AN ONGOING state of flux with border closures and travel restrictions is adding to a huge tourism boom in the wider Ballarat region.
Grampians Tourism's destination branding on nature and space to breathe had long appealed to Melburnians planning their escapes once the ring of steel was dismantled. Accommodation has been booked out from pre-Christmas until well into the New Year in what Grampians Tourism chief Marc Sleeman said had created unprecedented visitor numbers.
"The real change has been in the mix of visitors we have. Previously it was mostly metro visitors but now it's pretty event with regional visitors...we've had a unique opportunity to attract more regional visitors here," Mr Sleeman said.
"...Strategically we're well-located in the Grampians, not far from Ballarat, Bendigo or Warrnambool with the largest zoo in regional Victoria and one of the most visited national parks in the state. We've got great wineries, great restaurants. It's all a formula for success."
Mr Sleeman said the rise in day visitors was also having a good flow-on effect about the region, including in towns like Ararat, which were bubbling more this time of year.
Across the other side of Ballarat, the ripple effects of this were reaching Gordon, too. Before the pandemic, Gordon was fast-becoming a popular weekend day trip for Melburnians.
Gordon Bleu cafe owner Scott Graham said there had been a steady stream of people stopping on their way to and from the Grampians. While the cafe has re-open this week from a short Christmas break, Mr Graham said there had also been a lot more people call in from Geelong, Warrnambool and further across the western district.
"We're seeing people genuinely seeking out ways to support small business and authentic different places," Mr Graham said.
Within Ballarat, caravan park operators at Big 4 Windmill, Big 4 Goldfields and Shady Acres report they have been busy bust still have limited booking available in January. All have had cancellations from hopeful travellers in New South Wales but this had largely been negated by picking up extra bookings from Victorians whose plans north of the border had dissipated.
A month's delay to AusCycling's Road National Championships had also been keenly felt in booking numbers, with uncertainty how border closures might impact the event, now set for February.
Jubilee Holiday Park owner Trish Boudville said bookings in Daylesford were bursting. Ms Boudville said there were a lot of potentially South Australia-bound travellers opting to stay in the Hepburn region another week or so in case that border should also close.
Normally busy in early January, Ms Boudville said caravan parks were working together to try and fit everyone in this month.
The re-opening of RACV Goldfields Resort in Creswick in mid-November had created a steady increase in Melbourne visitors to Creswick Woolen Mills this summer.
Creswick Woolen Mills executive director Boaz Herszfeld said support from the Ballarat region had also been vital, particularly in VFR trade - the word of mouth from visitors to friends and relatives.
The Mills had built a strong market in Chinese tourists, losing about a third of its custom when international travel ceased.
"The people of Ballarat can really make a big difference for business, and we really appreciate the support," Mr Herszfeld said.
"Another great one for us has been Click for Vic campaign, which has encouraged a lot of people even just stopping by."
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