June 8, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo
Having endured 91 days of devastating bushfires during the summer of 2020, then COVID-19 through last year, Gippsland had been enjoying a busy summer and autumn this year. Until now.
The region, which extends from the east of Greater Melbourne right along the east coast through to the New South Wales border, has 85 venues and hundreds of businesses dependent on meetings and events.
Destination Gippsland CEO Terry Robinson said it was “incredibly frustrating to be back in lockdown after Gippsland enjoyed a busy summer and autumn without COVID restrictions. The disruption to our lives and businesses is very real and came with little warning”.
They are out of lockdown now, but he said the momentum they had been building has been interrupted by the outbreak in Melbourne and the state-wide lockdown from May 28, plus the fact that Melburnians have been warned not to travel into the regions for the coming long weekend.
Writing to members, Robinson said, “Even with the easing of regional restrictions, Destination Gippsland will continue to advocate to government to provide assistance to the visitor economy as one of the hardest hit industries.”
He said the industry had been through a lot but they were resilient, had adapted and were getting by as best they can. The region already has a winter marketing plan in place and will persist with that, even scheduling a regional tourism conference in East Gippsland for September 2.
“We will keep our plans for a major winter marketing campaign to ensure we are encouraging travel from regional areas initially and from Melbourne as soon as it is feasible. We are also actively supporting bids to secure new events that will generate bed nights later in the year,” he told members, adding that it was important to reconnect in person.
Gippsland is a diverse region 90 minutes from the city at its closest point, but more than four hours’ drive to its eastern perimeter, which includes key attractions the Gippsland Lakes, Mallacoota and Croajingolong National Park.
The driving distance and no major airports precludes international visitors who frequent the Great Ocean Road or Phillip Island. Robinson said previously international visitors who flew into Sydney were encouraged to self-drive to Melbourne via Gippsland and spend a few days going from town to town in the region.
Gippsland’s rugged Bass Coast features Victoria’s most southerly point, Wilsons Promontory, ideal for smaller corporate retreats or adventure-based team building. Gippsland can also stage large-scale events with a range of venues, including Lardner Park which can host 1,000 for a convention plus extensive exhibition space.
Five-star residential conferences are available at RACV Inverloch and the region’s major towns, Traralgon, Sale, Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance offer a range of options. Federation University’s Churchill campus is 160km from the city in the foothills of Victoria’s alpine region and offers modern meeting facilities.
For many the hamlets of east Gippsland are attractive options, including the pretty village of Metung on Gippsland Lakes with its many opportunities for nautical adventures and both hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation. Historic gold-mining village, Walhalla long ago ran out of the precious metal but offers a fascinating glimpse of life in the 1800s and a stay in the Walhalla Star hotel or a local BnB.