‘Hiking Plus’ is a gourmet hiking adventure through the spectacular pristine wilderness of Wilson’s Promontory National Park. It is a wonderful, ‘reviving’ escape from day to day pressures say Mary Bond and Robert O’Sullivan about their four and a half year old business. The Prom coastal scenery is remarkably similar to north-eastern Tasmania – not surprising given the historic land connection – where the Bay of Fires assisted wilderness walk is heavily booked.
Supported by Tourism Victoria and recently featured on The Great Outdoors, Hiking Plus offers guests experienced guides and a wide range of ‘assisted’ outdoor experiences that range from day hikes of 2-7 hours, to medium and advanced camp hikes of 1-6 days with 3-7 hours hiking each day. ‘Assisted’ means you don’t have to carry a full pack, you are pampered with gourmet food and the option of scenic cruises. It also means 2 nights accommodation and more pampering at 8 Acres Guesthouse and/or the Prom Lighthouse. The website www.hikingplus.com advises on fitness levels required and clearly describes the wide range of activities on offer – walking, swimming and snorkelling (minus the stingers!!) and boat cruising in the world’s most diverse marine park. As travel writer Helen Scott says ‘Maybe Victoria does have something to rival the Great Barrier Reef!’
It all started when Robert was suffering corporate burnout. Friends took him on an overnight bushwalk which he found both relaxed and prepared him for the pressures of the workplace. The massage – just for Robert – has now become a Hiking Plus signature! Another friend was exploring the idea of a B & B in Bright, adding in bushwalking tours to Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop. Robert decided to research South Gippsland and the Prom. The idea of using someone else’s B & B as a base was discarded and Robert and Mary were lucky enough to find a guesthouse sleeping 14 on eight acres of rolling green South Gippy hills with panoramic views over the Prom and Corner Inlet – just thirty minutes from the National Park entrance. It is even closer to Sandy Point Beach and the little townships of Fish Creek and Foster, if guests want a latte or a paper!
Matching supply and demand is the immediate business challenge. The business employs Robert and Mary and a guide and it subcontracts the cruises and the dropping off of fresh food for the camp hikes. This is a fluctuating arrangement as the business has yet to reach the ‘critical mass’ of bookings as the assisted bushwalks in Tasmania and Milford Sound, New Zealand etc appear to have done. Robert still has his ‘day job’!
Problems for Gippsland tourism are a lack of transport & a low level of awareness of the region’s natural attractions says Mary. Gippsland, similar in many ways to Tasmania, is Victoria’s secret garden – ie not many know about it! A word of advice is to watch out for website costs. Hiking Plus paid $7000 for their website at a time when every dollar was vital and this was way too much. Armed with a Business Plan and a Marketing Plan, Robert and Mary found Tourism Victoria and VTOA (Vic Tour Operators Association – now Victorian Tourism Alliance) very helpful, especially with media contacts. They have started the accreditation process but say this does takes time, though when completed there will be a considerable saving on marketing activities.
In Gippsland many wonderful tourism tracks and trails have been developed, the basis for some great tourism experiences but, as Tassie has found, excellence in service and infrastructure needs to be addressed by both the public and private sectors. Daniel Leesong of Tourism Council Tasmania says Tassie’s success has come from getting all sectors involved in tourism, government and business, working together – the whole is far greater than the sum of a region’s individual parts.
Tourism Victoria’s recently released Gippsland Regional Tourism Development Plan recommends all of Gippsland work together to develop a strong and cohesive industry structure as in other regions.The fragmented approach, with little leadership or joint sense of purpose has significantly reduced Gippsland’s competitiveness (and employment opportunities) hindering many Gippsland tourism businesses as they chase that elusive critical mass. The Development Plan suggests a signature event that complements the region’s product strengths and has the potential to attract visitors from outside the region but says a such an event will only occur with local government support. Maybe a future combined Gippsland group (there was one 10 years ago, auspiced by the La Trobe Regional Commission!) could look at Tassie’s 10 on Days on the Island event as a starting point?
Hiking Plus: email@example.com 03 9431 1050
Daniel Leesong Tourism Council Tasmania 6254 1212