The Tasman five-star hotel in Hobart opens as Tasmania welcomes back tourists

When Tasmania first entered its pandemic-induced isolation from the mainland, a local media organ declared that the island state possessed a moat and wasn't afraid to use it.

Now the figurative castle drawbridge has finally been lowered by the tourism-dependent state to a heavily inoculated though, unfortunately, also widely infected mainland.

While enthusiasm for the reopening among Tasmanians appears to be not exactly infectious given the circumstances, it is certainly palpable within the visitor-starved Tasmanian tourism industry which depends on the affluent Sydney and Melbourne markets for as much of 75 per cent of its annual visitor traffic.

With the citizens of NSW and Victoria having been unable to travel to the Apple Isle for months until earlier this week, the operators of The Tasman, managed by the giant Marriott group and representing Hobart's newest and probably first genuine world-class five-star hotel, will be desperately hoping that the outsized moat is not reinstated.

"I feel quite emotional, to be honest," says Massimo Mele, a noted local chef and culinary director of The Tasman. He is framed by two indoor olive trees as he sits in Peppina, the new restaurant he is overseeing in his role as culinary director of The Tasman and which is named in honour of his Italian nonna.

"Due to the pandemic The Tasman has been a stop and start project," he says. "When we lost the Sydney and Melbourne markets as a result of COVID, Hobart really felt it. But finally the waterfront is alive again with visiting Sydneysiders and Melburnians and we really need the business that they bring."

The elegant 152-room hotel sits around the corner from Tasmania's historic Parliament House and Salamanca Place and is part of a stunning heritage redevelopment. It consists of state government offices encompassing three eras of Hobart civic design in the form of Georgian, Art Deco, and contemporary architecture.

These have been trying times for Tasmania: just as it was finally reunited with the two major and virally problematic mainland states, it was dealt another cruel blow with the devastating fatal jumping castle accident at Devonport this week.

To meet demand for returning Tasmanians keen to be reunited with loved ones as well as mainland tourists, the operator of the Spirit of Tasmania passenger ferry between Melbourne and a now mourning Devonport, has scheduled an additional 11 day sailings between December 15 and 30.

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An extra 17 sailings have also been scheduled for next month with interstate-based bookings mainly originating from the vessel's traditional markets of Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

Meanwhile back down south, Hobart is celebrating after sensationally acquiring the Fifth Test of the Ashes series after Perth was denied the hosting rights due to its closed borders.

It will be an historic event for Hobart, and for Tasmania, as it will be the first time the Ashes have been contested on Tasmanian soil.

Luke Martin, chief executive of the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania, says while the January 14-18 day-night test will not be a massive tourism drawcard thanks to the small capacity of Bellerive Oval (Blundstone Arena), the match does represent an international publicity coup for Hobart and the state.

But can visitors expect a traditional warm Tassie welcome over coming weeks as the highly-infectious Omicron variant wreaks havoc on the mainland?

"Tasmanians in normal circumstances fully embrace tourists," Mr Martin says. "But we're in an unusual situation and Tasmanians just want tourists to do the right thing when they visit. But you'll certainly find tourism operators will welcome Sydneysiders and Melbournians with open arms."

Another imminent major event for the Tasmanian capital, along with the Taste of Tasmania festival, is the Sydney to Hobart yacht race which starts on Boxing Day. And The Tasman just happens to overlook the finishing line on the Derwent River at Constitution Dock. Both the food festival and the yacht race were cancelled last year.

  The Tasman's general manager, Stephen Morahan, says the hotel is almost fully booked for the yacht race finish. Tassie will certainly need a fully open moat for that particular event.

The writer visited Hobart as a guest of The Tasman and the Marriott group's Luxury collection. See marriott.com.au

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