By Luke Voogt

Geelong’s floating Christmas tree is set to become an election issue after its visitor numbers increased by 36,382 in 2017.

Mayor Bruce Harwood said he would approach MPs about state funding after council this week revealed a second annual rise in visitation.

“We could consider doing this on the basis of its significant tourism and economic impact for Geelong,” Cr Harwood said.

“We’ll take advice from local MPs initially and see what feedback we get.”

The tree attracted 164,872 visits in 2017 according to council data, up on 128,490 in 2016 and about 123,000 in 2015.

The tree’s debut year, 2014, attracted the most visitors, 180,000.

Geelong’s administrators in 2016 voted to fund the tree until 7 January 2019.

Council could seek funding from the State Government pending the outcome of a City Hall assessment into the tree’s long-term future, Cr Harwood said.

“We’ll always consider all funding options and make an informed decision when the report comes before council later in the year.”

Geelong’s overall Christmas program attracted 259,801 visitors in 2017, injecting an estimated $17.3 million into the economy, according to City Hall research,

The figure was up on 216,050 visitors in 2016 and $15.6 million in 2015.

“Council’s yearly investment in the program has been returned many times over in terms of increased economic activity,” Cr Harwood said.

But Victorian Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz said council would have to fund the project.

“This is a council initiative and does not include any state funding,” she said.

Former mayor Darryn Lyons said the Andrews Government would not back a project that he introduced during his tenure.

“The government isn’t looking at the success of it, they’re making it about politics.”

Mr Lyons urged the state coalition to fund the tree as a commitment for November’s election.

“I think Matthew Guy should step up right now and say, ’We’ll give a couple of million dollars toward improving (it)’.”

A new international terminal at Avalon Airport could further increase numbers visiting Geelong’s Christmas program, he said.

“That $17.3 million could be $30 million in a couple of years.

“Other states in Australia are looking at Geelong’s success in Christmas because I’ve been contacted personally by them for consulting roles, to which so far I’ve said no.”

South Barwon MP Andrew Katos last November said he would consider funding the attraction but made no commitment.

Labor’s Geelong MP, Christine Couzens, did not respond to the Indy’s call for comment before the paper went to press yesterday.

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