By Graeme Kemlo

As thousands of Melburnians fled the city’s “ring of steel” at the weekend to finally visit friends and relatives in regional Victoria, the state’s best known international attraction, The Great Ocean Road, was hurting from a lack of interstate and international visitors plus the cancellation of some big events.

The 240 km roadway that twists and turns from clifftop to beachfront along the Southern Ocean had been the destination of choice for international visitors. Just over 100 kilometres from Melbourne, it is both a 100-year-old WWII memorial and a scenic drive between Torquay and Allansford.

Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism general manager Liz Price said: “The challenge we do have is that we really need international, interstate and events to be going ahead to make sure we build back up to the levels of visitation that we traditionally enjoy.”

She said the area received about 7.6-8 million visitors a year, not including 800,000 international day trippers, 280,000 of them overnight visitors, representing about one million nights. About 60 per cent of visitors are weekend warriors from Melbourne, but Liz believes there is now an opportunity to grow the market for interstate visitors.

In going through the planning to see what markets are going to return (traditional markets like UK, Europe, USA), Liz said: “We are watching the daily COVID case numbers increasingly rapidly so those markets are going to take a lot longer to come back.”

She said it was too early to say what businesses might not survive, adding, “We’ve done quite a bit of work looking at the pathway to recovery to know how long it is going to take… we’ve got some big challenges this financial year.”

Depending on the summer she said they expected up to 5000 jobs and 200 businesses might be lost. She explained that the region was quite seasonal with 60 per cent of accommodation demand in the first four months of the year.

“A good summer generally gets us through, but we had an interrupted summer last year and brand damage to Victoria and Australia from the bushfires.”

Then COVID hit halting Chinese New Year visitors.

Most operators haven’t been able to trade for eight months, but the weekend was very busy and operators were optimistic. Of concern is the Surf Coast, where: “About 52 per cent of businesses are receiving JobKeeper,” she said.