By Luke Voogt and Justin Flynn
Holiday parks across Geelong are struggling to keep up with demand as Melburnians flock to the area to enjoy their new-found freedom.
Motorists clogged the Geelong Ring Road from Little River to Waurn Ponds last weekend after state government dismantled Melbourne’s ‘ring of steel’ on November 9.
Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine executive director Brett Ince expected a similar exodus beginning tomorrow.
“We would expect to see this for the next few weekends,” he said.
“It’s definitely a sign of hope for the tourism industry.”
Mr Ince described last weekend’s exodus as unprecedented, barring major events and summer holidays.
The tourism board estimates the pandemic has cost the local industry up to 33 per cent of its $1.1 billion yearly revenue – about $360 million – during 2019-2020.
While last weekend’s exodus was “a welcome relief”, the board would aim to entice Melbourne travellers “down for the next few months, not just the next few weeks”, Mr Ince said.
With COVID-19 restrictions still impacting Geelong as an “events destination”, the city needed to promote its “myriad” of attractions and 330 open spaces as a “whole experience” to attract longer visits, he said.
Mr Ince also welcomed recently-proposed state government plans for $200 vouchers for tourists to regional Victoria.
The Bellarine Peninsula is already enjoying the incoming tourist dollars with some holiday parks actually increasing their business compared to last November.
Queenscliff’s Big4 Beacon Resort has taken 400 bookings since November 9 and room bookings are up 36 per cent, according to operations manager Emme Malone.
“Since the announcements, it’s been like the lights switched on again and all of a sudden the phones were ringing all day, every day,” she said.
Barwon Coast is also anticipating a prolonged peak season at its three caravan parks, with “phones ringing off the hook”, according to accommodation manager Daniel Payne.
Collendina Caravan Park’s Joan Steins said she had taken 212 bookings last weekend and that “things were heating up”.
Rod Newnham, the manager of Bellarine Bayside Holiday Park in Portarlington, said his bookings from regional Victoria were up as well as from Melbourne.