■ Lo­cal sup­port needed for Wan­garatta busi­nesses to fill void as tourists de­part

Wangaratta Chronicle - - Front Page - BY SHANE DOUTHIE sd­[email protected]­me­dia.com.au

MOST Wan­garatta re­tail­ers ap­pear to be stand­ing up well as the on­go­ing bush­fire cri­sis dec­i­mates many North East tourism busi­nesses.

Wan­garatta mayor Cr Dean Rees said Wan­garatta and sur­rounds that were not di­rectly af­fected by fires have ac­tu­ally seen a rise in vis­i­ta­tion, largely due to the Emer­gency Re­lief Cen­tres lo­cated in Wan­garatta.

The city’s Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre sta­tis­tics are up by seven per cent.

“Since the lift of the State of Dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion we have seen the com­mu­nity band­ing to­gether, sup­port­ing each other and do­ing day trips to visit, eat and sup­port our lo­cal busi­nesses,” Cr Rees said.

“I have been amazed at the re­silience of the busi­ness com­mu­nity, although some have scaled back their op­er­a­tions dur­ing the height of the emer­gency, busi­nesses are al­ready re­sum­ing busi­ness as usual.

“We are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to come visit us and our neigh­bour­ing shires of Alpine and Towong, book in your Labour Day week­end in March, and give your fam­ily and friends a friendly re­minder it’s time to visit, bring your empty esky and spend with them.”

The Qual­ity Ho­tel Wan­garatta Gate­way ex­pe­ri­enced mass can­cel­la­tions as the North East be­came the cen­tre of the bush­fire dis­as­ter.

“We’ve had cor­po­rate bookings can­celled and con­fer­ences right through to the end of March,” ho­tel owner Wendy Lester told the Wan­garatta Chron­i­cle this week.

“We’re not feel­ing it at the minute be­cause rep­re­sen­ta­tives from govern­ment de­part­ments and ser­vices in­volved in the re­cov­ery are stay­ing here but when they leave I think it will be pretty grim.

“The govern­ment will re­ally have to push tourism out into the re­gions.”

Ed Flynn from cloth­ing re­tailer Flynn’s In­land and Surf said he had no­ticed some im­pact but it was not ma­jor.

“This time of year we nor­mally get a few vis­i­tors from the Alpine re­gion who might come down but the lo­cal cus­tom has re­mained strong,” he said.

“Apart from the smoke we’re not re­ally af­fected.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing for those who are im­pacted, small busi­nesses need all the sup­port we can get.”

Krys­tal But­ler from The But­ler’s Pantry said her busi­ness had not ex­pe­ri­enced a down­turn ex­cept on the ex­tremely smoky days.

“Peo­ple don’t want to come out,” she said.

“But we have seen ex­tra peo­ple here who are prob­a­bly in­volved in the re­cov­ery and we’ve been do­ing some cater­ing for dif­fer­ent govern­ment de­part­ments so we are one of the lucky ones.

“We re­ally feel for the busi­nesses in the tourist ar­eas like Beech­worth and in the Alpine ar­eas.”

Chris Sim­sen, gen­eral man­ager at the Wan­garatta RSL, said while tourist num­bers may be down it was evened out by peo­ple from fire af­fected re­gions com­ing in for a few hours of re­lief and a meal.

“I’ve al­ways thought that the tourism busi­ness was a bonus, we rely on lo­cals as our core busi­ness,” he said.

“Our trade hasn’t been too bad which is why we were able to of­fer free meals to all emer­gency ser­vices.

“We’ve had a few po­lice and firies in but mostly army per­son­nel.

“It’s a small part we can play.”

Sup­pli­ers of wa­ter and fire­fight­ing equip­ment were rushed off their feet just prior to the fore­cast dan­ger day on Fri­day, Jan­uary 3.

WB Hunter Wan­garatta man­ager Tony Alexan­der said there was such a spike in sales that many lo­cal re­tail­ers quickly sold out of prod­ucts such as pumps, hoses, gen­er­a­tors, and any­thing to do with wa­ter.

“We got ham­mered when that dan­ger­ous Satur­day loomed he said.

“Now our key sup­pli­ers are months be­hind and they are only sup­ply­ing to se­ri­ously af­fected ar­eas.

“Our nor­mal trade has pretty much re­mained the same.”

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