Govt grant sees Lion reverse Boag's closure
The promise of a million-dollar support package from the Tasmanian state government has seen Lion reverse its decision to close the James Boag’s Visitor Centre in Launceston.
Lion announced the closure of the tourist facility last week, citing COVID-19 impacts, rising costs and “overall decline” in beer consumption.
At the time Tasmanian premier Jeremy Rockliff said the Japanese-owned brewer’s decision didn’t ‘pass the pub test’.
“I understand the mainland owner has cited the impact of COVID-19 as justification for this decision, but with our economy strong and visitors returning in record numbers, this does not appear to pass the pub test,” the Premier said in a statement.
“The Government has reached out to Lion management this morning to better understand the reasoning for this decision and we stand ready to assist where we can to allow this iconic Launceston experience to continue into the future.”
ABC news today reports that the Premier has granted a package that will will ‘enhance and expand the tourist attraction’.
“[It’s] not only a local cultural icon but a vital part of the local northern economy attracting thousands of visitors a year,” the ABC quoted Mr Rockliff as saying.
“The unique experience it offers has been a significant drawcard for Launceston for decades, with the benefits flowing to other businesses in the region and across the state.”
“The funding will also be used for a marketing strategy, to promote the tour to interstate travellers.”
Under the deal Lion will offer anyone with a current Tasmanian Driver’s License free brewery tours for the next 12 months.
Brewery director Nathan Calman said the decision was a ‘win-win’ for the Launceston community and for Boag’s.
“The proposal to close the visitor centre and tours was not put forward lightly, but as a response to the significant cost pressures we are facing across our business.
“The response – an outpouring of immense passion for the continuation of our brewery tours and visitor centre experience, reminded us of just how integral Boag’s is to Launceston.
“As a thank you to every proud Tasmanian, we will be offering anyone with a current Tasmanian Driver’s License free brewery tours for the next 12 months.
“We hope this provides a great incentive to bring friends and family to visit Launceston, to understand what we do and enjoy all that our region has to offer.”
The decision will reportedly see 12 jobs saved.
Local breweries question support
While the facility remaining open appears popular in the state, local brewers have questioned why the state government has invested in a single foreign-owned brewery in preference to the region’s industry.
Sam Reid who is a founder of Du Cane Brewing, which recently opened its $2.8 million brewery and dining hall employing 35 staff, described the decision as “bewildering”.
“It’s a good thing, I guess, but I think it’s bewildering – and they should give us $1 million to establish a Northern Tasmania brewing trail as well.”
In 2015 the Tasmanian Government announced a grant of $250,000 to develop a Tasmanian Beer Trail website. That site, which appears to not have been updated since 2018 currently lists 19 of the approximately 32 Tasmanian breweries. Its brewery map is currently broken.
Reid said an investment in a beer trail would spread the benefits across the 14 breweries in the region.
“That million dollars, or an equivalent amount, could do wonders for the northern Tasmanian visitor economy and small breweries.”
Reid also questioned a million-dollar investment in a multi-billion dollar company.
“With a $1.8 billion turnover in Australia what’s $1 million going to do?”
Corporate tax transparency records show that Lion generated revenue of $3.2 billion in 2019-2020, declining to $2.83 billion. in 2020-2021.
“Also, why would you actually close a visitor centre that actually helps build your brand in the first place?” Reid asked.
“Like it’s just also bewildering for me because the reason we got a brewery and a venue together is so we hope to build the brand by having the things co-located so people can visit.
“The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the biggest investment in marketing that Diageo can possibly make. And this is just such a bewildering decision on that front as well.”
IBA wants broader benefits
Independent Brewers Association Chief Executive Officer Kylie Lethbridge said she was supportive of any measures that support the brewing industry, but hoped more was to come.
“It is understandable that the Tasmanian government would want to ensure the ongoing viability of the visitor centre from the perspective of local jobs, and I imagine preserving a longstanding icon,” she said.
“Many businesses continue to face a reduction in income as a result of the pandemic so I imagine the next challenge will be to see that this injection of cash ensures the ongoing viability of the visitor centre.
“Any support that is provided to encourage beer tourism is a positive step and we hope that this is just the start of funding that will help develop new and innovative beer tourism experiences. Especially given there are now more than 20 independent, Australian own breweries in Tasmania that are more than worthy of the same consideration. “
While Lion attributed the closure to business headwinds, the company has significantly under-invested in the brand over an extended period.
Its lack of social media presence suggests the brand has not been a priority for the company, with only five posts shared across Facebook in 2021 and 2022 combined and three posts in three years on its Instagram account.