealers Cove Restaurant and Accommodation
“well-appointed, comfortable and homely”
03 6458 1414

Must-do, Must-see Checklist:

• Lactos Cheese Factory, Burnie
http://www.lactos.com.au
• Dismal Swamp, near Smithton
http://www.dismalswamp.com.au/
• Corinna Wilderness Experiences
www.corinna.com.au
• Strahan Experiences
www.strahan.com.au
• Highfield Historic Site, Stanley
http://www.historic-highfield.com.au/
• Hellyers Road Distillery, Burnie
http://www.helly
ersroaddistillery.com/

Food and Wine:
Visit Graeme Phillips’s comprehensive and authoritative website:
www.tastingtasmania.com

Getting There
Regional Express flies six times each day from Burnie to Melbourne
www.rex.com.au

For more details on all Tasmania has to offer, visit the official site:
www.discovertasmania.com

Selling Out – Is franchising the new model for hotels in tougher times?


What do sewing machines, cola, hamburgers and motor cars have in common? Answer: They made their success through franchising.

True. In 1856, when Isaac Merritt Singer needed to expand his sewing machine empire, his funds were exhausted from messy legal action over control of patents. Instead of paying his salesmen salaries to sell the new mass-produced device, he sold the rights to territories for which the owner (franchisee) paid a commission to Singer for each sale. Thus the modern concept of franchising was born.

Hamburger chains, automotive dealerships, soft drink bottlers and hotels followed suit and some the greatest brands in corporate history were born.

Hotels and accommodation chains took off after World War II, particularly in the USA. But like so many other franchise operations around this time, they suffered from lack of regulation. In 1979, the US Federal Trade Commission was given authority over franchising (Rule 436) and the market settled to allow familiar and reliable brands to flourish.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that franchising made serious inroads into Australia when the US fast food chains KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut landed – some would say invaded. Yet today, these brands are as much a part of Australian life as kangaroos, meat pies and … well, you know the rest.

In 2008, the Franchise Council of Australia (FCA) estimates 63,500 business format franchised units now operate together with 7,900 company-owned units, producing a total of 71,400 units in business format franchise systems. Approximately 8000 fuel retail outlets and 2500 motor vehicle retail outlets exist with around 413,500 persons employed in business format franchise systems. Growth of franchise operations for the last two years was almost 15 per cent.

Homegrown Success

One of the most successful franchise stories in Australia is the phenomenon of Gloria Jean’s Coffees. Australian owned and locally operated since 2004, the company now holds the international master franchise brand and roasting rights globally and currently has agreements to operate in around 50 countries.

The company has won multiple franchise awards and continues to grow at about 20 per cent annually in Australia and has opened 915 stores and signed 36 Master Franchise agreements across 35 countries worldwide.

To export a franchise model is rare as the vast majority of cases involve the arrival of brands to our shores as is the case for hotel and motel chains.

One example of domestic brand success is the 100 per cent Australian-owned Quest Apartments who have progressively moved to a franchise-dominated model since beginning to 1988.

“It was clear that company-owned properties were not performing. They lagged significantly behind the performance of franchised properties and generally sapped human resources and drained working capital,” says Nick Suriano, General Manager-Franchising, “and since our change of strategy in 2002 to franchise, we’ve seen average franchisee profits grow by 50 per cent over the last four years.”

Suriano also notes that 85 per cent of current investors are hungry for more action within the brand and that on average, 13 qualified applications are received for each opportunity. Despite the current overall downturn, Quest’s growth strategy is still on track and the brand hopes to add ten new properties each year.

Franchising not for everyone

However, for every franchise success, there seems to be at least an equal number of horror stories, indicating that franchises should not be undertaken lightly and the franchise model is anything but one-size-fits-all. A recent case just concluded by the ACCC left several former bakers anything but delighted when the Commission found in favour of the franchisor.

The commonest complaint against franchisors concerns the practice of “churning”, where franchises are repeatedly sold, reacquired, then resold in territories known for failures. Franchisors cite poor management, ineptitude or a refusal to follow the franchisor’s business model as reasons while franchisees claim collusion, intimidation and withdrawal of support.

Todd Wynne-Parry, Director of Development Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific for IHG, claimed to be “the world’s largest hotel company” (by number of rooms), urges caution.

“IHG believes the management option still provides the best path for all parties. Finding a franchise brand that will deliver the additional income required to service the agreement is difficult in all but a few circumstances.”

A large portion of IHG’s US network – particularly its Holiday Inn hotels – are franchised, however the majority of its Australian properties operate under management contracts. Wynne-Parry cites Holiday Inn Rooty Hill and Crowne Plaza Pelican Shores as two properties that successfully leverage their franchise association based on their very specific locations and assets.

NZ’s Heritage Hotel Management operates a mix of Qualmark 4-star owned, managed and franchised properties with majority of properties under management. “With the current economic climate, we anticipate more management arrangements struck with currently independent hotels, as they seek to reduce fixed costs and secure the support of a recognised brand with a consistent product offering,” says COO, Jeff Shearer.

Linda Wells, Franchise Manager with Constellation Hotel Group, an Australian company that owns and operates more than 70 hotels across Australia and New Zealand, agrees that some franchise models are too expensive and restrictive.

“Owners fearful of inflexible, high royalty franchise deals should probably test the market for other options, something flexible and pay-for-performance in nature,” advises Wells, “Some hotels want a huge amount of input from their group, but some just want a sign, a loyalty program and a webpage. Those operators can get a simple brand license that allows them to do just that – forget about the branded tea bags and sugar sachets!”

Franchising in the new economic climate

In the space of less than twelve months, the world economies are in turmoil. Banks, brands and borrowers of all types are floundering and the security and safety of known quantities are being questioned.

FCA Executive Director Steve Wright believes there is optimism in the franchising sector, which has a history of faring better in tough times, relative to other small businesses.

“There is a resilience in the strength of the franchise brand, the franchise support network and the bulk buying and marketing capability of franchise systems.

“We believe there is significant pent-up demand for franchise business expansion which has been hampered by the employment boom in the past few years. Franchising now has something very attractive to offer the economy in that it can provide a self-employed solution for entrepreneurial people displaced by corporate redundancies and otherwise finding it difficult to get another PAYE job. This has the double benefit of increasing production output and reducing unemployment.”

Wright’s sentiments are shared by General Manager Accor Franchise Hotels, Dino Mezzatesta.

“If ever there was a right time to franchise, it’s now. Incoming enquiries are flooding in like never before as people realise that in tougher times they can’t do it on their own,” says Mezzate
sta, “Leveraging the brand strength and purchasing power of a global name is a definite asset in this climate.”

David Bayes, CEO, Choice Hotels Australasia, concurs. “We’re not immune to the global economic climate but many properties are deciding they would be better off aligning with one of our global brands to access the benefits of dedicated field support, service, market segmentation, global alliances and partnerships, global reservations services and the sales and marketing force that Choice Hotels offers.

“It can be lonely running an independent accommodation business. In an increasingly complex and electronic world our franchisees gain great support from networking and common solutions and an alignment with a strong strategic direction supported by equally strong tactical solutions. The case for franchising is strong in the best of times – it’s even stronger in uncertain times!”

On the matter of “uncertain times”, Mr. Robert Anderson, CEO, Best Western Australasia, believes adversity can open doors.

“Opportunity can also be found in times of crisis. Consumers tend to favour mid-market hotel brands when economic conditions tighten. Last year Best Western bookings increased by 8.5 per cent over the previous year, the majority of these through our own Best Western website,” says Anderson.

“It is also in times like these that we can best assist our members. We are working even harder to maintain our increase in bookings and to ensure our members (property owners) come out of this economic situation favourably. We have increased all our marketing activities, re-launched our new-look loyalty program and implemented new industry-leading training courses that maximise our members’ skills and property revenue. “

Making the franchise decision

The Franchise Council of Australia advises prospective franchisees that with any business there are risks involved but they are reduced if you research effectively.

The FCA warns that buying a franchise is a major decision and that the commitment in capital and borrowings can be significant. Any new entry needs to consider the process very carefully, remembering that franchising is not a guarantee for success, rather an opportunity to establish a healthy rewarding business with the support of a network focused on success. Such a franchise is an example of true synergy where “the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.”

FCA Website: www.franchise.org.au