One of ‘best Easter seasons’ on record buoys tourism’s holiday hopes

Tourism operators in Victoria’s regions are making hay while the sun shines as warm autumn weather fuels one of the best Easter holiday seasons they have seen.

Warm and settled temperatures are set to continue this week, increasing again to 27 degrees by Thursday after reaching heights not seen on a Good Friday since the 1930s and peaking at 31 degrees on Saturday in Melbourne.

Tourists taking a tractor trip through Len Rayner’s orchard on MondayCredit:Eddie Jim

“This week we have another high pressure system and those settled conditions will allow for good school holiday activity,” Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Ilana Cherny said.

She said autumn often had “large fluctuations in temperatures” and a series of cold fronts were due to bring cooler and wetter conditions on the weekend.

The weather drew visitors to coastal areas during the Easter long weekend and as regional tourism spending eclipses spending in Melbourne for the first time, industry groups say visitors are spreading across the state.

“Operators are seeing one of the best Easter seasons they have seen,” Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said.

Melburnians enjoying the sunshine at St Kilda beach on Saturday.Credit:Justin McManus

“We have seen record visitation in the high country, huge visitation on the Great Ocean Road, up in the Grampians and along the Murray, which is really unusual; it’s not something we necessarily see at this time of the year.”

Len Rayner, owner of Rayner’s Orchard in Woori Yallock, says he is having the best Easter on record after international visitors disappeared last year, cutting away 75 per cent of trade.

Up to 300 people a day, mostly families from Melbourne, toured the orchard over Easter on tractors to sample and collect strawberry guavas, lemon guavas, figs, pomegranates, kiwifruit and other fruits.

“The last four days have been fabulous,” Mr Rayner said.

The good weather has been a lifeline for the orchard, but after losing his JobKeeper payment Mr Rayner fears visitors will slump during winter.

“We find the minute it gets cold, the locals won’t come out. If we have a rainy day here you don’t see any customers at all,” he said.

“When we get into winter time this business is going to be a disaster. During the winter 100 per cent of our business was international tourism.”

National Visitor Survey data seen by The Age showed the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges had the biggest percentage decline of visitors and total spend in regional Victoria in 2020.

Len Rayner at his farm in Woori YallockCredit:Eddie Jim

Yarra Ranges Tourism chief executive Simon O’Callaghan said the figures were attributable to the region being included in Melbourne’s stage four lockdown.

“Other regions could still have inter-regional travel and all of the events we host were cancelled,” he said.

Mr O’Callaghan said a return of events and increasing labour availability as JobKeeper ends could be a boost to the region’s tourism.

“If people really want to help tourism in regional Victoria, booking a mid-week off-peak holiday is the best way.”

Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism chair Wayne Kayler-Thomson said Victoria’s south-west was experiencing a “normal” Easter holiday, thanks to domestic visitors and good weather.

“What we are not getting is interstate visitors and certainly not international visitors,” he said.

Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism executive chair Tracey Cooper said school holiday bookings “seem to be OK” but longer-term bookings were down.

“It’s a normal school holiday period, but our forward bookings are harder to predict,” Ms Cooper said.

“People feel uncertainty and don’t like pre booking too far ahead.”

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