BY ATARA THENABADU
With Melburnians to endure six weeks under stage 4 restrictions, after nearly four weeks under stage 3 restrictions, taking a holiday any time soon feels like a pipe dream.
Residents of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire have not been permitted, since 8 July, to travel out of these areas for exercise and recreation.
The impacts of COVID-19 have devastated Victoria’s and, more broadly, Australia’s tourism industry.
Last year, 10 million individual trips were taken to Australia by overseas travellers, contributing $47.5 billion to the national economy, according to a Tourism Australia report.
These numbers have drastically fallen in 2020 due to international travel bans.
Australia also saw tourism decline as a result of bushfires, which took hold across several states late last year.
The combined impact of bushfires and COVID-19 have forced some businesses to close permanently.
Injecting money, once restrictions are lifted, into businesses that have managed to remain open will help them to recover and flourish.
Here are some of Victoria’s top tourist destinations, to help you plan a getaway once you finally can.
1. Mt Hotham
Mt Hotham is one of Australia’s most well-known ski resorts, containing 13 lifts and 80 runs with plenty of options for all skill levels, along with snowmobile and walking tours.
A popular attraction in the region are the Howling Huskys.
The sled dog tours range from 15 minutes to five hours, involving a meet and greet with the dogs.
Howling Huskys musher Kiri Allen said local tourism is key in helping businesses like hers recover from hardship, be it due to bushfires or COVID-19.
“Tourists in this area are what makes us all survive,” Ms Allen said.
“We rely on winter and our clients to be able to make money to feed our dogs.”
“We’ve got 86 dogs and at the end of each season we can’t just...put them in the garage until next winter. They need to be fed, housed, vetted and cared for year round.”
Prior to COVID-19, Howling Huskys was one of the many businesses affected by the East Gippsland bushfires.
“We were very fortunate that our little bush hut survived but it did burn down most of our dog pens, kennels, yards, and some sheds,” Ms Allen said.
“During this time we opened our gates and took in animals needing somewhere to stay while their owners had to evacuate and couldn’t take their pets.
“Once the fires were over and life started going back to normal, COVID-19 hit and put a screaming halt to everything.”
2. The Otways
The Otway Ranges feature beaches, rock formations and rainforests, making it a destination for all types of travellers.
The main attraction is the Great Otway National Park which stretches from Torquay all the way to the Great Ocean Road.
One of the most travelled trails leads to the most popular waterfall within the park, Triplet Falls, which features three cascades of water and tree ferns.
While en route to Triplet Falls, visitors can see 200-year-old Mountain Ash trees.
Another attraction within the park is the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk, which allows visitors to access a bird’s-eye view of the park.
The Great Ocean Ecolodge, a local business within the Otways, attached to the Conservation Ecology Centre, a nationally registered non-profit ecological research and conservation organisation dedicated to protecting Australian ecosystems, has been adversely affected due to COVID-19.
Ecolodge manager Stephan Has said visitors will be instrumental in helping them recuperate from the losses faced so far in 2020.
“The Great Ocean Ecolodge has had to close its doors due to COVID-19 restrictions on accommodation and travel,” Mr Has said.
“With longer-term effects on international travel projected, it is even more important to have local tourist visitation for a longer period,” he said.
“Similarly, the Conservation Ecology Centre has been delayed with research works as we had to implement ‘work-from-home’ policies and postpone our research internship programs.”
By having to close their doors, the centre has not been able to grow or continue their research into protecting the local fauna and flora, making the return of tourism vital for them.
3. Phillip Island
Phillip Island has always been a popular tourist destination due to its close proximity to Melbourne.
Only 90-minute drive from the city, visitors will be able to experience pristine beaches and see some of Australia’s native wildlife up-close.
Phillip Island Nature Park Ranger Sophie Winter said Philip Island Nature Parks is one of the main businesses enabling tourists to get up close and personal with the native wildlife.
“The park, just like many other businesses had to close their doors due to the pandemic,” Ms Winter said.
“Being a not-for-profit organisation funded by tourism meant this was a very uncertain time for us,” she said.
“Our tourist attractions bring a huge economic contribution to Phillip Island and the Bass Coast region each year and are the primary source of funding for the conservation work we undertake across the island.”
“We are grateful for the assistance from the state government to get us through, but very much look forward to welcoming visitors back.”
The world-renowned Penguin Parade is a popular attraction, enabling tourists to watch dozens of Little Penguins waddle across the beach while the sun is setting over the coastal hills.
The Koala Conservation Reserve enables tourists to come face-to-face with some adorable koalas, with Churchill Island Heritage Farm, Antarctic Journey and Nobbies Centre other family-friendly activities to check out.
Apart from the Nature Parks, Ms Winter recommends tourists take advantage of the free walking trails and explore the island at their own pace once restrictions are lifted.
“There’s also an array of local businesses on Phillip Island worth supporting, including climbing activities for kids, to wineries for adults and families,” Ms Winter said.