COVID’s regional tourism windfall

Aileen Walsh and David Leathem at the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre, which has recorded a welcome visitor uptick for the local area as a consequence of COVID-19 fallout for interstate and overseas travel.

While COVID has crunched overseas and interstate travel plans for many Victorians, regional Victoria has just quietly been benefiting from a visitor boom.
Local accommodation venues, dining venues, visitor attractions – and even local artists – have all been among those enjoying a financial uptick as Victorians have taken time out to holiday in their own state.
Mount Alexander Shire began benefiting even before the state government implemented its regional travel voucher scheme, observed Aileen Walsh, customer services manager at Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre.
“Between November to the end of January 48 per cent of people who came into our two visitor centres here in Castlemaine and at Maldon had never been here before,” Ms Walsh said.
“Some of these people might normally be spending their summers skiing in Austria so we’ve also been seeing a higher propensity to spend money among those who have been visiting.”
The trend now seems to be amplified by the state’s introduction in December of its regional travel voucher scheme offering a $200 reimbursement for those who spend $400 on accommodation or ticketed visitor attractions in a regional Victorian destination – and stay at least two nights.
“In January alone we’ve had almost 10,000 people just through this visitor information centre,” Ms Wash said.
She said 60 per cent of those had been from Melbourne and 30 per cent from regional Victoria – while it was unclear where the remaining 10 per cent travelled from.
Castlemaine’s Buda Historic House and Gardens is one of the local ticketed venues to see the benefits.
“All I know is that we’ve been having a hell of a lot more visitors,” house curator Lauretta Zilles said.
“It’s been terrific for us.”
Buda’s communications and admin manager Vivienne Hamilton said the stats for January told the story.
“Our admission system has recorded that we’ve had a 126 per cent increase in visitors for this January as compared to last January,” Ms Hamilton said.
It’s an observation the Victorian Goldfields Railway is happy to share.
“Absolutely. We’ve been packed out since we resumed running in December,” the local tourist railway’s Andrew Reynolds said.
“Every train has been full and first class has been booking out the quickest.
“Our sales from the passenger bar are double or three times what we normally get.
“These are people who have disposable income and they’re not scared to spend.
“Usually our bookings drop right off in February but they’re not showing any sign of slacking off.
“It’s been great for us since trying to come out of COVID and having had no revenue for the previous seven months.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for regional areas,” Ms Walsh said, adding that once new visitors discovered the area the chance of repeat visitations significantly improved.
Mount Alexander Shire’s manager of economy and culture, David Leathem, agreed.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our shire to a whole new market,” Mr Leathem said.