September 14th, 2020Working towards a new COVID normal
Mr Wroe said he, other regional tourism leaders, shire CEOs and the Minister for Tourism Martin Pakula had met last Thursday.
“Apart from little hot spots, regional Victoria is almost entirely free of COVID, or has quite good case numbers. The rolling average is down to five which is the target.”
Mr Wroe said while Melbourne would remain locked down, he believed there was “sufficient pent-up demand” that the opening of the regions would be a real boost to the visitor economy.
He said DMT was ready to roll out a social media campaign targeting key regional areas to get as much visitation as possible. “Hepburn Shire is super reliant on tourism, almost more so than any other region in Victoria, and in terms of visitor/resident ratio we are second only to Phillip Island.”
But while life will not return to normal for some time, Mr Wroe believes the region is well set to pick up once restrictions are further eased and eventually Melbourne is also opened up.
“We have a really strong regional brand and have always said this is the place for indulgence, fantastic food and wine, great local produce and fantastic natural assets. That is what we have been promoting as our regional brand forever and our proximity to Melbourne means we are in the best position to benefit from the bounce back.
“I expect we will have this flood of visitation coming in from the regions and then out of Melbourne, giving us really strong visitation for two or three months. It will dissipate after that, because we are probably moving into some fairly tough economic conditions, but we have a big campaign planned to prop that demand up.
“Obviously, we are always super mindful of the feeling of vulnerability among the community and while I am being bullish about visitation, it is always done with safety considerations in mind. I think it is a mix of good management by Hepburn Shire Council, health services and Victoria Police that we have only ever had two cases in Hepburn Shire and they were months ago. That demonstrates to me that even with a huge amount of visitation, if done properly, you can manage the risk of transmission.”
Hepburn Shire Council CEO Evan King said there was a real balance between businesses desperately needing tourists to return and having that happen in a safe way.
“I think our businesses did a fantastic job last time we came out of restrictions. We had a pretty significant influx of people and there were some challenges with people queuing and milling outside shops, but that’s probably because the shops were doing such a good job following the right protocols. People also need to take responsibility for themselves as well. If you are from Melbourne and you don’t feel well, don’t come up because you are not welcome.”
Mr King said the council wanted to work with businesses and support them as they re-opened. “There are a whole lot of options around that and closing main streets (for larger outdoor dining areas) is one of those under consideration. But we want to be guided by the businesses themselves. We have set up a Business Taskforce and part of that was to get direct feedback on how we can support businesses and come out of COVID-19 and encourage safe tourism at the same time.”
Mr King said opening up regional Victoria as the first step of the state’s roadmap was a good move and would see a gradual increase in trade that was relatively safe.
“Metro Melbourne won’t be able to travel until the numbers are also at a really safe level and when they can travel there are a whole range of things we need to do, working with businesses, to make sure it’s safe.”
Daylesford Hotel co-owner Anne-Marie Banting said while she was optimistic that when the regions and eventually Melbourne re-opened, the tourists would return and business would start to recover, it had been a terrible time for hospitality.
“At the moment we can’t do outside dining because the weather is so hit and miss at this time of year but looking to the future when we get good sunny days we can open up the beer garden and the verandah and the front which gives us a fair amount of people even with the four-metre rule.
“And once Melbourne is allowed to visit I think we will have a really good boost.”
Ms Banting said while she agreed with Dan Andrews’ second lockdown for safety’s sake, it was killing hospitality businesses.
“We are all just bleeding and mental health is not great to be honest. But one thing we are lucky to have is our good mates in Daylesford. We all stick together, we all post and share to each other, we all ring each other. We don’t eat out a lot because I love to cook but we spend money at Jen’s (Wine and Cheese Merchant), Hepburn General Store, Harry’s, we have had terrific pizza from Beppe, we get our supplies from Tonna’s, Wombat bread from Lakehouse…we don’t need to shop anywhere else, because we’ve got everything we need right here.”
Meanwhile, in response to a query from The Local about the way forward for Macedon Ranges Shire, a media release said playgrounds will open from Monday, September 14 and the shires’ libraries will be able to offer a ‘Click and Collect’ service.
Outdoor pools can also open from Monday but are not ready for use and will remain closed, the release said.
“Council will look to reopen other community facilities in line with government advice and following appropriate risk assessment processes. Restrictions will be in place as appropriate to ensure the health and safety of the community.”
Words: Donna Kelly