Harrietville is one of the Victorian areas missing its usual Australia Day influx of tourists. Image by Catherine Best/AAP PHOTOS


Long weekend visits down in Vic fire towns

2020-01-23 17:24:09

They’ve seen fire and rain and now what Victoria’s bushfire affected towns really want to see are tourists lured back for the Australia Day long weekend.

One accommodation provider in the state’s northeast is seeing a pick up in trade after forced evacuations led to more than $325,000 in cancelled business as it hit its busiest time.

Alpine Valley Getaways director Emma Hinchliffe says their properties were fully booked for this weekend months ago, but most cancelled following the fires.

Some re-booked once the rain hit and the sky and smoke cleared, but people are preferring to stay at Bright rather than the more-affected Harrietville.

“We’re probably about 60 per cent full at this stage and we’ll probably get a few more bookings today,” she told AAP.

“The timing of the rain has really helped bring about a pick up in business this weekend.”

But in far eastern Victoria, tourism has been slow to return.

“Certainly my inquiries are really down,” says Liz Mitchell, from Snowy River cycle tours in East Gippsland.

She had to cancel bookings before the trail was declared safe last Friday.

Ms Mitchell said misinformation about the impact of fires is keeping people away, even in areas well outside affected zones.

“I’ve been talking to other operators who run similar tours outside of East Gippsland and they’re also experiencing an unusual downturn in interest,” she said.

“It’s as if people have decided it’s not safe to leave the city.

“I’ve had people say about the whole of Gippsland, ‘oh, it’s all just burnt’. Actually it’s just a really small part of it, most of it is still fantastic.”

The Bemm River Caravan Park southwest of Mallacoota, reports business is down during a traditionally peak time because roads are still shut even though the locality itself isn’t fire-damaged.

“Over this peak season that’s where we get a fair bit of our income over the Australia Day weekend,”the park’s Carl Forrester says.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t go to Mallacoota because it’s still busy so they’ll come to us.”

Mr Forrester is concerned the fires will put off tourists returning next year.  

At nearby Marlo Caravan Park, proprietor Mark Hadfield says things are slowly picking up.

“When the fires hit, everyone said evacuate. So everyone packed up and left our park which was our busiest time,” he said.

“We weren’t in danger of Marlo itself burning but all the authorities said get out.

“It’s slowly coming back now.”

Nowa Nowa Tavern and Bunk Rooms owner Carolyn Stewart said inquiries are increasing but the closure of the Princes Highway has had a big effect on tourism.

The fire stopped just outside the Gippsland Lakes town but it was “pretty dead” for a few days as power was cut and they “prepared to be obliterated”.

“With so much rain, you would not know there’s been a fire. Truly, it’s ridiculous.”

Rain has continued to lash Victoria, presenting challenges for firefighters as a dozen bushfires burn.

The most dangerous is at Buldah in East Gippsland, which sparked an emergency warning on Thursday afternoon.

A damaging winds warning was also issued for parts of East Gippsland, the north east and west and south Gippsland areas.