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    BUSY WEEKEND: Stawell’s Evie Field supports her father – Warriors ruckman, Shane – during a Good Friday football match in Ararat. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Long-term opportunities await


A Wimmera tourism leader is imploring businesses to explore ways to capitalise on the region’s growing profile after visitation records fell during the Easter long weekend.

Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said the thousands of visitors to the region during the four-day break would have contributed millions of dollars to the regional economy.

He said the investment injection represented a major economic boost in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Mr Sleeman said more than 40,000 people flocked to Wimmera-Mallee towns and rural cities to attend events such as the Stawell Gift, horse racing at Stawell and Warracknabeal, the opening match of Wimmera Football Netball League in Ararat and other attractions such as Goatfest at Natimuk.

“The Easter weekend has taken visitation capacity to a whole new level and feedback I’m hearing from residents is they have never seen the region so full before,” he said.

“You only need to look at some of the holiday parks in the region and see they were at capacity, and on Saturday and Sunday historic trading records were broken for many businesses across the region. I caught up with Pepita and Adam Atchison from Pomonal Estate and they broke historic trading records over the weekend. They had 400 people per day at their winery.”

Locations such as Natimuk and campsites at Mount Arapiles were also among popular destinations experiencing higher-than-average tourism.

Natimuk’s National Hotel publican Bill Lovel said his business had experienced its busiest Easter since he started in the hotel almost 11 years ago. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this. At one stage we had to stop taking calls. We usually do some takeaways but couldn’t do that this time around,” he said.

“People were travelling here from all over the place. On Wednesday night we did 80 meals, on Thursday 90, Friday 95, Saturday 150, Sunday 128 and Monday, when we usually don’t open, 85.

“It’s great to get this type of support. We’ve been run off our feet.”

Mr Sleeman stressed record-breaking visitation during the long weekend was a prime example of how much the region’s tourism profile was growing.

However, he said this highlighted a need for businesses to continue exploring ways to ensure they could attract return visitors.

“I think the challenges businesses in our region face now is some of the labour shortages,” he said.

“I also understand some businesses are finding it challenging to be open seven days a week, so they’re trying to stagger their opening days.

“But in everything we do, we must put the customer in front of every decision we make and that’s critical for all business in the region.”

Improving experiences

Mr Sleeman said the tourism body was working with businesses to extend trading hours and improve visitor experiences.

“We need to make sure we’re tailoring our product to ensure people come back,” he said.

“We are talking with businesses to ensure there are enough restaurants and cafes open that cater for that market. It is something we’ve acknowledged and we’re working with businesses to make sure we can provide the best visitor experience.”

Mr Sleeman said capturing return visitation would ensure the region’s tourism sector could maintain its growing profile beyond the COVID-19 pandemic – especially when international travel opportunities returned.

“We are in a really unique position right now – since around September and October last year our region has been at capacity and the forward bookings into May, June and July this year are all quite strong,” he said.

“We’re far enough away from Melbourne that we’re a really attractive drive destination, meaning people are likely to stay overnight and with that comes additional expenditure.

“And with international borders still closed, that will ensure visitors will continue to come back into the Grampians region.

“This has opened up a whole new market for us – in the past people would travel to Bali, Singapore or Japan for a holiday.”

Mr Sleeman said it would be important for the tourism board to promote the region as a multi-faceted destination to attract people back.   

“That means we don’t just promote our national park, but we also talk about our wineries, the great food we have in our region, our attractions and some of our great hikes,” he said.

The entire April 7, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!