Ballarat's tourism industry could be years away from returning to its pre-COVID-19 status which saw the city host millions of overnight stays between March 2019 and March 2020.
Looking forward to when things could begin to return to some sense of normal for tourism operators in the region, Ballarat regional Tourism chairperson Iain Gunn said it was anyone's guess.
"Anyone that knows the answer to that question would be heralded as the most well informed person in the world," he said.
I've seen some estimations that things won't be back to normal until 2023.Ballarat Regional Tourism chairperson Iain Gunn
Once things begin to return to normal, he said businesses and community members must prepare to welcome people back to the region, despite some apprehension surrounding where they travel from.
"I don't know anymore than the next person does, all I do know is that it will finish when it finishes and when it does, we need to be all ready... to embrace and welcome visitors back to our city.
"I think some apprehension is expected, however the hospitality industry is doing the right thing in terms of creating a safe environment for people to enjoy."
The hit to the industry came at a time when more people than ever were coming to Ballarat. It was placed in the top 50 locations in Australia in terms of domestic visitor nights and in the top 30 for day trips, according to new figures just released by by Tourism Research Australia.
One of the biggest drivers of those figures are visitors from Metropolitan Victoria, which recently returned to stage three COVID-19 restrictions due to the spiking number of cases.
Mr Gunn believes having visitors from the greater Melbourne area return could be the first step in moving in helping the industry move forward.
"Ballarat is unique... we're on the doorstep of over five million Melbournians and that's going to be our principal market when everything comes back," he continued.
"Once Melbourne was locked down... that was a real showstopper. Up until that point, there was probably some sense of hope and optimism that we were starting to rebuild."
Looking at one of the biggest casualties caused by COVID-19 and the recent return to lockdown conditions for the majority of Victoria's population, the Victoria Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) is calling for JobKeeper payments to be extended.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Weekly Jobs and Wages Performance across Australia show the accommodation and food services industry as the hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of job losses.
VTIC Chief Executive Felicia Mariani said these statistics showcase what people within the industry have known for months.
"While every business has suffered under the weight of the national shutdowns that were required in flattening the curve back in March, no industry has been hit as hard, and for such an extended period of time, as the sectors that make up our tourism economy," she said in a statement.
"This is why we are collectively calling on the Federal Government to extend the JobKeeper Fund for an industry that's simply not had the chance to recover to the levels of other industries as restrictions have eased."
The ABS figures for jobs in accommodation and food services from mid-March to June 27 show a dramatic decrease of 21 per cent over the period, nearly four times that of the 'all industries' average.
Arts and Recreation were also hit hard, with an 18 per cent decline in paid jobs in the sector over the same period.
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