Doors wide open

Doors wide open

More than 150 major organisations will hold multi-day stays in bushfire affected areas with East Gippsland a high priority.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Martin Pakula, released details of the `Business & Sport for Bushfire Recovery’ program last week, which has won enthusiastic backing from business chiefs who have pledged to hold meetings, events or conferences in a bushfire-affected region over the next six months and then through the rest of 2020.

The minimum stay is two nights and in just days more than 150 organisations have jumped on board.

Visiting the region late last week, Mr Pakula emphasised how important it was for people to help the local business community get back on its feet. Most towns received an Australia Day weekend spark with visitation increasing, however the road to recovery is only beginning.

“We stopped in Bairnsdale for a beer and stopped in Lakes Entrance for a night, met with East Gippsland Shire, Destination Gippsland, all about getting the message out that people need to get back down to East Gippsland,” he said.

“There are tourism operators and small businesses crying out for people’s support and a short break goes a really long way.

“We are trying to set the example by coming down here, eating in wonderful local restaurants, having brekky at the cafes and enjoying this wonderful part of Victoria and spending our own money while we do it.”

“Visit Victoria are going to run an executive retreat down here in the next few weeks to bring more people, support and money to this region.

“Over 150 businesses have agreed to run two-day conferences, workshops, planning sessions in towns that have been affected. That’s all about getting economic recovery happening, getting out that message that these towns are open for business and making sure the people come back.

“This is really about sending the message we have got to get people back to East Gippsland. It’s not just been a traumatic time for the community, but businesses have really suffered. We’ve got to get that economic recovery happening and this is the first step in that.”

Destination Gippsland welcomed the announcement. Chairman Nick Murray said this initiative will give a much-needed boost to East Gippsland communities trying to recover from the impact on visitation.

“The State Government is to be commended for allocating the resources and the other initiatives at short notice,” Mr Murray said.

“Arranging over 150 organisations to commit within days of the callout to hold their meetings and conferences in our bushfire-affected areas is the kind of urgent support our region desperately needs.

“The funding for Destination Gippsland will immediately go towards tourism recovery marketing and to work closely with local businesses and the community.”

Mr Murray said the majority of natural attractions of East Gippsland remain unaffected.

“There has been some damage at the Buchan Caves Reserve, but the Lakes, estuaries, rivers, the beaches, they are all there and open for business,” he said.

Local motel operator, Kellie Makowski, from Sand Bar Motel, said her business has taken a huge economic downfall and has concerns what lies ahead in the immediate future.

“We’re fearing for February, the next four weeks – if we don’t start to see people and the bookings come in, we’ll start to worry and get very anxious, like most of the businesses in town,” Kellie said.

“February and March, they are not as big as January, but they strong with the grey nomads and we usually get a lot of international visitors coming from Sydney down to Melbourne, but the bushfires in New South Wales affects our economy here as well.

“I’d say we’ve had a 70 to 80 per cent downturn, so quite a significant drop. These profits we get from this time of year usually help us in May, June, July, to get us through the winter months.”

Individuals can also support regional tourism businesses which have suffered a massive hit to their trade in what would normally be their busiest months by exploring a part of Victoria impacted by these fires.

The government’s tourism and events company, Visit Victoria, will also put in place a range of marketing activities to promote the experiences on offer for visitors to regional Victoria.

In further government support for tourism operators, Tourism North East and Destination Gippsland will each receive a $200,000 grant to assist with their immediate recovery efforts. This includes support for a dedicated staff member to work directly with operators and coordinate marketing and campaign activities.

IMAGE: Minister for Tourism Sport and Major Events, Martin Pakula (third from left), visited East Gippsland last week to support local businesses and tourism, declaring the region is open for business and in need of support following the recent bushfire threat. PICTURED: Visit Victoria chief executive officer, Brendan McClemants, Destination Gippsland chairman, Nick Murray, Martin Pakula, Lakes Entrance business owners, Matt O’Donnell and Kellie Makowski, and Destination Gippsland chief executive officer, Terry Robinson.