The number of people visiting and staying in Ballarat in 2019 was the highest ever, new statistics indicate.
Figures released this month by Tourism Research Australia (TRA) show the city received a total of 3,362,000 visitors during the year, more than any previous total.
It is a figure that will inevitably plummet in 2020 due to the widespread COVID-19 shutdown.
The TRA figures also came with a caveat as the method for recording the figures changed last year. With people surveyed exclusively by mobile for the first time last year, statisticians said figures were likely to be higher by between two and five percent - and warned against direct comparison with previous years.
However, the numbers do reflect a tourism industry that was in robust health prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
The City of Ballarat said the figures from 2019 would be used as a "benchmark" once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Visitation for 2020 was being watched carefully by tourism professionals in the region as the first full calendar year since the council ended its funding agreement with Ballarat Regional Tourism (BRT).
The arm's length tourism marketing organisation - known as Visit Ballarat - ceased operating in its current form at the end of September last year, although BRT still exists as an advocacy group.
Given the industry crisis - with new figures showing Victorian hospitality jobs fell by more than a quarter in March alone - judging the success of that move will now be on hold.
BRT chairman Iain Gunn told The Courier: "I hope we're through the worst of it. After that initial period of shock when the bookings dropped overnight, I hope we've already hit rock bottom."
He said he wanted to see "sensible relaxation of restrictions" if the state of emergency ends on May 11. "Ultimately we are in the hands of government and health and safety is of paramount importance at the moment," he said.
While the numbers may now seem academic, highlights of 2019 include more than a million people staying overnight in the Ballarat region last year, another first for a calendar year.
It remains to be seen how people will behave. Everybody is going to be scrambling to get that tourism dollar and visitation backIain Gunn, chairman Ballarat Regional Tourism
There were also 2,576,000 nights spent in and around Ballarat last year, the figures suggest.
The overnight visitor metric is one of the most important for tourism professionals as people staying spend much more than daytrippers.
The focus both in Ballarat and elsewhere in the region is likely to be on attracting Australian visitors during the initial stages of any future recovery.
"It is pretty clear to everybody that domestic tourism is going to be the market," Mr Gunn said.
Ballarat will be well placed - the things that made Ballarat great in 2019 are still as relevant as they were last year.
He added: "It remains to be seen how people will behave. Everybody is going to be scrambling to get that tourism dollar and visitation back."
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