Regional towns and cities are investing heavily in winter tourism events as they try to lure visitors struggling with the rising cost of living.
- Consumer confidence under pressure as rising costs hit family budgets
- Victorian tourism bodies hope families will stick closer to home these school holidays
- Event organizers cautiously optimistic for tourism return
Winter Fest will kick off in Ballarat during the June school holidays with attractions like ice skating and Sovereign Hill’s night-time Winter Wonderlights designed to bring Melbourne visitors to the region.
Meanwhile, Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism general manager Liz Price said her team was cautiously optimistic about the turnout.
“It’s always concerning when we see the cost of living going up but it can also work in our favor,” Ms Price said.
“People that might be thinking about heading away may decide that they’re better to stick closer to home to get more value for money and see more things.”
Ballarat Regional Tourism chair said he expected more people to stay close to home during the Holiday period.
“It’s always important to balance your offering to a tourist knowing that money is tight,” Mr Martino said.
“We’d expect over 100,000 people into our region and over half of those from outside of Ballarat, so there’s a real influx of people and as we know, about half of those are probably visiting friends and relatives,” Mr Martino said.
Money is also on the minds of the team behind Apollo Bay’s Winter Wild music and arts event, which is back on after twice being canceled due to COVID-19.
Event chair Kevin O’Connell said ticket prices had been kept reasonable in light of cost of living pressures.
“One of the ways of doing it is to create the place you want to live in; the place you want to spend time with your family and bring up your children in. And if you do that, other people will want to come.”
Can events bounce back?
Events was among the hardest hit sectors of the tourism economy during the pandemic, which prompted many to leave.
Those who remained have clung to the hope of a tourism return.
“I think there’s a bounce back post COVID and you know our Heritage Festival, which has only just finished, was a very strongly supported festival,” Mr Martino said.
“There’s no reason to believe that winter won’t also be really supported.”
The loss of interstate travelers due to border closures wiped $ 1 billion from the economy compared to pre-pandemic levels, which was regional Victoria’s largest loss.
In a positive for the regions, intrastate overnight spend in regional Victoria exceeded pre-pandemic levels by eight per cent, showing people were traveling and spending closer to home.
Parks Victoria campsite bookings for regional tourist drawcards like Gariwerd (the Grampians), the Great Ocean Walk, Budj Bim National Park and Lower Glenelg National Park have more than doubled on pre-pandemic levels.
More than 1000 camping spots have been secured for the June holiday period, compared to just 403 in 2019 before COVID hit.
Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney said he hoped residents would get into the festival spirit.
“The City of Ballarat is again excited to help deliver the Winter Festival and it’s a terrific opportunity to rug up and get out to support local business, enjoy our community and be with family and friends in a great winter spirit,” he said.