The closure of Ballarat's biggest visitor attraction is a "tipping point" for an industry already in crisis, the chief executive of Victoria's peak body for tourism has said.
Felicia Mariani, who heads the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, said the decision to close Sovereign Hill sent a message about the "dire" impact of COVID-19 on the tourism and events sector.
"As every border has closed, it has essentially shut down any avenue for our industry to exist," she told The Courier.
"No one in any disaster planning could ever have foreseen this - the entire world has shut their borders.
"Everyone is hanging on by a thread. [The] announcement that Sovereign Hill will be closing indefinitely, signals a major tipping point for our industry."
For the tourism industry, it has been ferocious, that's the only word for it
Describing the attraction as "a cornerstone" of tourism nationally and globally, Ms Mariani said the industry was pushing for relief measures at every level of government.
She said that small businesses formed a large part of the tourism industry and that she was advocating for concessional loans of up to $500,000 to help tide the sector over.
"Anything we can do to help cashflow will help us navigate our way through this crisis," she said.
"We realise every single business is hurting, every sector is hurting.
"For the tourism industry, it has been ferocious, that's the only word for it."
She also said businesses would benefit greatly from relief in payroll and ATO payments, as well as relief on the registration of vehicles at state level.
Shortly after Ms Mariani spoke to The Courier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the freezing of loan payments for small businesses for the next six months.
"We are a resilient industry and we will do our darnedest to get through this," she said.
"Everyone is doing everything they can. For now, it is just a question of survival. "
She suggested that where possible, residents could help businesses by visiting those places that still remain open - and by ordering take-outs if they didn't want to sit down at their favourite restaurant or by purchasing vouchers to keep money coming in.
Some council-run attractions such as the Art Gallery and the Eureka Centre were closed down indefinitely on Monday, but other well known tourist destinations in the area confirmed to The Courier they would stay open - at least for the short term future. These include Kryal Castle, Creswick Woollen Mills and Ballarat Wildlife Park in the immediate area.
We need to keep looking after the animals and we are just taking it day by day at the momentSpokesperson, Ballarat Wildlife Park
In a press release, Kryal Castle said a new program would be in place from Saturday, and that the attraction's outdoor setting would allow visitors to practice social distancing.
A spokesperson for Ballarat Wildlife Park said: "We're really saddened by the news from Sovereign Hill. We are continuing to stay open until we need to do otherwise.
"We need to keep looking after the animals and we are just taking it day by day at the moment."
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