The 2012-13 financial year was one of achievements and unforseen challenges for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (PAHSMA) in its stewardship of three of Tasmania’s most significant, World Heritage-listed convict sites (The Port Arthur, Coal Mines and Cascades Female Factory Historic Sites).
During the first months of the period, the organisation, like many Tasmanian businesses reliant on tourism, was beginning to experience a rise in visitor numbers after the downturn of the previous two years.
Just as these positive results were being realised and PAHSMA was preparing for a busy summer season, a massive bushfire tore through the Forestier and Tasman Peninsulas, closing both the Arthur Highway and the Port Arthur Historic Site for around ten days. Port Arthur turned from attraction to evacuation centre. Rather than collecting fees from visitors, the 700 people stranded onsite were provided with meals, a safe place to shelter, information and comfort.
“Our staff were magnificent at what was a very challenging time, whether they were providing support at the Visitor Centre, protecting their own homes or fighting fires. The period following the fires was challenging. Many staff were personally affected by what had happened were facing the same emotional impacts as the rest of the community, but still ‘soldiered on’ and provided the high level experience expected by visitors when coming to our Sites,” said CEO Stephen Large.
Despite the extended closure during the busiest period of the summer season, PAHSMA managed to regain much lost income with financial and visitation targets met. The site welcomed 243,761 visitors which includes both day and evening activities and emerged from the year with a 53% improvement on the anticipated financial outcome.
The Cascades Female Factory has been the focus of major interpretative and conservation works, leading to vastly improved visitor experiences through a variety of tours and interpretive assets. Combined with a new website and increased marketing, visitation continues to rise at this World Heritage site based in South Hobart site as the stories of Australia’s convict women comes to the fore.
At the Port Arthur Historic Site, conservation efforts were focussed on the Penitentiary and its surrounding precinct. Planning and preliminary archaeology, engineering and survey works were undertaken in preparation for major conservation works to take place in 2014.
PAHSMA Board farewelled chairman the Hon Dr Barry Jones AO who retired from the role following twelve years of contribution; Barry was one of the principal architects of the Convict World Heritage nomination and campaigned for many years to secure the listing for the chosen sites. Professor Sharon Sullivan AO, one of Australia’s most highly respected cultural heritage specialists and Deputy Chair since 2000 was appointed Chair.
Taking out three Tasmanian Tourism Awards, the site was also named among Australia’s top ten attractions by global website Trip Advisor. The success of new products such as the Paranormal Investigation Experience are consolidating and continue to attract high numbers whilst other products have been developed specifically for the growing cruise ship sector.
The site hosted numerous events but perhaps the most noteworthy was the inaugural Port Arthur Tattoo which saw over 2000 visitors basking in brilliant sunshine and enjoying an array of performances – all of which were staged as a show of support to the community following the bushfire emergency. While entertainment was the key outcome in this collaboration of bands, an additional bonus was an injection into the tourism sector with local accommodation providers reporting that they were at capacity as visitors chose to make a weekend of the event.
PAHSMA’s 2013 Annual Report highlights the resilience of an organisation that faced extenuating challenges and has come out on top. Delivering an impressive bottom line while meeting conservation and infrastructure requirements and servicing the needs of visitors who enjoy the sites as quality tourism destinations along with noteworthy successes in major projects.