By Graeme Kemlo

“Fantastic to see Regional Victoria opening up… [there had been] very few COVID cases across regional Victoria and there was a real sense of frustration mounting up as we continued to stay in lockdown,” said Mark Sleeman, CEO of Grampians Tourism.

The region three hours north west of the city was fast on the trigger when it re-opened and has welcomed thousands of visitors to its natural attractions, food, wine and outdoor activities over the past week. But not from Melbourne.

Mark Sleeman said there were 600,000 Victorian residents who are able to travel within a two-hour drive of the region.

Centred on the Grampians National Park and the town of Hall’s Gap, recent accommodation developments have seen the area referred to as ‘The Glampians’ and it does provide interesting alternatives for small corporate teams who want to escape the office and focus on team building or planning for a post-COVID recovery.  The area has also attracted many for its culinary offerings, including Dunkeld foodie destination Royal Mail Hotel that won acclaim over a number of years as one of  the state’s best restaurants and also offers spaces for self-contained corporate retreats or conferencing for up to 150 people.

“Our brand is all about great outdoors, big nature and space to breathe. In June when we had our first re-opening after lockdown 1.0 we had the busiest June on record, one of the busiest months ever in our region,” Mr Sleeman said.

“So we know that the destination is really appealing to that post-COVID consumer and we are already seeing the first signs of that similar boom back into the Grampians region.”

Monitoring the website, Mark said there were 4000 page hits for ‘luxury accommodation’ on opening day.

He said the area was increasingly being seen as a foodie destination, “and combine that with our unique wines like Best’s, Seppelt, Grampians Estate, Montara… packaged up with some amazing nature-based activities and we’re an extremely appealing destination.”

“We’ve had double digit growth and our five year annual average growth has been above metro Melbourne and regional Victoria for five years.”

Mark said: “With international border closures we’re seeing visitors who had never considered coming our way before. But once they see and touch our region they realise it is a great value destination.  I think COVID will have a silver lining in bringing visitors to our region who had not been here before.”