Bumper holiday season needed

Bellarine Railway

The Bellarine’s tourism industry will be banking on a bumper holiday season to bolster its recovery after one of the most challenging years ever faced.

The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local operators and businesses was detailed in the Tourism Greater Geelong & The Bellarine (TGGB) 2020-21 Annual Report, noted by the City of Greater Geelong on Tuesday night.

While navigating changing restrictions and general feelings of uncertainty, the regional tourism board found new ways to support the industry in its greatest time of need.

This included securing recovery packages from council and the state government, promoting travel close to home and encouraging residents to rediscover local experiences.

Compared with 2019 pre-COVID levels, data in the 2020-21 report showed a drop in:

visitor numbers by 45 per cent;

visitor-generated expenditure by 42 per cent; and

nights spent in the region by 51 per cent.

Over the past year, council invested more than $2 million in TGGB for tourism administration, visitor information centres and business events, plus an additional $633,000 as part of the COVID Community and Economic Support Package.

The program also received $1.5 million in regional recovery funding from the Victorian government.

With the backing of board members, the TGGB team shifted its priorities to focus on launching strategic campaigns and planning for a COVID-normal future.

Among the 2020-21 initiatives were:

‘Greater Than’ short stay campaign featuring Geelong Cats player Zach Tuohy;

‘You Belong in Geelong’ campaign to attract business events to the region;

International Friends program connecting international students with local residents

New flexible membership model; and

Tailored tourism industry support and advocacy.

Mayor Stephanie Asher said the report confirmed what we’ve all seen in our region during the pandemic.

“It’s one thing to notice quieter streets, shops, parks and beaches during lockdowns, but it’s another to see these stark figures in print,” Mayor Asher said.

“The report also validates the importance of government funding to help our local tourism industry get back on its feet.”

This year also concluded the Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine Visitor Economy Strategy 2017-18–2020-21.

Despite recent challenges, the plan elevated the region to flourish as a destination in its own right and achieve record growth for visitation and yield year-on-year prior to the pandemic, council said.

Looking ahead, and in partnership with municipal partners the Borough of Queenscliffe and Golden Plains Shire councils, TGGB has a new four-year corporate plan that offers a renewed purpose to build a resilient, sustainable and valued visitor economy.

Council has also committed to funding the program until 2024-25.