The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Tourism injection


Abundant water and a summer free of COVID-19 restrictio­ns have combined forces to energise Wimmera and southern Mallee tourism, as visitors revel at the region’s natural attraction­s.

Months after heavy spring rain and the gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictio­ns, new anecdotal and recorded data continues to demonstrat­e a crucial economic link between water and tourism in the region.

Gwmwater’s latest catchment report has shown significan­t touristatt­racting storages including Lake Bellfield, at 99 percent full, Taylors Lake, 96 percent, and Lake Lonsdale, 103 percent.

Wimmera Mallee Tourism chair Graeme Milne said full water storages and a restrictio­n-free summer was continuing to ‘push’ people into water-side holiday spots again.

Mr Milne said people who visited the region with an intention to enjoy water-based recreation were ‘usually the largest tourist spenders’.

“Having water in the drier parts of the region will always be one of the biggest attractors of people and as a tourism board, we see water recreation as extremely important to our overall tourism strategy,” he said.

New data from the Tourism Research Australia, TRA, has also captured a bounce back of the Grampians’ tourism credential­s.

The annual TRA national visitor survey results, recorded between September 2021 and September 2022, showed the region had all but returned to its pre-pandemic tourist spending level.

The Grampians recorded the thirdhighe­st annual growth of a Victorian region of overnight spend increases, above levels recorded in the 12 months from September 2018 to September 2019 prior to the pandemic.

The data shows the Grampians recorded a 44 percent increase in overnight spending above pre-pandemic levels, behind the High Country, 55 percent, and Gippsland, with a 65 percent increase in spending.

Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said the figures justified the region’s collective approach to tourism operations, and was due recognitio­n of the region’s natural tourism advantages.

“These figures are incredible and they show that the region has started to extend beyond pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

“Obviously, it has been tough for businesses, and at times, no-one had the answers in the midst of the pandemic, but the fact that overnight visitation spending has increased in this region, and to this level, is outstandin­g.”

Mr Sleeman said high water-storage levels often directly correlated with an increased rate of tourists’ ‘extended stay’ in the region.

A 2020 Wimmera Developmen­t Associatio­n report demonstrat­ing the socio-economic value of recreation­al and environmen­tal water had suggested the Horsham Rural City municipali­ty and Northern Grampians and Yarriambia­ck shires, in particular, maintained a strong link between recreation­al water and economic growth.

The report estimated the economic contributi­on of water facilities in the Northern Grampians shire was more than $7.2-million, while it was more than $6.8-million in the Horsham Rural City muncipalit­y and more than $5.5-million in Yarriambia­ck shire.

The report also estimated water recreation generated almost $2.1-million across Hindmarsh shire for the year.

Rain in October across the state forced significan­t flows along the Wimmera River and into Lake Hindmarsh — Victoria’s largest freshwater lake when full — for the first time in more than a decade.

Hindmarsh Shire mayor Brett Ireland said businesses were now preparing for a ‘big’ Easter holiday period as tourists flocked to enjoy the lake.

“We are now well into summer and it is great to see Lake Hindmarsh retaining a large base of water. The lake reached around 60 percent at its peak after the spring rain and it might have only ebbed back slightly from that mark recently,” he said.

“If this base of water remains, I feel we can look forward to a very bright outcome by the end of 2023 and I am confident Lake Albacutya will be in that mix.”

Water has not flowed into Lake Albacutya, the final storage at the end of the Wimmera River, for three decades, with the lake last full in 1975.

Cr Ireland said the ‘return’ of Lake Hindmarsh had attracted visitors to Jeparit as well as a ‘good amount’ of lakeside campers, who were spending time at the lake, ‘seemingly for longer periods than normal’.

“Small boats, jetskis and kayaks are now a common sight at the lake, and bird life and people with dogs are abundant,” he said.

“The businesses in the town are enjoying an increase in trade and the Wimmera Mallee Pioneer Museum is enjoying a real boost in visitation.”

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