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    BACK IN BUSINESS: Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park manager Josephina McDonald is thrilled to be welcoming visitors back into the region after business ceased for more than three months. Picture: DYLAN DE JONG

High hopes for Grampians and Wimmera tourism comeback


A fleeting windfall due to an ease in COVID-19 restrictions has tourism operators hopeful people will continue to support regional Victoria. 

Grampians tourism destinations such as Halls Gap were brimming with life at the weekend – while other Wimmera tourism operators at Little Desert National Park, which relies on interstate travellers, were seeing a slower, but gradual restart. 

Accommodation providers are now anticipating a drop in visitation following the end of June-July school holidays coupled with restrictions ramping up across Melbourne suburbs. 

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And a Grampians tourism leader has stressed an extension to the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program would likely be necessary, but said a refocus on domestic travel had ‘enormous’ potential to prop up the tourism economy moving forward.  

This came after the State Government announced a recovery package designed to reimburse regional accommodation providers with up to $225 for every booking cancelled due to harsher lockdown measures across Melbourne’s COVID-19 ‘hot-zones’.   

Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park managers Josephina and Rohan McDonald were thrilled to see tourists travelling to the region again.  

Mrs McDonald said the family business was bouncing back after visitors cancelled all bookings for the year at the start of the pandemic. 

“We were hit hard and lost about $600,000 following the first lot of shutdowns,” she said.

“We had no trade for the months of March, April, May and most of June, but in saying that, we are lucky because at the weekend, we were fully booked. 

“It has been a roller-coaster ride, but it’s been a great opportunity because Victorians are keen to explore their own back yard and I’m extremely grateful they are.” 

Mrs McDonald said her business was being ‘extremely’ cautious and cross-referencing bookings with postcodes to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. “We need to prevent COVID-19 spreading any further,” she said. 

“We just have to roll with it and respect our neighbours and wider community, use common sense and hopefully we can, sooner rather than later, have some kind of normality back.”

Slow start

Nhill’s Little Desert Nature Lodge husband and wife team Christa and Daniel Farinha, alongside family, are seeing a slower restart to visitation. 

The lodge, a key attraction between Adelaide and Melbourne, has experienced a gradual increase in visitors in recent weeks. 

General manger and daughter Michelle Farinha said although visitation was increasing, the business was still missing out on 50 percent of its market from South Australia. 

“We’ve actually been quite busy over the past two weeks – but we’re certainly not at the capacity we were at before,” she said. 

“Being halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, we’ve definitely noticed a loss of demographic there.”

Ms Farinha said it was a ‘relief’ to see a resurgence in bookings through to the start of summer.  

“We’re finding we’ve got a lot of bookings for September, October and November because a lot of people are hoping there will be a bit more of a handle on everything by then,” she said.  

“But if we have people trying to book in from hotspot areas, in the interest of our staff as well as our community, it’s not worth the risk.” 

Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, tourism operators would likely rely on the continuation of government supports such as JobKeeper. 

“It’s very important we advocate right now for the extension of the JobKeeper funding,” he said.

Mr Sleeman said Grampians Tourism would focus on the Victorian market and the region was likely to capitalise on ‘the great outdoors’ in the post-COVID-19 world. 

“The report we have from Deloitte Access Economics states if the international borders stay closed there will be an additional $10-billion in the Victorian visitor economy budget of consumer spend,” he said. 

“Victorians typically spend more money overseas and interstate than they do in Victoria, so if we keep them here and they spend their money here it’s going to create a positive economic benefit for our region.

“The greatest benefit for our region right now is our regional brand and having the great outdoors. Having a space to breathe is the major attraction for the post-COVID-19 consumer.”  

The entire July 8, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!