YOU would be excused for thinking a return to overnight stay accommodation just in time for a long weekend would be music to the ears of Ballarat's accommodation providers, but for many, it's more a gentle trickle than a flood.
Traditionally, the Queen's Birthday long weekend is one of the busiest in Ballarat with more than 5000 people annually coming into town for the Ballarat Junior Basketball Tournament.
But with that event called off, and other major events such as Heritage Weekend heading into the virtual world this year, the Winter Festival cancelled and major tourist attractions like Sovereign Hill closed and the Ballarat Wildlife Park only opening Monday, it looks like a slow road back for the accommodation industry.
As of Monday, Victorians and those from New South Wales will be able to travel within their own state, and across the border to stay in overnight accommodations as the first of the COVID-19 lockdowns restrictions are eased.
Other businesses that can reopen from Monday include beauty therapists, massage parlours, galleries and museums and restaurants and pubs which can have up to 20 people dining in a room at one time, provided they have adequate space of 4sq/m per customer.
It's a welcome, albeit small, relief for tourist operators and Ballarat is opening the welcome mat for tourists, but right now, few are coming through the front door, with the appeal of a long weekend away in a regional centre furthest from the mind of city tourists.
Gavin James from Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments said the tourism industry will need the longest from all forms of government support to get back on its feet. "Major events are the lifeblood of the industry," Mr James said.
"Next weekend is the basketball tournament, we would normally be booked out months in advance. We WERE booked out months in advance.
"The Winter Wonderlights, it's all events like those that Ballarat depends on during the winter months."
Mr James the other big driver which had disappeared was what he called the 'function' tourist, those that come up for weddings, family events and reunions.
He said until a vaccine is found, or social distancing is finally relaxed to previous levels, the tourism industry would continue to suffer.
"We always have people stay for weddings, sometimes it's the bridal party, even conferences, they're all gone," he said.
"Then you've also got the overseas market, the Asian market, the Chinese are a huge driver because a lot are tracing their roots on the goldfields, the New Zealanders as well.
"Our family and friends are also a big visitation driver and we think there's an opportunity that we can look at.
"But to do that, you need support from the federal and state governments. They've brought back the 'True Blue' campaign, I feel there needs to be a concerted campaign by the state government to get people out and visiting their state, particularly regional areas."
After its first ever closure in its more than 160-year history, Craig's Royal Hotel is looking forward to opening its doors once again.
Receptionist Melanie Ford said the loss of a major drawcard in the basketball event this long weekend would hurt, but she hoped people would still be prepared to move around the city.
She said dinner and lunch bookings had been solid and accommodation bookings were "slowly picking up".
"I think at the end of the day, given that people have been predominantly at home, people are wanting to get out and about regardless without the fear they might be fined," she said.
"We've definitely got a lot of good things to look forward to, for example we'll be bringing back high tea on the first Sunday in July.
"At this stage, we expect to be able to cater for up to 60 people, but the gaming room will remain shut."
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