VICTORIA'S western district has an untapped potential to a grow a domestic tourism market say animal experts.
As the country grapples with a 100 per cent drop off of international tourism for the foreseeable future, Victoria's natural wetlands and reserves should provide an opportunity for bird enthusiasts to add some much needed boost to flagging tourist economies.
Tourism Australia's national visitor survey, to the year ending 2019, has for the first time included bird watching as part of its data.
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Remarkably, it shows there were greater numbers who travelled for bird watching purposes as visited the Great Barrier Reef.
The statistics indicate 886,000 domestic tourists went bird watching in 2019, many including overnight stays in their itineraries.
Kerrie Allen from lobby group Regional Victorian's Opposed to Duck Shooting said it was just another example of how important bird life can be to an economy.
"The number of domestic bird watching tourists presents a huge opportunity to places around Ballarat like Lake Burrumbeet which are blessed with stunning native waterbirds, many unique to our country," Ms Allen said.
"The fact they are duck shooting areas for a handful of recreational native bird shooters hasn't helped.
"This tourism data is more strong evidence that change is in regional Victoria's best interests.
"When COVID-19 restrictions ease, our regional economies will particularly welcome tourism. There is little if any infrastructure needed to attract a steady portion of the bird watching community. The assets are already here."
In the United States, bird watching is a $41 billion industry.
The Courier's nature writer Roger Thomas agrees, saying Ballarat is well positioned to be a central point to many of Victoria's most scenic bird watching regions.
"It's a fairly big industry, particularly for retirees," Mr Thomas said. "And what we are seeing is an increasing interest as people have been locked down, particularly taking up bird watching from their own backyard.
"Then you've also got a huge industry for binoculars, telescopes, and obviously there's now the fitness side of it as well as people are looking to get out and about."
Mr Thomas said while Ballarat's Lake Wendouree was locally the most popular spot, there were plenty of other unique areas across the region, all within a short drive.
"Melbourne people certainly come here to the lake and a few other places," he said..
"But you can also go north to Clunes and Maryborough, just over the dividing range and the habitat is quite difference, and attract different types of birds.
"Another different habitat all together is the Wombat Forest and then you've also got the western plains, people love to see the brolga in Victoria and that is their habitat.
"Australia is incredibly blessed by the variety of birdlife we have."
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