The return of the Ballarat Winter Festival after two years away is set to provide a boost to some of the city's industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After it was cancelled last year during the height of the pandemic, Ballarat's tourism industry is looking forward to the festival welcoming visitors back into the city, especially after missing out on Melbourne visitors over the Queen's Birthday long weekend.
The event is expected to bring millions of dollars of economic benefit into the city.
The Ballarat Winter Festival kicks off this Saturday and will run for three weeks through the Victorian and South Australian school holidays.
In the CBD, the festival is headlined by the ever-popular ice skating rink on Sturt Street while elsewhere, Sovereign Hill will light up the night with Winter Wonderlights, Kryal Castle will excite and amaze with its Knights of Fire and Queen Neva shows and visitors to the Ballarat Wildlife Park will be able to meet Honeybun, the golden Southern hairy-nosed wombat.
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Ballarat Regional Tourism chair Paul Martino said the Ballarat Winter Festival was part of the city's DNA.
"We embrace winter, we embrace everything that comes with winter and I think the flow-on from Melbourne opening will see a strong influx of people into Ballarat," he said.
"I know Sovereign Hill has had strong support for Winter Wonderlights and we're all looking forward to the ice skating rink opening in the city. Ballarat's open, we're ready, willing and able to bring people into our lovely city."
Mr Martino said tourism operators were looking forward to a strong season led by the Ballarat Winter Festival.
"Ballarat tourism, hospitality and attraction businesses are really excited about what the future looks like for Ballarat," he said.
"Sure, it's been a very tough year and our business are certainly in need of help but they are a positive, resilient bunch and are ready to accepts guests and visitors to our town and are looking forward to a strong winter season."
City of Ballarat Mayor Daniel Moloney said the ice skating rink alone brought about 20,000 people to the city.
"It's hard to tell in this COVID year the actual benefit it will bring but in past years, just even the ice skating rink and some of the council activities have brought in more than $900,000 of benefit," he said.
"We expect that it will be several times that. Even Sovereign Hill, just with the Winter Wonderlights, has actually in the past brought in more than 100,000 people just for that particular event.
"It'll be several million dollars in benefit in a typical year, hard to tell what the benefit will be this time around. It really does come down to whether we can encourage as many Ballarat people to bring their family and friends to town."
Cr Moloney said while the festival itself did not provide significant job creation, it did support up to 40 per cent of hospitality jobs.
"In the CBD alone, typically, hospitality benefits to the tune of about 40 per cent of hospitality jobs are dependent on tourism so it's really important that we continue to bring people from out of town into the CBD because there are hundreds of jobs that sit behind this," he said.
"Tourism is about our fifth biggest employer across the board and, of course, we seize these opportunities to grow that post-COVID."
While COVID restrictions are still in place, council hopes to see further easing announcements this week as the start of the festival draws nearer.
As it stands today, events such as the ice skating rink are governed by a density requirement of one person per four square metres, meaning between 105 and 110 people are allowed in the venue at one time but that capacity could expand pending further announcements later this week.
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