Despite an influx in visitors and significantly more movement around Lakes Entrance during the school holidays, there remains community concern about the number of empty shop fronts.
A stroll or drive down the Esplanade is all the evidence you need with almost 20 shops empty.
But with the improvements to the Lakes Entrance Esplanade and footpaths, president of the Lakes Entrance Business and Tourism Association (LEBTA), Shane Kidd, while admitting it is a concern, could see a positive for the future.
“It can be looked at from a negative perspective,” Mr Kidd said. “All around Australia in regional towns, over the past 10-15 years, we’ve witnessed the slow degradation of viable small business operators.
“With no positive incentives in government policy, this situation has been allowed to continue unabated, leading to empty shops, empty factories and a continual decline in regional employment. “Was it designed this way? Only the revealing of the truth will tell.
“Tourism towns, such as Lakes Entrance, have particularly been victims of this slow regional decline in business opportunities.
“With overseas air travel increasingly more affordable to cheap Asian destinations, combined with the increasing expense of holidaying in Australia, this problem has been exacerbated.
“With increasingly burdensome government regulations, compliance, fees and permits, the Australian regional accommodation sector, and hospitality industry in general, has faced mounting costs in maintaining a viable product and/or service. Gone are the days of a $10 per night camp site, or a $60 per night motel room.
“Add to this the COVID-19 additional workload for small business, and any recovery seems impossible.
“However, we can look at the negative perspective, but there is also a positive perspective.”
Mr Kidd said many regional towns and centres often go through a decline in business operators, due to the normal turnover of old to new.
“The old established businesses, that have been operating for years, slowly die out due to retirement or they just don’t service the more discerning tourist anymore,” he said.
“The old gift shop selling printed tea-towels or the fish and chip shop that’s serviced locals for years, is not a culinary experience for the modern tourist.
“Thus, there comes a time in the life of every small, regional tourist town, to go through a period of shedding the old, in preparation for a new identity, a new paradigm, more suited to the 21st century traveller.
“As the shops become empty and property values depreciate, there comes an opening to the entrepreneurial mindset. New ideas start to be spawned, based on successes in other regions. Opportunities to create niche industries becomes possible.
“There is an opportunity for a town to remake its identity, based not on its old principles, but on new upcoming trends and fascinations.
“This, I believe, is where Lakes Entrance is positioning itself, without even being aware of it. The old reasons for being a town are slowly disintegrating, such as the fishing fleet and family affordable beach holidays, with fish and chip shops in abundance.
“A new breed of business owners will descend upon us, due to the increasing desire to leave the cityscapes behind, for healthier, more wholesome lifestyles. This new breed will bring with it a new identity to our town, a new spirit of individualism, and attract a new market to our accommodation and hospitality industries.
“So fingers crossed we can survive with the bare-bones until this tide begins to turn. And turn it will, as we have the natural landscapes, wilderness and waterways that sit there waiting to be appreciated by a new breed of those who appreciate its value and desire to show it off to the rest of the world.”
There are around 20 empty shops along the Esplanade and Myer Street in Lakes Entrance and while it is a concern for many, Lakes Entrance Business and Tourism Association president, Shane Kidd, says it represents an opportunity for a new breed of business owners to stamp their mark.